Can There Be a “Humanitarian War”?

Jim Weidman /

In pressing Congress to approve military action against Syria, both President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have argued that the U.S. must strike for humanitarian reasons, if no other. But does the Syrian situation really support a moral argument for war?

No, concludes Heritage Foundation Distinguished Fellow Kim Holmes in a searching commentary in The National Interest. In fact, he argues, “humanitarian warfare” is an oxymoron.

“War is not the appropriate moral means to express compassion,” Holmes writes. “It can be just. It can even be glorious. But it is never humane. We may justify doing all kinds of horrible things for self-defense or to liberate a friend from tyranny. But we cannot and should not pretend that war is a means to achieve humanitarian ends.”

The concept of “humanitarian warfare,” he argues, is actually dangerous. “Nations should be bound by moral standards when conducting war. But for centuries this has been mainly about limiting the circumstances under which war should be made. Now with the doctrine of humanitarian warfare, those circumstances are being expanded.”

“If Assad’s use of chemical weapons in no way threatens U.S. security or interests, then we have no business using force against Assad. Doing so in the name of morality is not humane. It is morally incoherent. What is worse, it is foolish.” Read the whole thing here.