Why does the UN intervene in some cases of mass violence and not others? Why and how have public attitudes toward humanitarian intervention changed over the past decades? And how do the stories we tell each other about cases of violence and civil war impact our decisions about when intervention is appropriate?
Carrie Booth Walling's
recent book, All Necessary Measures: The United Nations and Humanitarian Intervention
(University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013) sets out to answer these questions. She looks at a series of international crises in the 1990s in the 1990s and early 2000s, beginning with Iraq in 1991-2 and concluding with the recent conflict in Syria. In each case, she examines how member-states in the UN characterize the conflict and how that characterization shapes their preferred responses.
The conclusion is simple: narratives matter. They determine how people describe the conflict. They determine the kind of responses countries are willing to consider. And they determine, at least in part, whether the UN chooses to intervene in conflicts, and if so, how and to what end.
Walling's research is careful and her conclusions measured and well-supported. She joins an increasing emphasis in genocide studies on the importance of narratives of all kind. Readers will come away with an increased understanding of why the international community sometimes seems to care about mass violence and sometimes does not.
This podcast is the last in our summer/fall series on research about genocide prevention. If you find this interview interesting, I encourage you to listen to previous interviews in the series as well. The series includes interviews with Scott Straus, Bridget Conley-Zilkic and James Waller.