The oxymoron “humanitarian war” is sometimes used ironically, at other times derisively, and still at others earnestly. In his recent book, excerpted in the April issue of Harper’s Magazine, Rony Brauman, former president of Doctors Without Borders, explores criteria deemed essential to justify violence. “While claiming to protect populations,” Brauman writes, “the United Nations is rehabilitating war—when in fact it was created to prevent it. And in granting itself the right to declare war and to call it ‘just,’ the U.N. is acting as both referee and player, and legalizing the conflation of judges and parties to a conflict.”
In this week’s episode, Brauman is joined on a panel by Harper’s president and publisher John R. MacArthur and Columbia University professor Elazar Barkan. They probe the lessons of Libya, Somalia, and Kosovo; the threshold of violence that demands international involvement; and how the framework of humanitarianism can be co-opted, to disastrous effect, by propaganda.