Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow for Defense Policy Janine Davidson discusses the concept of military humanitarian intervention for CFR Model Diplomacy’s “Humanitarian Intervention in South Sudan” case study. Model Diplomacy ( is a free multimedia simulation program that engages students through role-play to understand the challenges of shaping U.S. foreign policy in an interconnected world.

Davidson says a humanitarian intervention is an intervention to help civilians that includes a military presence. In this context, she explains the “responsibility to protect,” a norm that calls for international intervention to protect civilians when their government is not doing so. But she notes the tension between this norm and respect for sovereignty.

Using such examples as Somalia, Rwanda, and the Balkans, Davidson outlines the variety of missions encompassed under humanitarian intervention, from disaster relief to more complex interventions in conflict zones. She then reviews policy considerations surrounding humanitarian intervention, including the root causes of the situation, international authority for the mission, military logistics, exit strategies, and the costs and benefits of unilateral versus multilateral action. Humanitarian and disaster assistance have become frequent tasks for the U.S. military, Davidson notes, sparking debate within the Pentagon over whether and how to prioritize this type of mission.

Instructors interested in exploring “Humanitarian Intervention in South Sudan” for their classrooms can visit the Model Diplomacy case profile.

For more educational resources from the Council on Foreign Relations, visit CFR Campus at


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