Senior Honors Projects, 2010-2019

Causes of U.S. humanitarian intervention in the post-Cold War era

Samuel Martin Lasky, James Madison University


In the years following the end of the Cold War, the world witnessed a number of horrifying humanitarian crises that claimed the lives of millions. At this time, the U.S. found itself in a position of unrivaled power, with the ability to intervene anywhere around the world. In this study I attempted to determine what factors were involved in U.S. policy makers’ decisions for the U.S. to intervene or not intervene in humanitarian crises that occurred following the end of the Cold War. In order to determine the impact of these various factors, I engaged in a qualitative analysis of four different case studies involving humanitarian crises. The cases included the humanitarian crisis that arose in Somalia in 1991, the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and the Bosnian War that lasted from 1992 to 1995. The Bosnian crisis was separated into two parts, with the first chapter concluding at the first Bosnian Serb shelling of the downtown Sarajevo Markale marketplace on February 5, 1994. The results of my study indicate that a high amount of political pressure on the president and a high level of public support for intervention are necessary conditions that must be present for U.S. intervention. High chances of success and low overall costs for intervention are also important. Although the level of U.S. media attention given to a humanitarian crisis affects the probability of U.S. intervention, a high level of U.S. media attention to a crisis proved to be neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for U.S. intervention. Finally, I determined that the presence of U.S. national interests in a country and the race and religion of the endangered population were not important factors affecting policymakers’ decision about whether or not to intervene.