Syria and the Moral Follies of Humanitarian Warfare

Syria and the Moral Follies of Humanitarian Warfare

Can war be humane?


War is not the appropriate moral means to express compassion. 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. Indeed war and humanitarianism is an oxymoron. More than that, they are exact opposites in the field of human endeavors.

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.

Kim R. Holmes, a former assistant secretary of state, is a Distinguished Fellow at The Heritage Foundation ( Follow him on Twitter @kimsmithholmes.