The Institutional Limits of the European Union in Humanitarian Intervention: The Case of Darfur



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The European Union, an institution founded on the protection of human rights and the promotion of peace and security, fell short of its ideals during the Balkan humanitarian tragedy in the 1990s. Criticized for inaction on its very doorstep, the EU claimed “lessons learned” and spoke out on the responsibility to protect, creating the Common Security and Defense Policy, a military capability to back up its rhetoric. However, when genocide broke out in Darfur, Sudan in 2003, the European Union only offered (delayed) monetary and technical assistance that fell far short of a much-needed military intervention, thus demonstrating a gap between official rhetoric and physical action. Why did the European Union fail to live up to its principles of protecting human rights? This paper argues that the institution of the European Union itself caused the inaction: with 15 member states in 2003, coordination was difficult given differing member-state interests and levels of political will, bureaucratic red tape, and the lack of a clear leader to resolve the conflict. The argument is tested in a three-part analysis. First, by studying the text from European Parliament debates, the intricacies of agreement within a multinational body are highlighted. Second, investigating several member states' foreign aid, military personnel and rhetoric on Darfur illuminates the differing levels of political will. And third, by examining European Council Conclusions on Darfur, it is shown that the many different actions promoted by individual heads of states had become watered down in the final document. The paper concludes by discussing the lesson of Darfur that should have been learned from Bosnia: in times of genocide, the need for quick, decisive military action is paramount. In light of the institutional difficulties that prevented decisive action from the European Union in the case of Darfur, it is questionable whether the EU will be able to rise to the occasion in future humanitarian crises.



European Union, Humanitarian Intervention, Bosnia, Darfur