CCGL9036 Global Issues

Dilemmas of Humanitarian Intervention

[This course is under the thematic cluster of ‘Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth’.]


Course Description

The course takes a very broad understanding of humanitarian intervention, looking not only at states but also at international NGOs and the aid business, and not only at aid but also at other forms of political action. It focuses on the emergence of humanitarian intervention, its contemporary nature, success and failure, moral challenges, and ways forward. It examines dilemmas generated notably by great power politics, by the tension between state sovereignty and global humanitarian action, by resource constraints in a world of potentially limitless need, and by issues of authentic country ownership. It explores these issues both through overview analysis in lectures, and through real-world case studies in seminars. In classroom discussion, students’ country expertise will be very much in the lead. The course is assessed 100% through coursework, with class participation and one term paper counting towards the final grade.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Describe and understand humanitarian intervention through an awareness of both historical development and territorial reach.
  2. Use the relevant information about humanitarian intervention to analyze and explain the issues of principle and practice it generates.
  3. Demonstrate an awareness of ways forward for humanitarian intervention in the complex circumstances of the contemporary world.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

First semester (Wed)


Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 26
Tutorials 11
Reading / Self-study 100
Assessment: Essay / Report writing 20
Assessment: In-class test 2
Total: 159

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Participation in lectures and tutorials 10
Simulation 40
In-class test 50

Required Reading

There is no single text for the course, and even the required readings (below) are merely part of the input students will be asked to make. A key part of the learning during the course will take place through student exploration. To this end, they will be asked to consult a series of websites.

  • Barnett, M. N., & Weiss, T. G. (Eds.). (2008). Humanitarianism in question: Politics, power, ethics. Ithaca,NY: Cornell University Press.
  • Barnett, M. N. (2010). The international humanitarian order. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
  • Barnett, M. N. (2011). Empire of humanity: A history of humanitarianism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Useful Websites

Students will be required to consult a series of websites, notably from perspective of the country selected for specialist study. A selection of main websites are as follows:


Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Dr C.J. Fung
Department of Politics and Public Administration, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 3917 5223
Email: cjfung@hku.hk
Teacher(s) Contact
Dr C.J. Fung
Department of Politics and Public Administration, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 3917 5223
Email: cjfung@hku.hk