Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


International Relations

Reader 1

Professor Jennifer Taw

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© 2019 Emma E Henson


This thesis aims to explore the disconnect between calls for safe zones as a tool of humanitarian intervention, and the dark history of safe zone failure. This thesis begins with a brief discussion of current calls for safe zones in Syria, and how a proper theoretical framework and historical understanding are needed to discuss whether or not safe zones can be successfully implemented in Syria. The following literature review discusses not only prominent academic arguments and the history of humanitarian intervention, but it suggests a framework for deconstructing case studies. This framework looks first at the interests of an intervening actor. The level of interest of that actor directly informs its willingness to overcome the challenges of safe zone implementation. The challenges of safe zone implementation are both practical and existential. If an actor’s interest in a given crisis is not great enough to make it willing to overcome these practical and existential challenges, or the actor is willing to overcome them but lacks the ability to do so, the safe zone will fail. In most cases of failed safe zones, moral hazard plays a role. Moral hazard can be evident in either the intervening actor’s decisions or the decisions of the international community to support or not support the intervention. This thesis then deconstructs three historical cases of safe zones with this method: Srebrenica in Bosnia, Operation Provide Comfort in Iraqi Kurdistan, and Operation Turquoise in Rwanda. Following these three case studies, this paper discusses safe zones in Syria with the help of this method and the broad historical understanding of safe zones established through the case studies. This thesis concludes with a discussion of how the analysis and available historical cases show that safe zones are dangerous tools of humanitarian intervention and should not be undertaken without adequate levels of interest and willingness to address challenges.