This paper examines French influence on humanitarian intervention, and in particular focuses on the role of Bernard Kouchner and the promotion of international interference within sovereign states. It is argued that the English language literature on humanitarianism has tended to overlook or downplay the importance of Kouchner's activities, which in fact have far-reaching implications. The origins of Kouchner's notion of a legal obligation to interfere are traced back to the Biafra war, and to fierce debates about ‘third-worldism’ in Paris. It is pointed out how key UN General Assembly and Security Council Resolutions reflect Kouchner's impact, and how he is ascribing his ideas to the UN system as a whole in his current position as head of the UN Mission on Kosovo. Copyright © 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.