hundred thousand Tutsis were killed in just one hundred days, and
the world watched some of the most graphic footage seen since the
Holocaust. People could not pull away from their television sets,
unable to believe it was happening. “Never again,” they
had pledged, and yet, here it was in 1994. As the Hutus enacted
a massive genocide, attempting to eliminate the Tutsi minority from
Rwanda, the world did nothing. The United Nations stalled while
the United States refused to have another failure as in Somalia
where three American peacekeeping soldiers were dragged through
the streets. Belgium was already pulling its peacekeeping troops
from the state. The Tutsis’ human rights were clearly being
violated. Why did no state intervene and force the Hutus to stop
this ethnic cleansing? There was no intervention because states
have rights too: political sovereignty and territorial integrity.
This battle between states’ rights and individual rights is
at the heart of the debate on humanitarian intervention.
intervention is not the same thing as humanitarian assistance or
aid; it is not peacekeeping, but peace enforcing. It is an uninvited
military operation by one state in another state, in which the intervening
state cites mass suffering of the host state’s nationals as
its motivation. This sort of intervention is debated amongst scholars
and professionals in the international relations community. The
debate has three sides: realist, legalist, and moralist. Realists
believe that intervention should only occur if it is in a state’s
national interest because if not, the host state’s rights
are violated. Legalists argue that humanitarian intervention is
only acceptable when it is legal according to international law.
Moralists claim that a state should always intervene because human
rights are more important than states’ rights. This paper
will explain and critique the position of each group in order to
prove that humanitarian intervention should happen.
international relations community is both academic and professional.
Professionals are government officials, heads of states, and diplomats.
In most cases, the professionals rely on the academic members of
the community to make the analysis for forming policy, and occasionally,
the professionals were at one time scholars themselves. Scholars
are sometimes believed to have less credit than professionals because
they usually deal with theory, not practice; thus they can keep
their opinions in the abstract. Although this may be true, many
scholars are the ones that teach the professionals or give advice;
so I believe, in general, they have the same credibility. The scholars
and professionals themselves are divided into the three groups stated
above: realists, moralist and legalists.
each position is more than as stated above. It is perhaps best to
think of this debate as lying on a continuum. In this continuum,
each position has moderate and extreme views of why and when humanitarian
intervention should or should not occur. The realists’ extreme
belief is that humanitarian intervention should never take place
because states’ rights can never be violated. The more moderate
and general expression of the realist position is that a state ought
to intervene only when that intervention is in its national interest,
where national interest is defined as economic and security interests.
The legalists can be described through strict and more lenient readings
of the United Nations’ Charter, which they believe establishes
international law, thus determining when intervention is legal.
Extreme moralists argue that humanitarian intervention should occur
every single time there are human rights violations. The more general
moralist belief is that it should happen only when there are massive
human rights abuses such as genocide or ethnic cleansing.
Stuart Mill and other realists argue that if freedom is not “earned”
by a people, it will not survive and endure (Walzer 87). The suffering
people of a nation cannot be “set free” and expected
to succeed without earning their right to self-determination; thus
intervention will always fail (Smith 2000). The moralist response
to this would be that in many cases, intervention is necessary where
there is no self-determination demanded (Walzer 90). The Tutsis
in Rwanda were not trying to create a separate state within Rwanda,
they were not asking for anything; thus there should be nothing
that they must earn in order to live. I would add that although
it seems important for a people to earn their right to governance,
it is not more important than their right to life. Should earning
one’s right to autonomy come at the expense of his or her
life? Therefore, Mill’s claim is not relevant because humanitarian
intervention is not about governing a people, but saving a people
integrity and political sovereignty are two fundamental rights of
states according to international law. However, a later article in
the Charter adjusts the legality of humanitarian intervention. Only
when there is a threat to international security or if the host state
gives permission, may humanitarian intervention be legal according
to Article 7. Legalists that cite these passages are specifically
the representatives of the five member states of the Security Council:
China, Russia, France, England, and the United States. They are the
principal legalists because they decide when to allow intervention
to occur; they make the decision because they are each allowed the
right of veto in the Council. If a state wants to intervene with the
support of the United Nations, the Security Council has to decide
whether the United Nations deems it legal and only the states with
the vetoes can prevent the intervention.
primary legalist assumption is that international law exists. It is
true that the numerous Geneva Conventions have codified the laws of
war, by merely writing into law the former international norms, and
the United Nations has written down its general purpose, mission,
and beliefs, but does this necessarily mean that international law
exists? If international law exists, there must be a punishment for
breaking international law. Returning to Article 2 (4), states should
be punished if they threaten force, which would harm another state’s
political integrity or sovereignty, but this does not happen. The
United States has threatened military bombing of Iraq, India threatened
to bomb Pakistan, England accidentally attacked a Spanish island in
February, and yet the United Nations has not punished any of these
states. Furthermore, in order to have international law, is it not
necessary to have some sort of law enforcement? The UN cannot force
any state to do anything because it lacks jurisdiction; it can only
strongly recommend and use sanctions in efforts to convince the state
to follow the rules. The only laws that one could say states follow
are the laws of nature, and that law is to survive. Although there
may be no formal international law, there are norms that most states
adhere to, so if they were only norms, then humanitarian intervention
would not technically be breaking any laws. Legalists would probably
respond to this criticism by saying that all of the states are morally
obligated to follow international law because they agreed to the UN
Charter by becoming member states. But if this is only a moral obligation,
it cannot be expected to be followed any more so than realists expect
states to intervene under moral obligations.
believe that since sovereignty is a fundamental right of a state,
it cannot be broken unless legally done so. Legalists define sovereignty
as the inherent right to govern a state without foreign dictation.
If it is defined as such, it is clearly illegal to intervene in that
state’s affairs because any interference would be violating
that state’s right to govern. However, moralists claim that
this is not the true definition of sovereignty; instead, sovereignty
can best be defined as the supreme will; thus it lies with the people
of the state not the political leader of the state. “If there
is a conflict between a state and the people, then the people’s
will should prevail” (Abrams, 2000). An intervening state will
not breach sovereignty as long as the people of that state want the
intervention to occur. Moralists do not expect the conflict to halt
while citizens cast their ballot, but there must be a general sense
that the people want the violence to end; if so, intervention should
occur. Of course, there is a realist response to this critique: the
idea of sovereignty lying with the people is only appealing to Americans
because of the “we the people” philosophy, so it is not
valid in the international community. Although this is a valid critique,
there is no place in the Charter that specifically says that sovereignty
lies with the state’s leader rather than the people. Additionally,
moralist Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations,
says that “sovereignty does not give the State an unlimited
freedom of action; the concept of sovereignty cannot be seen in isolation
from other provisions of the Charter, namely those that relate to
‘promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for
fundamental freedoms for all’” (United Nations, 1945).
last critique of the legalist argument is that although the UN Charter
does verbalize the importance of states’ rights, it also promotes
the rights of humans. With both rights equally promoted in the Charter,
it becomes difficult to determine which is more important. It becomes
a matter of opinion as there is no passage that says states’
rights hold more value than individual rights.
false analogy along these same lines is that of comparing humanitarian
intervention to the Good Samaritan Law. This is false because although
there may be Good Samaritan Laws within the state by which an individual
is obligated to help another unless helping would put the individual
in harm’s way, there is no such law in the international community.
There is no passage in the UN Charter that says states must help other
states. Furthermore, what would constitute danger to the state? If
a state did intervene, the international community or its own citizens
could punish it, not to mention the state’s soldiers’
lives are at risk in an intervention. Thus this is an inaccurate analogy
because there is no legal obligation for international humanitarian
intervention. Moralists, like Jacques de Lisle, counter that, by saying
that although states may not have a legal obligation to intervene,
they are not freed from the moral fault of inaction (547).
it may be wrong to compare humanitarian intervention to the Good Samaritan
Law, it does seem as though there is a better comparison to be made.
Michael Walzer makes this comparison by suggesting that intervention
is analogous to domestic law enforcement. Essentially, if a state
is doing something that would require another state to intervene,
the first state is a criminal government (Smith, 2000). In this way,
humanitarian intervention is much like the work of the police, Walzer
argues, because the governments engaged in massacring its people are
easily identified as criminals (Smith, 2000). An example to prove
that this is a legitimate analogy is demonstrated by the apprehension
of Augusto Pinochet, the authoritarian ruler of Chile, who was arrested
after he left office for the humanitarian abuses he committed while
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