Humanitarian Intervention

8 August 2016

The issue of humanitarian intervention has become increasingly prominent in worldwide debates regarding its role in ethics and legitimacy in international relations. Uncertainty arises as to whether there are any moral obligation for humanitarian intervention and the concerning justifications of the violation of state sovereignty.

In viewing the matter ethically and applying Immanuel Kant’s principle of cosmopolitan law from his 1795 essay Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Essay, humanitarian intervention can be established as a conflict between a cosmopolitan responsibility, which is to protect and promote human rights because of their universality, and an obligation to respect state sovereignty as a crucial basis for moral and political international order.

Humanitarian Intervention Essay Example

Inevitably, fulfilling one set of responsibilities can involve the violation of the other in situations for example where governments are actively abusing the fundamental rights of their own citizens. Many Third World leaders consider the concept of humanitarian intervention to be potentially destabilizing for the international system, and view it as an excuse for more powerful nations to undermine and threaten their state sovereignty.

By using the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) as a reference point, this essay will investigate the relationships between states when dealing with human rights standards and cultural differences. In examining the doctrine of ‘the responsibility to protect’, this essay will justify humanitarian intervention as a moral requirement of international order by focusing on the idea that the broader community of states must assume the responsibility of intervention when individual sovereign states are unwilling or unable to protect their own citizens from avoidable catastrophe.

Using ethnographic examples, fundamental political theories will be examined thoroughly as I deem Third World suspicion illegitimate and focus on intervention as a responsibility of all international actors. There is no one standard or legal definition for humanitarian intervention, however the countless different interpretations and justifications all comprise of the same basic feature. This feature involves, one state (generally from the West), in response to situations where humanitarian objectives are under threat, interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign state (generally in the Third World), through the employment of threats and use of military force. The Third World, a term applied to all developing postcolonial states, have socio-economic and political attributes, which make them particularly vulnerable to internal conflict and external interference. According to Mohammad Ayoob (2004), these vulnerabilities over time have “greatly influenced [Third World] attitudes towards humanitarian intervention and international administration”.

When it comes to humanitarian intervention, many Third World leaders are suspicious of the ‘West’ and their influence within international administration. Their suspicions stem from their fear of losing their state sovereignty, as the West manipulates the international system to gain power and geographic proximity, spread disorder, maintain certain state relationships, and promote their ethnic and religious ideals.

However by using the United Nation’s (UN) Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) as a reference point, it is clear these humanitarian objectives are not shaped by states strategic interests, but are by and large in response to trying to end violations of human rights as defined in the UN declaration. With the UN leading the charge for human rights at the universal level all around the world, it is the only multilateral governmental agency with universally accepted international jurisdiction for universal human rights legislation.

However, the UN’s Universal Declaration is still often viewed as a form of Western imperialism and its concepts seen as narrow, restricting and irrelevant to any non-westernized country. This has created major issues when organizations such as the UN and many Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) try to assist in countries with major welfare issues, mainly throughout the Third World, when they are not welcomed nor wanted by the local governments. This issue of states interfering with the internal affairs of others goes against Kant’s Cosmopolitan Law.

Within Kant’s essay Perpetual Peace (1795), it states within the fifth Preliminary Article “No state shall forcibly interfere in the constitution and government of another state”. It is explained that each state has a constitution, which is a political legal system for establishing right, which is of great moral importance. In effect, the state’s constitution is the choice of the community living under the state’s laws to recognize and respect one another’s humanity.

For one state to intervene in another’s constitution is therefore a denial of a people’s humanity, and legitimizes Third World apprehension. Highlighting that humanitarian intervention is not always welcomed and is often viewed with suspicion is my analysis of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is a frequent human rights offender, with widespread reports of systematic and escalating violations. According to the Red Cross (2010), the government of Zimbabwe violates the rights to shelter, food, freedom of movement and residence, freedom of assembly and protection by law.

The human rights that are breached there on a regular basis are somewhat out of the complete control of the UN, with Zimbabwean minister for Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Patrick Chinamasa, lashing out at “developed countries” at the inaugural session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2006. He accused the UN of funding local NGO’s with the goal of “undermining [Zimbabwe’s] sovereignty, creating and sustaining local opposition groups that have no local support base, and promoting disaffection and hostility among the local population against their popularly elected government”.

In a country with constant political turmoil and civil unrest, it appears the Zimbabwean Government will not accept assistance nor will they accept any responsibility for the violations against their own citizens. The European Union and the United States have both strongly condemned the actions of the Zimbabwean Government and their police on a number of occasions but remain powerless in regards to reprimand. The Zimbabwean government however responds to these accusations from Western countries with counter-accusations of colonial attitudes and hypocrisy.

By claiming that countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States are guilty of similar or even worse human rights violations, and by giving examples such as the Iraq War, the Zimbabwean Government easily justify their actions, which then promptly silences any opposition from Western organizations. According to William Easterly in his book The White Man’s Burden (2006), humanitarian intervention is ultimately just modern recreations of the infamous colonial arrogance of the past. Easterly sums up his argument within his book’s long title; “the West’s efforts to aid the rest have done so much ill and so little good”.

Intervention assumes that the target state’s constitution is inferior to the intervener’s, which can be distinguished further using the post-colonial discourse of “othering. Such intervention is generally seen between developed Western powers and developing Eastern Third World nations. Edward Said brought the term of colonial “othering” to attention in his 1978 book, Orientalism, where he describes “the essence of Orientalism [as] the ineradicable distinction between Western superiority and Oriental inferiority”.

This is exactly the issue Zimbabwean minister Patrick Chinamasa (2006) was contending. The right of humanitarian intervention has been one of the most controversial foreign policy issues of the last decade, both when intervention has happened, as in Kosovo, and when it has failed to happen, as in Rwanda. Examining the Zimbabwe case for non-intervention, it is evident that the Zimbabwean government wanted nothing to do with the UN and anyone affiliated with them due to their Western influence and ideals.

However, in September 2005, at a United Nations Summit, Secretary General Kofi Annan released a report entitled In Larger Freedom. It proposed a bold agenda of “highest priorities “for the Summit. It urged Heads of State and Government to “embrace the ‘responsibility to protect’ as a basis for collective action against genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”. With both the Third World and the ‘West’ easily able to justify their interests for and against humanitarian intervention, it is hard to determine the best approach to stabilizing and maintaining order within the international system.

Kant’s version of international law (1795) determines states individuality by the contract made among its citizens and government. However, the principle of state sovereignty, derived from the belief that non-intervention in the internal affairs of states is the best policy to promote and maintain international peace, neglects the rights of the citizens of the state. Kant writes in his book, The Metaphysics of Morals (1797), “A state is a union of a number of people under laws of right”. The idea that a state would commit or allow genocide or would otherwise deny its population their basic moral rights and humanity is not only unimaginable but in theory impossible. In such situation the non-intervention principles would not apply, as it is irrelevant when there is no longer an effective contract to constitute a state as a moral person. This would deem outside states free to assist, and to use force if necessary. Terry Nardin (2005) makes a valid argument in stating “if intervention is acceptable in civil wars because the state’s moral character has been dissolved, the same acceptability would apply to instances like genocide”.

However, Simon Chesterman, author of Just War or Just Peace (2003) puts it differently and quite simply states “Humanitarian Intervention, Inhumanitarian Non-intervention”. In this particular chapter he plays out the 1999 humanitarian war in East Timor and makes comparisons to relevant international action similar to the war in Kosovo. Chester man’s analysis of “whether doing something is necessarily better than doing nothing” creates an ends-versus-means scenario.

The debate of the right of unilateral humanitarian intervention then stems from what Chesterman determines as “the question of whether sovereignty or human rights is paramount in international law”. Kant, along with Nardin, Chesterman and the ICISS, can all be associated with the notion that non-intervention and humanitarian intervention are in fact both justified by the very same principle of humanity. “There are moral reasons why a state must be recognized as having rights, in particular the right that outsiders respect its independence and boundaries”.

But the same principles that justify the non-intervention principle justify exceptions to that principle. If a government seriously violates the moral rights of those it governs, others may defend those rights, using force if necessary. Nardin (2005) asserts, “The non-intervention principle is not a safeguard behind which an unjust state can hide while it violates the moral rights of its subjects. ” Such violations, if serious enough, permit forcible intervention and may even demand it.

This statement renders Third World suspicions of humanitarian intervention illegitimate in comparison to the humanitarian rights of the citizens of these Third World nations. In this essay, after defining humanitarian intervention and establishing Third World suspicions as being the West’s manipulation for power, I have justified the need for intervention through the UN Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The need for an international ‘responsibility to protect’. Through a brief overview of standardized political theory, I justified humanitarian intervention as a moral requirement for humanity.

However, although the interest for a state to intervene must be weighed up against the outcomes of the intervention and no personal agendas from outside states can influence such interactions. In concluding the responsibility to protect encompasses the idea that sovereign states have a responsibility to protect their own citizens from avoidable catastrophe, but that when they are unwilling or unable to do so, the broader community of states must assume that responsibility as fellow citizens of the international community.

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