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The Moral Basis of Humanitarian Intervention

The Moral Basis of Humanitarian Intervention

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Published by Kristýna Koubková

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H
u m a n i t a rian interven ti on is usu-a lly discussed as an excepti on tothe non i n terven ti on pri n c i p l e .According to this pri n c ip le ,st a tes are for- bid den to exercise their aut h ori ty,and cer-t a i n ly to use force,within the ju ri s d i cti onofo t h er state s .The principle finds firmsu pport in the Un i ted Na ti ons Ch a rter,wh ich permits a state to defend itsel ff roma t t ack but forbids the use ofa rm ed forceagainst the terri torial integri ty or po li ti c a li n depen dence ofot h er state s .Ta ken literal- ly,these provi s i ons pro h i bit arm ed inter-ven ti on ,i n cluding interven ti on to pro tecthuman ri gh t s .And in gen eral ,hum a ni ta ri- an interven ti on finds scant su pport inm odern intern a ti onal law.There is,however,a much older traditionin which the use offorce is justified not onlyin sel f - defense but also to punish wron gsand protect the innocent.This tradition is ins ome ten s i on with modern intern a ti on a llaw and especially with the UN Charter.It holds that armed intervention is permissibleto en force standards ofc ivi l i zed con du ctwh en ru l ers vi o l a te those standard s ,a n dfinds ex pre s s i on tod ay in the wi dely hel dop i n i on that state s ,acting unilatera lly orcollectively,are justified in enforcing respect
57
The Moral Basis ofHumanitarianIntervention
Terry Nardin*
Ifone person is able to save another and does not save him,he transgresses the commandment,Neither shalt thou stand idly by the blood ofthy neighbor.
Maimonides
1
To those for whom the greatest threat to the future ofinternational order is the use offorce in theabsence ofa Security Council mandate,one might say: leave Kosovo aside for a moment,andthink about Rwanda.Imagine for one moment that,in those dark days and hours leading up tothe genocide,there had been a coalition ofstates ready and willing to act in defense ofthe Tutsipopulation,but the Council had refused or delayed giving the green light.Should such a coali-tion then have stood idly by while the horror unfolded?
UN Secretary-General KofiAnnan
2
* Earlier versions ofthis paper were pres ented at the Travers Ethics Conference,University ofCalifornia at Berkeley in December
1999
;a symposium sponsored bythe Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies at theUn ivers i ty ofCa l i fornia at Irvine in May
2 0 0 0
;t h ean nual meeting ofthe Intern ati onal Studies As soc i a- tion in February
2001
,and conferences hosted by theCenter for European Studies and the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University in Januaryand Septem ber
20 01
.I am gra teful to participants inthese events and to the editors and reviewers of 
Ethics& International Affairs
for helpful criticism and advice.
1
Mishneh Torah
XI,
5
,
1
,
14
,glossing Leviticus
19
:
16
,astranslated by Hyman Klein in
The Code ofMaimonides, Book Eleven: The Book ofTorts
,Yale Judaica Series,vol.
9
(New Haven:Yale University Press,
1954
),p.
198
.
2
The Secretary-General’s Annual Report to the General Assembly,September
20
,
1999
(UN Press Release SG/SM
7136
and GA
9596
).Also published as “Two Concepts o Sovereignty,”
Economist
,September
18
,
1999
.
Repinted from
Ethics &International Af airs
1 6 ,n o.2.© 2002 by Carnegie Council on Ethics andInternational Af airs.
 
for human rights.It is this enduring tradition, not current international law,that best explains the moral basis ofhumanitarian intervention. My strategy in this article is to relocate dis- cussion ofhumanitarian intervention,mov- ing it out ofthe familiar disco u rse of sovereignty and sel-defense and into the dis- course ofrectiying wrongs and protecting the innocent.I do this in two ways.First,I examine arguments made in early modernEurope for using armed force to uphold nat-ural law.I want to understand how what wenow call humanitarian intervention was con- ceived by moralists,theologians,and philoso- ph ers writing about international rel ation s
before
the emergence ofmodern internation- al law.My aim is not to read current concerns back into a period that might not have sharedthem,but rather to see whether earlier ideas about the use offorce to protect people from in ju ries inflicted or tolerated by their own governors might illuminate current debates. Second,I consider how humanitarian inter- vention is justified within a powerful refor- mu l a ti on ofnatural law worked out by philosophers influenced by Immanuel Kant. This po st -Kan tian versi on ofn a tu ral law, which I follow Alan Donagan in calling “com- mon morality,suggests why humanitarian i n terven ti on remains mora lly defen s i bl edespite modern ef forts to make it illegal.
3
H U M A N I TARIAN INTERVEN-TION IN EARLY MODERNN ATURAL LAW
In twentieth-century international law,a just war is above all a war ofsel-defense.But six- teenth- and seventeenth-century Europe an moralists justified war as a way to uphold law and protect rights,ofwhich sel-defense was only one.Rulers,these moralists argued ,h ave a right and sometimes a duty to enforce cer- tain laws beyond their realms.Some ofthese belong to the “law ofnations”
(ius gentium)
,understood not as intern ati onal law but as general principles oflaw recognized in many diferent communities.This law ofnations is an inductively establ ish ed body ofn orm s common to all or most peoples.But the most important class ofu nivers ally enforceable laws is “natural law,understood as compris- ing precepts that can be known by reason and are binding on all rational beings.What the law ofnations and natural law have in com- mon is that each identifies principles more general than the of ten-idiosyncratic norms of  particular commun ities .And in many respects,their principles are similar,though there are gl aring excepti on s .Slavery,for example,was long regarded as permitted by the law ofnations,simply because it was wide- ly practiced.But slavery cannot be defended as permissible under natural law,though many have,mistakenly,so defended it.The right to enforce these laws was understood to justiy rulers in punishing moral wrongdoing and defending the innocent,wherever such action was needed.The medieval literature on just war,like that ofm odern ti m e s ,is con cern ed wi t hwrongs done by one community to another.WhenAquinas suggests that a “just cause”isrequired for resorting to war,he is thinkingofsituations in which one community actsto punish another.“Those who area t t acked ,he says ,“should be attackedbecause they deserve it on account ofsomefault.”
4
And he goes on to quoteAugustine,for wh om a just war is one that “aven ge s
58
Terry Nardin
3
Alan Donagan,
The Theory ofMorality
(Chicago:Uni-versity ofCh i cago Pres s,
1 977
;reprinted with correc-tions,
1979
).
4
Saint Thomas Aqu i na s,
Summ a ry ofTheology
I I-II , Q.
40
,a.
1
,in
On Law,Morality,and Politics
,ed.WilliamP.Baumgarth and Richard J.Regan,S.J.(Indianapolis:Hackett Publishing Company,
1988
),p.
221
.
 
wrongs”—for example,when a state“has tobe punished for refusing to make amen d sfor the wrongs inflicted by its subjects or torestore what it has unjustly seized.
5
To get tothe idea ofhum an it arian interven tion,we must shift our attention from wrongs doneby one community to another to those doneby a government to its own subjects,eitherdirectly or by permitting mistreatment.Andi fthe ju s ti f i c a ti on ofwar is to prevent orpunish wrongdoing,it is not hard to makethis shift.Th omas More accomplishes iteffortlessly when he reports that the Utopi-ans go to war on ly “to pro tect their ownland,to drive invading armies from the ter-ri tories oft h eir fri en d s ,or to libera te anoppressed people,in the name ofhumanity,f rom tyra n ny and servi tu de .
6
In theab sen ce ofa norm ofnoninterven ti on ,no special justification for humanitarian inter-vention is needed.Even those who treat “theliberation ofan oppressed peopleas need-ing furt her justification will have an easier time making their case ifthe core justifica-tion for war is to “avenge wrongs.One kind ofoppre s s i on that med i eva lmoralists saw as justifying intervention wasthe mistre a tm ent ofCh ri s tians in non -Christian (“infidel”) kingdoms.Some real-i zed that this on e - s i ded con cern could begen era li zed to inclu de situ a ti ons in wh ichinfidels injure one another,and even situa-tions in which Christians injure infidels.Inmedieval discourse,the question ofwhethera Christian ruler might properly use force toprotect the victims in these situ a ti ons waseventually framed as a question ofwhetherthe pope ,as the recogn i zed univers a la ut h ori ty,should interven e .Because thepope was re s pon s i ble for seeing that
a ll
human bei n gs obey God s laws ,he co u l dpunish vi o l a ti ons by anyon e ,i n f i del orCh ri s ti a n .Papal interven ti on ,here ,me a n tthat the pope would aut h ori ze pri n ces toi n terven e ,just as UN interven ti on meansthat states are authorized to use armed forceunder its mandate.A key figure in this discussion,on whom many sixteenth- and seventeenth-centurymoralists relied,is the thirteenth-centurycanon lawyer Sinibaldo Fieschi,who wroteauthoritatively as Pope Innocent IV on rela- tions between the papacy and non-Christian societies.The immediate context ofInnocent’s discussion was the Crusades,which raised the issue ofwhether it is morally justifiable for Christians to invade lands ruled by non-Chris- tian princes.He argued that infidels,beingrational creatures,are capable ofmaking their own decisions,including forming civil soci- eties and choosing rulers.Furthermore,infi- dels cannot be forcibly converted.But because the gospel is addressed to everyone,the pope must be concerned with infidel as well asChristian souls.And all men are under the jurisdiction ofnatural law. Putting these arguments together,Inno- cent concludes that the pope has authority to act wh en infidels vi o l a te natural law.Th i smight happen ifinfidel rulers violate this law, or ifinfidel subjects violate it and their rulers do not prevent or punish them.So,for exam- ple,ifinfidels practice idolatry or sodomy, which Innocent thinks are forbidden by nat- ural law,Christians are justified in punishing them.Christians can also seek to promote the s p i ritual good ofi nf i dels by preaching the go s pel among them .And should infidel sinterfere with Chris tian mission ari e s ,t heir ri ght to preach can be defen ded by arm edforce.Finally,force can be used to prevent pers ec uti on ofCh ri s tians in infidel king-doms.In short,the pope can intervene in any
The Moral Basis ofH u m a n i ta rian Interven ti on
59
5
Augustine,
Questions on the Heptateuch
6
.
10
,quotedby Aquinas,
On Law,Morality,and Politics
,p.
221
.
6
Thomas More,
Utop i a
(
1 51 6
),ed .G eor ge M.Loga nand Robert M.Adams (Cambridge:Cambridge Univer-sity Press,
1989
),pp.
87
-
88
.

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