CPT David M. Barnes
Department of English
United States Military Academy
West Point, NY 10996
(914) 938-2155
DSN 688-2155

Among true worshipers of God those wars are looked on as peacemaking which are waged neither from aggrandizement nor cruelty but with the object of securing peace, of repressing the evil and supporting the good.– St. Thomas Aquinas.[1]

One cannot turn on the television or pick up a newspaper without being assaulted by the tragic loss of life caused by conflict in different corners of the world.In 1994, over 500,000 Tutsi men, women, and children were massacred in Rwanda.[2]During the fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that thirty to forty people died each day from the fighting or from lack of medical supplies.[3]Pictures from ITN and CNN showed the suffering of tens of thousands of refuges that fled the fighting in both Bosnia and Rwanda.In fact, as of 1995, there were over forty different states involved in internal or international conflict.[4]However, in that same time period, there have been only a limited number of humanitarian interventions to stop this kind of mass suffering.In spite of the media coverage and our deep sense of morality, the international community is reluctant to get involved.Even after the formation of the United Nations in 1947 whose raison d’être is to prevent such conflict and suffering, it is hard to believe that there have not been more interventions to stop or prevent these tragedies.

The problem is, of course, more complicated.International intervention,[5] by any workable definition, involves the intrusion of forces, supplies, and/or observers into the territory of another state.Intervening into the affairs of another state has often been condemned as a violation of that state’s sovereignty.

The issue of sovereignty violation is not a modern development.Since the seventeenth century, through the teachings of de Vittoria and Grotius, states have recognized each other’s right to sovereignty.[6]Today, the Charter of the United Nations protects this notion of sovereignty.Article 2(7) states that no nation can “intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.”[7]Apart from the international legal position of a state’s right of sovereignty, Hegel and other philosophers have suggested that states also enjoy the right of moral autonomy in addition to sovereignty.Elfstrom proposed that, “nation-states themselves possess a moral autonomy analogous to the moral autonomy possessed by individual human beings.The moral autonomy of the nation-state is founded upon the collected moral autonomy of each of its individual citizens.”[8]A state’s right to sovereignty is well grounded in history, legal precedence, and in political philosophy.Any attempt to justify intervention must first consider the notion of sovereignty and demonstrate why the international community should set aside a state’s sovereignty.

Despite the protection of a state’s sovereignty, the horrors of human suffering demand some action from us.On one extreme, international humanitarian intervention in every conflict would be implausible due to the monetary, material, and personnel commitment.However, it seems reasonable to intervene in extreme cases, or in cases were vital national interests are at stake.Thus, in order to justify an intervention, some type of convention must be made.For example, we might formulate a set of rules, conditions, or circumstances that would have to be satisfied, in order to intervene.Regardless of which convention we adopted, guidelines for intervention would need to account for the issue of sovereignty.

However, instead of inventing some new rules governing intervention, I suggest that we use the tenets of the Just War Tradition to justify intervention.Using the Just War Tradition has several advantages.It is well documented, socially and theologically acceptable, and it has been successfully used to address a number of justified sovereignty infractions.The tenets of the Just War Tradition are not uncontroversial.However, these tenets can provide a framework from which the international community (specifically the United Nations) can determine when a state has forfeited its right to sovereignty, when the UN can set aside Article 2(7), and when they can conduct a humanitarian intervention.The question is, “Can the bellum justum tenets accommodate the various considerations of intervention?”

I think the answer is “yes.”I believe that by justifying their actions through the Just War Tradition, the UN can selectively intervene in other states.To show that the bellum justum tenets can provide justification for intervention, I will begin with a brief explanation of the Just War Tradition.My explanation will include both the conditions for deciding to wage war (jus ad bellum) and the conditions for the conduct of war (jus in bello).Next, I will examine each tenet in turn to demonstrate how the Just War Tradition, specifically the conditions for jus ad bellum, can be applied to intervention.Furthermore, I will show that the tenets that govern conduct in war (jus in bello) can also apply to the intervening forces.Throughout, I will also discuss the various objections that have been raised against the Just War Tradition tenets, as well as some objections that opponents of intervention might raise in opposition to the Just War Tradition as a framework for intervention.Specifically, I will address the objection to intervention based on the violation of sovereignty, and then show how states can forfeit this right, thereby legally and morally opening their borders to intervention.[9]


The Just War Tradition

Although the Just War Tradition was developed from early Christian thought, one can trace the history of the Just War Tradition as far back as the Fifth century BC in China, where warlords developed rules for combat.In fact, codes of conduct for battle and rules of war are found within the historical background of many different cultures.[10]Nevertheless, St. Augustine is commonly recognized as the “Father of the Just Warfare Tradition.”Augustine dealt with the first concepts of bellum justum regarding the apparent conflict between the rules of Heaven and the rules of Rome.Augustine attempted to reconcile the apparent pacifist teachings of Jesus in the New Testament with the legal obligation of early Christians to fight in their country’s (in particular, Rome’s) wars.Although in Christian doctrine, it was prima facie wrong to kill, defense of the state was an acceptable exception according to Augustine. To resolve the issue of when fighting for the state was permitted, Augustine tried to provide a measure for determining when war was justified.He wrote that:

Just wars are usually defined as those which avenge injuries, when the nation or city against which warlike action is to be directed has neglected either to punish wrongs committed by its own citizens or to restore what has been unjustly taken from it.[11]

Although Augustine is credited with founding the Just War Tradition, he never developed his thoughts on bellum justum into tenets or rules that sovereign states could follow.St. Thomas Aquinas furthered the study of just warfare by interpreting Augustine’s writings and summarizing them into a set of rules.First, Aquinas wrote that only a legitimate authority could initiate a war.In addition, he proposed that a ruler should only wage war if that war has a just cause.Finally, he believed, a ruler should only resort to war with the right intention.These rules, written in the Summa Theologica, are still considered part of the Just War tenets today.

Sixteenth century philosopher, de Vitoria, and later Francisco Suarez, further adapted and modified the tenets for just warfare.In addition to Aquinas’ conditions of legitimate authority, just cause, and right intention, they added three additional conditions.These included: “the evils of war, especially the loss of human life, should be proportionate to the injustice to be prevented or remedied by war; peaceful means to prevent or remedy injustice should be exhausted; [and] an otherwise just war should have a reasonable hope of success.”[12]Today these tenets are commonly referred to as the tenets of proportionality, last resort, and reasonable chance of success, respectively. 

Other Just War Tradition tenets suggest that the state must publicly declare war, and that the state must use just conduct when fighting the war.With minor adjustments, these tenets have remained relatively unchanged.Although current just war theorists agree on a majority of the just war tenets, some philosophers suggest that the tenets of just intent and just conduct do not belong.While today the separation of jus ad bellum and jus in bello is commonly recognized, some philosophers disagree on the division between the tenets of each.Christopher and Walzer suggest that the just intent tenet is extraneous and is incorporated in the other tenets.They also believe that the just conduct tenet is a jus in bello issue.O’Brien disagrees.He maintains that a state must satisfy the tenet of just conduct for the war to remain just. [13]

However, just conduct is not a tenet of jus in bello.Rather, just conduct is a good description of what jus in bello means.There are two commonly recognized tenets of just conduct in war that grew from the concerns over who could be legally attacked, what means of attack could be used, and the treatment of prisoners.[14]The first tenet is proportion.The principle of proportion states that, “the harm judged likely to result from a particular military action should not be disproportionate to the good aimed at.”[15]The second tenet, discrimination, concerns the problem of who can be justifiably attacked and who are non-combatants.It theorizes that “non-combatants should be immune from direct attack.”[16]From these tenets, international treaties, such as the Geneva Conventions and the Leiber Code, were adopted in the hope ofprotecting innocents and prisoners during combat.In addition, these treaties tried to limit some of the horror of combat by restricting the types of weapons used.Although intended for war, I think that these same jus in bello principles also apply during intervention.However, I will leave the discussion of their significance for a later time.

Although I have outlined a number of frequently suggested tenets for just intervention, for continuity I will follow the popularly recognized tenets of the Just War Tradition (as proposed by Christopher and Walzer) for my discussion of just intervention.In accordance with the Just War theory, Christopher and Walzer summarize the following six historical conditions necessary for a nation to be justified in going to war:(1) The war must have a just cause; (2) The war’s potential gains must be proportional to the losses; (3) The war must also have a reasonable chance of success; (4) The country must publicly declare war; (5) Only a legitimate authority can declare war; and (6) Countries can only go to war as a last resort.Armed with these six conditions of bellum justum, I will modify them to reflect intervention and use them to define a just intervention.

The Tenets of Just Intervention

A state can declare war only if the cause is just.Similarly, the international community must show just cause when it resorts to intervention in a sovereign state.On the surface, it would seem that one could easily fulfill the condition of just cause for interventions.Historically, however, warring states have defined just cause in many different ways.Covall presents three “traditional” principles for just cause: (1) defense against actual or threatened injury from some other state or states; (2) recovery of or redress for the loss of that which lawfully belonged to or was lawfully due the injured state; or (3) punishment of the state or states guilty of wrong doing.[17]Regardless of what other criteria are used, bellum justum theorists commonly accept self-defense as a primary justification for just cause.However, self-defense would not apply when interventions were for humanitarian reasons.Humanitarian interventions rarely involve a threat to security or self-defense.(Although, as I will discuss later, some states have considered self-defense as the only legal recourse for violating a state’s sovereignty).Furthermore, bellum justum theorists often cite territorial disputes as a legitimate case for just cause.[18]The U.S.-lead Coalition used these same notions of territorial sovereignty and Kuwaiti self-defense as justification for liberating Kuwait.However, using the cause of territorial disputes applies only to interventions when a state’s national security is threatened.Furthermore, the question of what satisfies a just cause is often susceptible to debate.Therefore, we need to search further for a just cause for interventions.

Consider the atrocities committed in Bosnia, Cambodia, northern Iraq, and Rwanda.Would not the prevention of genocide and termination of “ethnic cleansing” satisfy the condition of just cause?What about the mass starvation in Somalia?It would seem that the senseless suffering of innocents in those countries would demand intervention.[19]Could the criteria for satisfying the tenet of just cause be expanded to include gross human rights violations?I believe it should be.

Consider the threat to regional or global stability that ethnic conflicts and other humanitarian disasters have wrought during the last twenty years.Inherent in the Charter of the UN is the stabiulization of peace and security.One could argue that threats to this peace and security constitute just cause for action.Furthermore, if we hold as Grotius believed that certain rights belong to every person by virtue simply of being members of the same race, then just cause is satisfied when, as Pope John Paul II wrote, “where the survival of populations and entire ethnic groups is seriously compromised….”[20]Moreover, allowing humanitarian justification for just cause is not a radical departure from traditional interpretation of just cause.Rather including humanitarian considerations is merely a more developed explication of the criteria for just cause.As early as 1598, Alberico Gentili established the “honorable reasons for waging war.”[21]He recognized the importance of humanitarian considerations in war and included that “the subjects of others do not seem to me to be outside that kinship of nature and society formed by the whole world.”[22]Thus, beginning with the sixteenth century, jurists considered that humanitarian considerations were included in justifying war. 

Therefore, the suffering of the innocents is just cause for the international community to intervene.Additionally, if an operation was intended to keep warring factions apart (peacemaking) or enforce a peace settlement (peacekeeping), the cause would also be just.[23]Thus, for an intervention to have a just cause, the cause must meet one or more of the following: prevent genocide, prevent ethnic cleansing, prevent other serious human rights violations, or it must be undertaken for the purpose of peacemaking, peacekeeping, and providing a rapid method for distributing humanitarian aid.However, the list is probably not complete.Additional causes that may be defined as just, although they are controversial, include capturing war criminals (e.g. from the former Yugoslavia) and conducting nation building (e.g. in countries like Somalia).[24]Applying the tenet of just cause will help ensure interventions are undertaken for the right reasons. 

The second condition of jus ad bellum is that the costs of the war must be proportional to the prospective gains.Thus when fighting a just war the potential gains must balance or outweigh the potential losses.Likewise, the costs must not outweigh the gains.One of the major factors considered before deciding to intervene is the cost of the intervention.Based on the figures from the Defense Budget project, Michael O’Hanlon estimates the cost for such a humanitarian intervention “might be expected in most cases to range from $3 billion to $8 billion [per year] per 50,000 personnel deployed.”[25]The wide range of cost estimates reflects the difficulty in making accurate estimates for any military operation.Terrain, weather, political climate, and even the remoteness of the target state all affect the costs of intervention.Additionally, O’Hanlon’s cost analysis does not include the expected loss of life.While accidents occur in any mission, casualty figures for an intervention can vary widely depending on the type of mission, resistance faced, etc.Although the costs in both material and lives may be high, these interventions are intended to save lives.The problem becomes one of “How much is too much?”What price do we put on human life?Money alone cannot be the deciding factor.An $8 million intervention is small when compared to what some states pay for defense.For example, the 1999 appropriation for U.S. Defense spending is $278.8 billion.[26]The real issue in any intervention becomes the cost of human life.However, the tenet of proportionality ensures that the international community intervenes only when the gains in lives saved would outweigh the costs of material and lives and ,alternatively, would not intervene when those costs and loss of life were too high.[27]

Wars must also have a reasonable chance of success to be considered just, and so must interventions.Those who oppose intervention soon forget that there have been several successful interventions in the last thirty years.Examples include the Indian intervention into what was then East Pakistan (Bangladesh) in 1971, the Tanzanian intervention to stop the depredations of Idi Amin in Uganda in 1978-1979, the Vietnamese intervention in Kampuchea in 1978-1979, Operation Provide Comfort in Iraq from 1991 on, Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in 1992-1993 (prior to the policy change to pursue Aidid), and Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti in 1994.[28]Several common factors contributed to the success of these interventions.Like any successful business plan or operation, an intervention must be well planned, well organized, and well executed.The social and political environment at the location of the planned intervention must be analyzed and understood before the decision to intervene.In addition, contributing states must make available sufficient resources (personnel, material, transportation, and security measures) at the time of intervention.Lastly, “a success objective” (humanitarian end) for the intervention must be defined, so that all participants work toward the same objective.

In addition to satisfying the aforementioned conditions, a just war and a just intervention must be publicly declared.Satisfying the public declared tenet for intervention is a simple process.Publicly declaring an intervention could merely be a matter of passing a Security Council Resolution (SCR).Some past examples include the passage of SCR 688 for Operation Provide Comfort in northern Iraq, SCR 792 for intervention in Somalia, and SCR 867 in operations in Haiti.Specifying that all justified interventions must be publicly declared also eliminates questionable justification for the “covert” interventions in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America that were so prevalent during the Cold War.

According to the fifth condition for a just war, only a legitimate authority can declare war.This condition exists to prevent individuals or small groups that do not represent the state from legally conducting war.However, finding the legitimate authority for intervention in the international arena can sometimes become complicated.No state should have a blanket legitimate authority to intervene in another, for the simple reason that there would be no system of checks and balances.Intervention between states could lead to an unstable pattern of counter-intervention.Unchecked, this could mitigate the humanitarian intents of the original intervention.It is a collective international consensus that helps differentiate between intervention and war.

Fortunately, there is a forum for international consensus.The United Nations provides an example of legitimate authority.Each recognized state is a member of the United Nations, and each member can voice an opinion and vote on UN Resolutions.The Organization of American States (OAS) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are also examples of legitimate authorities which may conduct limited interventions in their areas of influence.(However, I think that these regional authorities should defer to the UN for final authority to intervene.Should the UN decide to intervene, it has the option of assigning responsibility for the intervention to one of these regional authorities.Thus, for example, the OSCE monitors the Serbian troop withdrawal from Kosovo and reports the progress to the UN.)As the international legitimate authority, the UN can decide when to intervene.However, some states do not recognize the authority of the UN.I will discuss this problem later. 

The last condition a state must satisfy to justify war is that the war be started as a last resort.Similarly, an international intervention should be a last resort.For example, when the public called for the end of the fighting war in Yugoslavia, Security Council Resolutions were ignored, and diplomatic talks stagnated.Interventions such as the NATO air strikes in the former Yugoslavia were justified to satisfy the tenet of last resort.However, not every case of intervention involves a government that is derelict or criminal.In Somalia, there was no government.Sometimes, the amount of human suffering alone satisfies the tenet of last resort for intervention.However, there could be problems determining when the tenet of last resort is fulfilled, especially when one bases the decision to intervene upon some threshold of human suffering (e.g. numbers of murders or the degree of starvation.)When should the international community intervene?

Perhaps even waiting until the last resort could reduce the effectiveness of the intervention.Williamson suggests that, “the best time to intervene militarily is early, not for example after sanctions have been tried for considerable time and then adjudged to have failed.”[29]However, the last resort for intervention need not be das letzte Mittel (in terms of time) but rather it should be the das aeusserste Mittel (in terms of seriousness).[30]Thus, we should intervene only when the last resort is “most serious.”However, this version of serious-based decision making poses problems of its own.Consider the genocide in Rwanda.Recall that the best estimates of the murders committed in Rwanda were between 500,000 and 1 million.[31]Should the intervention have occurred when the casualties numbered in the hundreds of thousands?Common sense would dictate it is time to intervene.How about when the casualties only reach 10,000?Intervention would seem a reasonable response.The decision to intervene, however, becomes harder in cases where the numbers of casualties, refugees, or cases of starvation are smaller.There is no easy way to draw the line.One possible way to mitigate this problem of determining when last resort is satisfied is by concurrently looking at the tenet of proportionality.When the expected gains are proportionate to the expected losses, it is time to intervene.[32]

If we modify the existing tenets of the Just War Tradition, we are able to derive the necessary conditions of just intervention.The intervention must have a just cause; it must be proportional; the intervention needs to have a reasonable chance of success; and the international community must declare to the target state the intent to intervene.Further, the United Nations can function as the legitimate authority for international interventions.Whether considered as time dependent or seriousness dependent, we can intervene only as a last resort.The Just War Tradition tenets provide a workable framework for determining the legitimacy and justification for intervention.

A Question of Legitimacy and Just Cause

Although the Just War Tradition seems perfectly suited for justifying intervention, it has not been universally adopted as the framework for determining when to intervene.Some feel that simply modifying the Just War Tradition is not sufficient.They feel that “when forcible intervention is brought under the framework principles, traditional just war criteria have to be significantly adapted."[33]Others may have objections to some of the tenets of the Just War Tradition themselves.As I suggested earlier, using the tenets of bellum justum as the framework for justifying intervention is not unopposed.These objections stem from the fact that the Just War Tradition has some inherently ambiguous components in several of its necessary conditions.Two areas that are subject to differing interpretation are the tenet of just cause and the question of legitimate authority.Theses are related tenets because only the legitimate authority can decide when the cause of intervention is just.

Who determines just cause?In order to legitimize the decision to intervene, the decision must be made by an acceptable authority and “the best authority is international, multilateral – the UN is the obvious example.”[34]The United Nations is the closest international equivalent of a state’s legitimate government.However, many states have selectively ignored the authority of the UN and some have publicly denied its authority.One of the problems with the legitimacy of UN authority is that the decision to intervene, aid, or initiate trade sanctions is held by the Security Council.The Security Council’s power to intervene poses two problems.First, there may not be a consensus for intervention, or worse, there may be opposing votes as to whom the intervention willbenefit.For example, in the Gulf Crisis, the Security Council demanded the return of Kuwait to a pre-invasion state.[35]However, under other but similar circumstances the Security Council might have acted differently.O’Brien tries to explain this potential problem.He writes:

Even though an enforcement action was carried out by the United States and other members of the UN coalition against Iraq, the status of UN war-decision law may not be fundamentally or permanently changed….One can think of other possible conflicts, e.g., between India and Pakistan, where Security Council members and other members might support different belligerents.Their vetoes and other votes might block Security Council action.[36]

Could the Security Council vote some other way under the same circumstances?If so, then the determination of just cause, or whether the other conditions of just war are met, does not seem to lie on firm moral ground.Rather, such decisions might be swayed by other influences, such as balance of power, economic conditions, and internal political concerns.Walzer concurs with this potential problem.He thinks that some coalitions of states, cooperating for the sake of their own shared interests, could steer the voting of the Security Council away from the original proposal.Furthermore, the Council may not reach any agreement and further loss of life may occur during this stalemate.[37]

Regardless of the potential problems, the UN is the best international authority currently available to judge the validity of an intervention.Perhaps the UN, and especially the Security Council, needs to reform their procedures, especially those outdated ones established at the end of World War II.Unfortunately, there are no major procedural changes anticipated in the near future.Still, it seems wise to have an international entity such as the UN, with at least partial representation from all the states, deciding on the issue of intervention.It is far too simple for countries to justify their own actions from their own point of view (e.g. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Germany’s occupation of Austria and Czechoslovakia).

Consider the justification Iraq offered for their invasion of Kuwait.Iraq presented several defenses for their invasion that could be viewed as just cause.First, there is significant historical evidence that the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait seems to have begun as a territorial dispute.For example, Iraq had a long-standing territorial claim to Kuwait.Long before the Gulf crisis, Kuwait was considered to be the 19th province of Iraq.During the reign of the Ottoman Empire, Kuwait was ruled as a part of Iraq.However, Britain separated Kuwait from Iraq after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I.Kuwait was then a protectorate of Britain until 1961 when Kuwait became an independent nation.In the Gulf, Britain also gave the islands of Bubiyan and Warbah, traditionally considered part of Iraq, to Kuwait.[38]This separation of the Ottoman Empire into several countries effectively reduced Iraq’s land size and number of oil fields, thereby leaving Iraq practically land-locked.Citing these territorial claims, Iraq has always considered that Kuwait is part of Iraq.Saddam Hussein summarized how the invasion solved this issue during his September 24, 1990 speech on the Republic of Iraq Radio.He said, “Kuwait is Iraqi…they are a people who have returned to the fold; a land that has been restored to the people.”[39]The Iraqis viewed the invasion of Kuwait as merely a re-establishment of the traditional Iraqi border.

Iraq also claimed self-defense as justification for their invasion.They perceived that Kuwait had launched what amounted to an economic first strike against Iraq.In violation of their OPEC treaty, Kuwait had cut oil prices and increased oil production levels.[40]Kuwait even pumped more than their negotiated share of oil from the Iraqi-Kuwaiti jointly owned Rumalian oil fields.[41]Saddam Hussein summarized that Iraq was undergoing an economic attack by Kuwait when he stated: 

Frankly, war is fought not only with soldiers….There are other means of conducting wars, economic means.We hope that our brethren who do not wish open war with Iraq will realize that this economic kind of war will not be tolerated any longer.We have come to a point beyond which we cannot go.[42]

Additionally, Iraq told the U. S. Ambassador that Kuwait was involved in territorial encroachment on Iraqi soil.[43]Moreover, it appears as though Kuwait was trying horizontal drilling under the border.[44]With their historical territorial claim to Kuwait and evidence of Kuwait’s economic warfare, Iraq felt that the invasion of Kuwait had just cause.

The international community, especially the thirty-three members of the coalition, of course, disagreed.The international community viewed the Iraqi aggression not only as a violation of the Laws of Warfare, but as an “assault upon a people, their everyday life and their physical survival.”[45]It was the UN, exemplified by the passage of SRC 678, that determined that Iraq’s actions were wrong, not the individual state of Kuwait, or even the U.S.

The same consideration must be applied to the decision for any intervention.In order to justify intervention, and to have that intervention considered acceptable to the international community, each case should be brought forward, discussed, decided upon, and then executed at the multinational level.The UN is currently the best international body to make a decision to intervene.

Intervention vs. Sovereignty 

As we solidify the guidelines to be used to justify intervention, we must also answer the problem of violating the sovereignty of another state.Since the Treaty of Westphalia, individual states, international law, the international community, and even the Catholic Church have recognized the benefits of sovereignty and have resisted changes to the rights of sovereignty states enjoy.In 1758, de Vattel wrote, “states have rights to legislate and administer justice without interference from outside their borders.”[46]The protection against violations of a state’s sovereignty are further recognized and codified in the UN Charter.In fact, the UN was founded on the recognition that sovereignty is essential for international peace.Article 2 (1) reads that the “Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its members.”[47]Furthermore, the use of force is prohibited against “the territorial integrity or political independence of any state,”[48] and an acceptance that nothing shall authorize the UN “to intervene in matters which are essentially within the jurisdiction of any state.”[49]In addition, the U.S. Catholic bishops wrote that, “sovereignty and non-intervention into the life of another state have long been sanctioned by Catholic social principles….”[50]Any attempt at intervention whether humanitarian or not, would violate a state’s sovereignty. [51]

Furthermore, the problem of intervention and sovereignty has a long and contentious history.Hobbes argued that sovereign states have no authority over other states.Charles Fox, a member of the House of Commons in 1794, also spoke of the common notion of sovereignty.He said:

If a people, in the formation of their government, have been ill-advised, if they have fallen into error, if they have acted iniquitously and unjustly toward each other, God is the only judge; it is not the province of other nations to chastise their folly, or punish their wickedness, by choosing who should rule over them, or in what manner and form they should be governed.[52]

Any type of intervention necessarily violates the principle of sovereignty.However, in the intervention I am proposing, I am not trying to suggest that the principle of sovereignty is false, nor do I think that other states’ rights should by swept aside for just any intervention.We should intervene only in dire circumstances when the tenets of Just Intervention are met.

The problem is one of justifying a limited violation of sovereignty to allow for international intervention.One proposed argument for allowing selective violations of sovereignty is based upon the theory that a state’s right to existence, hence its right to sovereignty, is founded upon the collective rights of its citizens.Grotius thought that “certain rights belong to every person by virtue simply of membership of the human race, and that there is a universal obligation to ensure that these rights are respected.”[53]Membership in the human race entails certain rights of self-determination.Teson has applied this theory to propose that interventions can be right in certain cases.He suggests that there are two pillars of international law: one based on human rights and the other based on state sovereignty.This dichotomy of views is often at the root of confusion over whether intervention is just or not.Thus, Teson suggests that our notion of international law may need modifying to include a more flexible account of sovereignty.

The creation of the state arises from the need to protect the individuals in that state.Although we commonly think that states exist as a defense against foreign aggression, the state also exists to protect the individuals’ rights at home.[54]Furthermore, a state that forgoes the protection of its citizens or violates their rights loses its own right of existence or sovereignty.The Declaration of Independence is based on similar ideas.Michael Smith writes:

[T]he justification for state sovereignty cannot rest on its own prescriptive legitimacy.Instead, it must be derived from the individuals, whose rights are to be protected from foreign oppression or intrusion and from their right to a safe, sovereign framework in which they can enforce their autonomy and preserve their interests … that a state that is oppressive and violates the autonomy and integrity of its subjects forfeits its moral claim to full sovereignty.[55]

When a state violates the rights of its subjects, a rigid application of the notion of sovereignty becomes shaky.Augustine wrote in De Civitate Dei 4.4, “Take away justice, and what are governments but brigandage on a grand scale.”Following the Just Intervention tenets, a legitimate authority, such as the UN, can interpret the criminal actions of the state against its subjects, or the inaction of the target state to relieve their subjects’ suffering, as just cause for intervention.As a matter of fact, this notion of a more flexible attitude toward sovereignty in emergencies can be found in the UN Charter.Chapter VII of the Charter concerns action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression.[56]Under Chapter VII, threats to peace and breaches of the peace could be considered just cause for intervention.

New technology is another reason that the notion of sovereignty is becoming less rigid.Communication makes it easier to cross borders and mediate differing ideologies.Furthermore, states today have become less autonomous.Separate, self-interested states, where isolationism was the ideology (e.g. the U.S. before World War I and between the Wars), have given way to a kind of“economic interdependence.”The G7, OPEC, and European Union are evolving from purely economic organizations into political entities.Sovereignty is important to prevent unfettered, illegal intervention, but it should not be an objection in severe cases of human rights abuses.

Besides the opinion that intervention can, in certain situations, violate a state’s sovereignty, there exists another, potentially worse, difficulty with intervention.If conditions permit, there could be a problem of long-term intervention.Successful intervention is “likely to require a much more substantial challenge to conventional sovereignty: a long-term military presence, … and along the way, making all this [humanitarian relief, nation building] possible, the large scale and reiterated use of force.”[57]Long-term intervention posses many difficult issues (not just involving sovereignty).Logistics, military readiness, and political favor would all be stressed by a long-term intervention.However, the impacts of long-term intervention should be reviewed under the tenet of proportionality.The UN should then determine if the intervention has a reasonable chance of success.If the proposed intervention is proportional and has a reasonable chance of success, long-term intervention may not be an insurmountable problem.[58]


I have presented the Just War Tradition as a possible framework for justifying intervention.With slight modifications, the same war tenets may be used for peaceful intentions, such as intervention for humanitarian reasons.Foremost, an intervention must have a just cause.I have suggested several situations were intervention is justified, such as preventing genocide and peacekeeping.These missions would satisfy the principle of just cause.Any losses incurred during intervention should be proportional to the gains; additionally, the conditions for a reasonable chance of success must be discussed and planned prior to the decision to intervene.Finally, what constitutes last resort may not always be measured in terms of time, because the severity of the situation may dictate the time to intervene.To avoid the questionable intent of covert interventions, the decision to intervene must be made public.

Only a legitimate international authority can intervene.Additionally, I have proposed that the UN is the logical international authority.However, problems with the UN as the legitimate authority still need to be resolved.Palestinians and others in the Muslim world could argue as follows: 

Kuwait was occupied and within six months the world assembled a massive military force to expel Saddam Hussein.Palestinians wait 25 years and more, but receive little help in ensuring that SCR 242 is implemented….For the UN to carry conviction as the “legitimate authority” to authorize armed intervention … it must be seen to be impartial and consistent in the application of international law.[59]

However, the UN remains the best and, currently, only legitimate option.

By meeting the same tenets that are used to justify war, I have shown that the just war tenets of jus ad bellum can be used as a framework for intervention.I addressed several potential pitfalls of applying the Just War Tradition to humanitarian intervention.Additionally, I showed that the question of sovereignty can be “set aside” in certain cases where human rights violations are severe.In cases where a state is criminal or negligent, the target state has forfeited their right to sovereignty.

While sovereignty remains a fundamental state right, the face of sovereignty is changing with the evolving formation of an international community.Additionally, a growing economic interdependence, as evidenced by how the G7, OPEC, and European Union (EU) are evolving from purely economic organizations into political entities.(Operation Allied Force is an EU-sponsored, NATO force air intervention in Kosovo and Serbia).Sovereignty is necessary to prevent illegal intervention, but it should not be an rigid barrier allowing severe cases of human rights abuses.

Starvation, disease, mass deportations, and ethnic cleansing are all tragic examples of human suffering and criminal activity that cast shadow over our world today.In most cases, these atrocities can be prevented.Furthermore, “… all states have an interest in global stability and even in global humanity, and in the case of wealthy and powerful states like ours, this interest is seconded by obligation.”[60]If the state in question cannot act, or refuses to act, then international intervention may be required.To determine when to intervene, the UN should apply the tenets of Just Intervention.


[1] Aquinas’ Summa Theologia II, II, ae, 40, 1.
[2] Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Prosecuting Genocide in Rwanda: The ICTR and National Trials (New York: Lawyers Committee, 1997), 3.
[3] Oliver Ramsbotham and Tom Woodhouse, Humanitarian Intervention in Contemporary Conflict (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1996), 184.
[4] Andrew J. Goodpaster, When Diplomacy is not enough: Managing Multinational Military Interventions (Washington D.C.: Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, 1996), 11.
[5] By “intervention,” I am referring to the definition: Intervention =df an agency interference, by force or coercion, into the affairs of a target (i) to protect the agency’s nationals, (ii) to protect interests considered vital to the agency, (iii) to support succession, (iv) for counter-intervention, or (v) to prevent or to put a halt to serious violations of human rights.In addition, I will define a “humanitarian intervention.” as Humanitarian Intervention =df an intervention authorized by relevant organs of the internationally recognized authority where states are voting members for the sole purpose of preventing or putting a halt to a serious violation of fundamental human rights; such that this interference has (a) a humanitarian cause, (b) a declared humanitarian end, (c) a humanitarian outcome, and (d) is conducted through humanitarian means.These include any humanitarian-type military supported intervention such as military interventions with humanitarian intent (threatened air strikes in Kosovo), military supported distribution of humanitarian aid (Rwanda, Northern Iraq, Somalia), and peacekeeping missions (Bosnia, and Cyprus).
[6] See Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace, Translated by Francis W. Kelsey (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1962).
[7] UN Charter, Article 2 (7).
[8] Gerard Elfstrom,“On Dilemmas of Intervention,” Ethics 93 (July 1983): 713.See also Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars (New York: Basic Books, 1977), 53-54.
[9]Christopher adopts a similar approach for justifying interventions in “Chapter 12 Humanitarian Intervention” in the second edition of his work, The Ethics of War and Peace.He also tries to apply the Just War Tradition tenets as necessary conditions for Humanitarian intervention.See pp. 190-207.However, we disagree on four main points:(1) Christopher maintains that to satisfy the condition of just cause, one must have injury received (p. 190).I agree this restriction poses a difficulty when trying to establish just cause for interventions, however, I think the difficulty can be overcome with a less restricted interpretation of just cause.I will discuss this point later.(2) Christopher chooses to separate humanitarian interventions from other missions such as peacekeeping based on his interpretation that only coercive use of force constitutes intervention (193-4).I think this is a mistake.Any humanitarian operation that involves the use of forces from outside of a state constitutes intervention regardless if the use is coercive or non-coercive.(3) Christopher maintains that there may be obligations to restrain from harm, but there are no obligations to do good (p. 198).I find the view that there is no obligatory beneficence to be very disturbing, nevertheless, I will not discuss beneficence here.Finally, Christopher fails to discuss the jus ad bellum tenet of reasonable success in his discussion of humanitarian intervention.I think that satisfying the tenet of reasonable chance of success is paramount to determining when to intervene.Thus, I do include it in this paper.
[10] For a good discussion on the varied history of the Just War Tradition see Paul Christopher, The Ethics of War and Peace: an Introduction to Legal and Moral Issues (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1994).
[11] Augustine, Questions in Heptateuchum, Bk. VI, 10a, quoted in Christopher, 40.
[12] Richard J. Regan, Just War: Principles and Cases (Washington D. C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1996), 17-18.
[13] Christopher, 88-95 and Walzer (1977), 21, 28.See also William V. O’Brien, The Conduct of Just and Limited War (New York: Preager Publishers, 1981), 35; J. E. Hare, and Carey B. Joynt, Ethics and International Affairs (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982), 55-66; and Robert L. Holmes, On War and Morality (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1989), 176-175.
[14] Christopher, 100.
[15] Ramsbotham and Woodhouse, 228.
[16] Ramsbotham and Woodhouse, 228.
[17] Charles Covell, Kant and the Law of Peace (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988).
[18] Whether just or not, history is full of examples of wars fought over territory.Look at the recent disputes over the West Bank and Gaza strip in the Middle East and the Falklands war fought between Argentina and Britain over the Falkland Islands.See also Regan, 59-63.
[19] One could make an argument from a deontological approach that would maintain that it is our duty to intervene.But I leave this discussion for another forum.
[20] Roger Williamson, “An Ethical Framework – Or Just Intervention,” in Some Corner of a Foreign Field: Intervention and World Order, ed. Roger Williamson (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), 255.
[21] Oliver Ramsbotham, “Humanitarian Intervention: The Contemporary Debate,” in Some Corner of a Foreign Field: Intervention and World Order, ed. Roger Williamson (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), 60.
[22]Ramsbotham, 60.
[23] For a further discussion see David Fisher’s“Some Corner of a Foreign Field,” in Some Corner of a Foreign Field: Intervention and World Order, ed. Roger Williamson (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), 29.
[24] See also Comfort Ergo and Suzanne Long “Cases and Criteria: the UN in Iraq, Bosnia, and Somalia,” in Some Corner of a Foreign Field: Intervention and World Order, ed. Roger Williamson (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), 161-3.
[25] Michael O’Hanlon, Saving Lives with Force: Military Criteria for Humanitarian Intervention, (Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1997), 64.
[26]Army Times, 9 November 1998, 18.
[27] Thomas G. Weiss does a good job outlining the cost-benefit results from five recent interventions (Northern Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Haiti) in Military Civilian Interactions: Intervening in Humanitarian Crisis, (Lantham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, Pub. Inc., 1999).
[28] Oliver Ramsbotham, “Humanitarian Intervention: the Contemporary Debate” in Some Corner of a Foreign Field: Intervention and World Order, ed. Roger Williamson (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), 63-64.
[29] Williamson, “An Ethical Framework,” 255.
[30] Williamson, “An Ethical Framework,” 256.
[31] Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Prosecuting Genocide in Rwanda, 3.
[32] This of course presents another problem.Prevention is a far better alternative to massive long-term intervention.However, lacking an international crystal ball, determining which conflicts to intervene in and in what amount becomes a matter of foretelling which regions will become humanitarian crisis is left unchecked.This was a problem for the US when the Soviet Union dissolved.All intelligence indications pointed to an ethnic conflict in Ukraine, yet none erupted.However, the international community was shocked by the rapid deterioration and horrible depredation in Rwanda.In one case, intervention was unnecessary, and in the other, the international community was blamed for its inaction against the ensuing massacres.For a good discussion of this problem (in particular the US policy toward ethnic conflicts) see David Callahan, Unwinnable Wars: Americal Power and Ethnic Conflict (New York: Hill and Wang, 1997).
[33] Ramsbotham and Woodhouse, 228.They offer a different framework instead.See 223-229.
[34] Michael Walzer, “The Politics of Rescue,” Dissent (Winter 1995): 39.
[35] Security Council Resolution 678.
[36] William O’Brien, Law and Morality in Israel’s War with the PLO (New York, 1991), 89.
[37] Walzer “The Politics,” 39.
[38] Musallam Ali Musallam, The Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait: Saddam Hussein, His State and International Power Politics (London, New York: British Academic Press, 1996), 90.
[39] Quoted in Charles R. H. Tripp, “Symbol and Strategy: Iraq and the War for Kuwait”, in The Iraqi Aggression Against Kuwait: Strategic Lessons and Implications for Europe, ed. W. Danspeckgruber (Westview Press, 1994), 27.
[40] Tripp, 26.
[41] Regan, 49 and 172.
[42] Musallam, 93. 
[43] Musallam, 95.
[44] Regan, 172.
[45] Musallam, 101, discussing Walzer’s views from “Justice and Injustice in the Gulf War.” 
[46] Quoted in Anthony Harvey,“Can Intervention be Just?” in Some Corner of a Foreign Field: Intervention and World Order, ed. Roger Williamson (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), 51.
[47] Reprint of the UN Charter in Regan, 213-231.
[48] Article 2 (4).Regan, 214.
[49] Article 2 (7).Regan, 215.
[50] Cited in Williamson, “An Ethical Framework,” 255.
[51] For further discussion on the problem of sovereignty and intervention see Richard Little, “Recent Literature on Intervention and Non-Intervention,” in Political Theory, International Relations, and the Ethics of Intervention, eds. Ian Forbes and Mark Hoffman (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993), 13-31; and Michael J.Smith, “Ethics and Intervention,” Ethics and International Affairs 3 (1989): 1-26.
[52] Cited in Ernst B. Haas, “Beware the Slippery Slope: Notes toward the Definition of Justifiable Intervention” in Emerging Norm of Justified Intervention, eds. Laura Reed and Carl Kaysen (Cambridge: Committee on International Securities Studies, 1993), 63.
[53] Cited in Harvey, 51
[54] Fernando R. Teson, A Philosophy of International Law (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998), 3-7.See also Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, 53-55.Although Walzer is using this notion that a state gets its rights from its citizens to argue that the state has the right to defend itself as those citizens have the right to defend themselves.
[55] Michael Smith, “Humanitarian Intervention: An Overview of the Ethical Issues,” Ethics and International Affairs 12 (1998): 76.
[56] UN Charter, Chapt. VII, reprinted in Regan, 221-224.
[57] Walzer, “The Politics,” 37.
[58] For example the UNFICYP has kept the peace in Cyprus for over thirty years and still monitors the disagreement between Turkey and Greece for possession of Cyprus.
[59] Williamson, “An Ethical Framework,” 256-7.
[60] Walzer, “The Politics,” 38.