Ethics & International Affairs Volume 16.1 (Spring 2002): Articles: The Moral Basis of Humanitarian Intervention [Abstract]

May 2, 2002

This article discusses the moral principles underlying the idea of humanitarian intervention. The analysis is in two parts, one historical and the other philosophical. First, the article examines arguments made in late medieval and early modern Europe for using armed force to punish the violation of natural law and to defend communities from tyranny and oppression, regardless of where they occur. It seeks to understand how moralists writing before the emergence of modern international law conceived what we now call humanitarian intervention. In the context of international law, humanitarian intervention is usually understood to be an exception to the nonintervention principle. However, the natural law tradition regards international law as less important than the moral imperative to punish wrongs and protect the innocent. Second, the article considers how humanitarian intervention is justified within the reformulation of the natural law tradition displayed in recent efforts to theorize morality along Kantian lines. In this reformulation, humanitarian intervention is a product of the duty of beneficence and, more specifically, of the right to use force to protect the innocent. The article draws upon the biblical injunction "Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor," which has become a centerpiece of the modern reformulation, and briefly explores its application to humanitarian intervention in the context of international relations today. This reformulation of natural law explains why, despite modern efforts to make it illegal, humanitarian intervention remains, in principle, morally defensible.

To read or purchase the full text of this article, click here.

You may also like

AUG 2, 2022 Journal

Ethics & International Affairs Volume 36.2 (Summer 2022)

The editors of Ethics & International Affairs are pleased to present the Summer 2022 issue of the journal! The highlight of this issue is a roundtable organized ...

MAR 15, 2022 Journal

Ethics & International Affairs Volume 36.1 (Spring 2022)

The highlight of this issue is a roundtable organized by Jesse Kirkpatrick on moral injury, trauma, and war, featuring contributions by Jesse Kirkpatrick, Daniel Rothenberg, ...

JAN 4, 2022 Journal

Ethics & International Affairs Volume 35.4 (Winter 2021)

The issue features a book symposium organized by Michael Blake on Anna Stilz's "Territorial Sovereignty," with contributions from Adom Getachew; Christopher Heath Wellman; and Michael ...

Not translated

This content has not yet been translated into your language. You can request a translation by clicking the button below.

Request Translation