Ethics & International Affairs Volume 12 (1998): Articles: Humanitarian Intervention: An Overview of the Ethical Issues [Abstract]

Dec 4, 1998

The capacity to focus on the issues of humanitarian intervention signals the maturation of the field of ethics and international affairs. Interventions in Bosnia, Rwanda, Haiti, and Somalia, for example, indicate a new willingness on the part of the international community to involve itself in the internal affairs of states. However, acts of humanitarian intervention bring with them concerns of consistency and effectiveness, which require deep attention and careful response. Issues of state sovereignty versus moral imperatives continue to challenge external actors.

This essay discusses the subjective and objective changes that have occurred within international relations with regard to humanitarian intervention and examines intervention from the realist and liberal theoretical perspectives. Using traditional liberalist theory as a basis, the essay offers a new version of liberalism in which the historic guarantee of state sovereignty becomes subordinate to human rights claims, thereby supplying a justification for humanitarian intervention.

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