Humanitarian Intervention: An Overview of the Ethical Issues [Excerpt]

Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 12 (1998)

December 4, 1998

The capacity to focus on the issue of humanitarian intervention represents what Joel Rosenthal has noted as the maturation of the field of ethics and international affairs. If nothing else, the debate surrounding this vexed issue has demonstrated that we have left behind the so-called oxymoron problem: there is no reason now to be defensive about bracketing the terms "ethics" and "international relations." One can hardly talk about Bosnia, Rwanda, Haiti, Somalia, or any cases of possible intervention, without recognizing from the very beginning that ethical dilemmas abound in the way we define our goals, our interests, and the means we use to pursue them. Even Samual P. Huntingon, not usually known to be a moralist, has asserted that "it is morally unjustifiable and politically indefensible that members of the [U.S.] armed forces should be killed to prevent Somalis from killing one another." Whether or not one agrees with that assertion (I do not), one may note that Huntington speaks in terms of moral justification and regards his view of morality to be, in effect, self-evidently true. Thus even archrealists invoke morality in urging their preferred policies.

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