Humanitarian Intervention: Which Way Forward? [Abstract]

Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 14 (2000)

December 4, 2000

States have long taken exception to the notion of humanitarian intervention because it threatens to undermine a bedrock principle of international order: national sovereignty. In the case of Kosovo, however, NATO's nineteen member states chose not only to put aside their concerns for national sovereignty in favor of humanitarian considerations, but also to act without UN authorization. This essay examines the ways in which states — European states in particular — are rethinking historic prohibitions against humanitarian intervention in the wake of the Kosovo war. It focuses on two approaches:

  • Efforts to reinterpret international law so as to demonstrate the legitimacy of humanitarian intervention and
  • Efforts to build a political consensus regarding when and how states may use force for humanitarian ends.

While efforts to weaken prohibitions may succeed, thereby facilitating future interventions, resolution of the tension between legitimacy and effectiveness in defense of human rights will continue to elude the international community unless a political consensus can be achieved.


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