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Does humanitarian intervention work?
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Humanitarianism creates a responsibility to protect

Sovereignty is predicated on the social contract between the people and the state. If a leader of a nation violates this responsibility, other actors must step up to maintain the rights and safety of those at risk.

The Argument

A common rebuttal to the doctrine of humanitarian intervention is that sovereignty is absolute; foreign powers cannot intervene in domestic issues.[1] However, this assertion quickly falls apart. The foundation of sovereignty, or supreme authority, is the social contract between the people and the state.[2] If the state violates this contract by violating the fundamental human rights of its populace, it necessitates action from onlookers. Crucial to this argument is the lengths that superpowers have gone to in the past to uphold ideological doctrines. The Cold War demonstrated that the US was willing to entrench itself in Korea, Vietnam, and numerous other conflicts to fight communism. Why, then, will they not show the same commitment to fighting genocide or war crimes abroad? If liberal democracies wish to continue upholding the values of individual liberty, then they cannot justify inaction against atrocities simply because it is outside their borders. We now live in a globalized world, and there are no more excuses to watch on as cruelty occurs aborad.

Counter arguments

Humanitarian intervention doesn't challenge sovereignty through its meddling with domestic politics, but through its misunderstanding of those politics. Hypothetically, the United Nations may have been able to temporarily suppress the genocide in a country like Rwanda. However, it would not even begin to address the ethnopolitical roots of the fractures in that society. A clear example is the Syrian civil war. Despite President Bashir al-Assad using biological weapons against his people, the United States had their hands tied. Among the combatants in the civil war, there was no clear ally for the US to support.[3] The government was corrupt, some of the rebels had ties to terrorist organizations, and many other barriers made an intervention impossible. Most notably, the more than a decade of conflict in the middle-East made many would-be rescuers wary of intervention. As virtuous as an intervention may be, it is often merely a bandaid. Unfortunately, the domestic politics of a foreign country are often too complex for an intervening power to understand.



[P1] Sovereignty is predicated on a responsibility to protect. [P2] Powerful nations have shown a commitment to difficult international challenges on ideological grounds historically. [C] Considering the lengths that some nations have gone to in the past to preserve ideological goals, no matter what the cost, it should demonstrate a similar commitment to international human rights.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] Sovereignty is still a matter for the individual nation to decide internally. i.e. elections, revolutions, etc. [Rejecting P2] The stakes of a conflict like the Cold War were much greater than the domestic issues of a small nation.


This page was last edited on Saturday, 15 Aug 2020 at 06:24 UTC

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