IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

Great in theory, challenging to implement

Another important idea connected with peace is Humanitarian Intervention. Much has been written about this, but I was impressed to see how good the Wikipedia introductory article was. If you haven’t heard of this term before, it refers to

“…armed interference in one state by another state(s) with the stated objective of ending or reducing suffering within the first state. That suffering may be the result of civil war, humanitarian crisis, or crimes by the first state including genocide. The goal of humanitarian intervention is neither annexation nor interference with territorial integrity, but minimization of the suffering of civilians in that state. The claimed rationale behind such an intervention is the belief, embodied in international customary law in a duty under certain circumstances to disregard a state’s sovereignty to preserve our common humanity.” (from the Wikipedia article linked above)

This largely says it all: sovereignty should not stand in the way of helping people who are in great danger of widespread harm or death. Of course, when any kind of interference in the internal affairs of another state is involved, the preferable path would be action approved by the U.N. Security Council (we’ll certainly come back to the SC at some point, but I would suggest you read the U.N. Charter if you haven’t–it’s not very long 🙂 ). Also, if humanitarian intervention is going to occur, then there should be clear rules and principles to indicate when it should (and by implication, should not) be implemented. One leading effort in that direction was the Canadian government’s International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), and their report “The Responsibility to Protect”.

There are, as the Wikipedia article points out, some serious problems with the concept of humanitarian intervention. For instance, it is hard to imagine the rich and powerful ever being the target of such an intervention. Also, it can, unfortunately, serve as a pretext for interventions that might really have other motives.

Still, I think this is a sign that points to the future. The planet is very small, and the 17th century ideas that underly its political system (ie unrestricted national sovereignty) are increasingly outdated and dysfunctional. That being said, though, I certainly prefer this happening under U.N. auspices, where practical.

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October 7, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , ,

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