Humanitarian Intervention and the Modern State System

The Oxford Handbook of Ethics and War (2015)
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This chapter argues that, because humanitarian intervention typically involves the military of one state attempting to overthrow another state ’s government, it gives rise to different moral questions from simple cases of interpersonal defensive violence. State sovereignty not only protects institutions within a society that contribute to the satisfaction of individuals’ interests and that cannot be easily restored once overthrown; it also plays a role in the constitution of those interests, which cannot be assumed to be invariant across different forms of social life. As a result, humanitarian intervention will frequently give rise to incommensurability between the pre-intervention and post-intervention states of affairs. The reasons against violating sovereignty, together with reasons for conservativism in action that arise in circumstances of incommensurable value, mean that the threshold for the moral permissibility of humanitarian intervention is high. The chapter concludes by outlining how humanitarian intervention might be internationalized, making it easier to justify



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