In Christian Neuhäuser & Christoph Schuck (eds.), Military Interventions: Considerations from Philosophy and Political Science (forthcoming)

Uwe Steinhoff
University of Hong Kong
Is there is a moral obligation to militarily intervene in another state to stop a genocide from happening (if this can be done with proportionate force)? My answer is that under exceptional circumstances a state or even a non-state actor might have a duty to stop a genocide (for example if these actors have promised to do so), but under most circumstances there is no such obligation. To wit, “humanity,” states, collectives, and individuals do not have an obligation to make such promises in the first place or to create institutions that would impose a legal obligation of intervention upon them. Nor do states or persons or humanity “collectively” have – originally, without specifically creating such duties by contracts or promises – any pro tanto or special duties to save strangers at considerable cost to themselves or their own citizens (including their soldiers). That is, these costs do not merely override a duty to intervene, but rather there is no such duty to begin with – as shown by the fact that in such cases of non-intervention agents would not owe those they let die any compensation: if I do not save someone’s life because saving him would have cost me my arm or would have come with a high risk of losing my own life or would have forced me to kill innocent bystanders, I do not owe this person compensation. Thus the point of this chapter is that there is no “natural” or “general” or “original” duty to militarily intervene (or to create a legal obligation) to stop a genocide. I will consider and refute a number of arguments to the contrary, for example by Lango, Tan, and Pattison.
Keywords collateral damage  conscientious objection  duty  genocide  humanitarian intervention  Lango, John  Oberman, Kieran  Pattison, James  responsibility to protect  Tan, Kok-Chor
Categories (categorize this paper)
Buy the book Find it on
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

 PhilArchive page | Other versions
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Cosmopolitan War.Cécile Fabre - 2012 - Oxford University Press.
How Does the Global Order Harm the Poor?Mathias Risse - 2005 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 33 (4):349-376.
On the Ethics of War and Terrorism.Uwe Steinhoff - 2007 - Oxford University Press.
Rights, Liability, and the Moral Equality of Combatants.Uwe Steinhoff - 2012 - The Journal of Ethics 16 (4):339-366.

View all 18 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Response to Pattison: Whose Responsibility to Protect?H. M. Roff - 2009 - Journal of Military Ethics 8 (1):79-85.
Humanitarian Disintervention.Shmuel Nili - 2011 - Journal of Global Ethics 7 (1):33 - 46.
When Does Might Make Right? Using Force for Regime Change.John Linarelli - 2009 - Journal of Social Philosophy 40 (3):343-362.
Humanitarian Intervention and the Internal Legitimacy Problem.Richard Vernon - 2008 - Journal of Global Ethics 4 (1):37 – 49.
The Duty to Protect.Kok-Chor Tan - 2006 - In Terry Nardin & Melissa Williams (eds.), Humanitarian Intervention. New York University Press.


Added to PP index

Total views
462 ( #17,135 of 2,448,490 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
34 ( #20,203 of 2,448,490 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes