Ethical Objections to Humanitarian Intervention

Journal article

Atack, Iain (2002) Ethical Objections to Humanitarian Intervention, Security Dialogue 33 (3).


Armed humanitarian intervention, or the use of military force to protect the fundamental human rights of the citizens of another state, has become increasingly prominent in debates about the role of ethics in international affairs. Ethical objections to such intervention focus on two issues in particular: the violation of national sovereignty and the use of armed force with the concomitant loss of life and human suffering entailed. Some proponents of humanitarian intervention argue that if intervention occurs in accordance with international law, its threat to both state sovereignty and human life will be minimized. However, the requirement of UN Security Council authorization has become increasingly difficult to satisfy. International humanitarian intervention to stop gross human rights abuses can perhaps be supported as the fulfilment of the just cause criterion of just war theory. The danger inherent in this sort of argument is that it implies a conflict between legality and morality that weakens the already precarious jurisdiction of international law. The anti-militarist or pacifist critique of armed humanitarian intervention, with its focus on a non-consequentialist approach to the value of human life and its concern with processes of militarization, provides a further normative challenge to armed humanitarian intervention.

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