A Democratic Justification for Military and Non-military Humanitarian Intervention

April 2012

This paper presents a novel account of military and nonmilitary humanitarian intervention that unites two central and ostensibly competing strands in the literature on state sovereignty and the moral permissibility of humanitarian intervention. The first account, associated with Michael Walzer, holds that the right to collective self determination is morally important enough to override justifications for intervention except for rare cases. The second, more permissive account, associated with Walzer’s critics such as Charles Beitz and David Luban, justifies infringing on state sovereignty under certain circumstances to guarantee human rights. The paper reconcile these two accounts by arguing that if everyone has a right to democracy, then a robust list of rights – what are called basic democratic rights – must be secured to actually guarantee the right to democracy. This provides a qualified justification for intervention grounded in individual rights, and, at the same time, in collective self-determination. To make this argument, it draws on and criticizes aspects of just war theory and the literature on state sovereignty. Because nonmilitary humanitarian intervention may be far less costly in human and material expenditures to the intervener than military humanitarian intervention typically is, whereas military humanitarian intervention may be permissible but not required, many nonmilitary humanitarian interventions are duties. After constructing this moral theory, the paper then considers how it can be legally implemented under current international law.

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