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Humanitarian Intervention: Closing the Gap Between Theory and Practice

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Apparently, there are some important tensions that must be confronted in grappling with the issue of the permissibility of humanitarian intervention. Notably, there is the tension between respecting sovereignty and responding to the plight of the needy, that is, there is tension between respecting governments’ authority and desire for non-interference, and respecting the individuals who suffer under their leadership. I argue that these and other tensions should be resolved in favour of protecting the individuals who suffer in humanitarian crises, though the way to do this defensibly requires that we put in place many safeguards against abuse. My main theoretical argument emerges from a model of global justice that I develop.

I then examine recent reports on intervention and state sovereignty compiled by an inter-national commission in order to show that consensus is building about the permissibility of military intervention to protect fundamental human rights for vulnerable populations in certain cases. Some important public policy proposals are evolving in the direction of protecting individuals over states, but there are still some important gaps that remain between what is theoretically desirable and proposals about international law. I show where some of those gaps are and how we can close them.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Philosophy Department, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand

Publication date: August 1, 2006


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