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Humanitarian Intervention and Just War

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Humanitarian intervention is one of the primary international security problems of today. As an object analysis, it sits at the intersection of the realist and idealist traditions in the study of international relations. Despite its high profile, debate on humanitarian intervention is unsatisfactory; participants talk past one another and most discussion is devoid of ethical concepts. In particular, there is a striking absence of explicit reference to the Just War tradition. Only scholars of international law have explicitly and systematically examined normative issues, but their focus seems too narrow. The result is a series of what appear to be arbitrary judgments about when humanitarian intervention is justified combined with an often fundamental misunderstanding of the international system. This essay presents a sketch of the Just War tradition's main concepts and argues that it is both possible and advantageous to resort to them in discussing and evaluating humanitarian intervention. The article then applies these concepts to the recent debate on humanitarian intervention and shows that almost all of the concerns raised in this scholarship fit within the Just War framework. The essay focuses on the criteria from the Just War tradition that deal with when to resort to the use of armed force.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Political Science, University of Oslo 2: International Peace Research Institute, Oslo

Publication date: 1998-11-01

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