Humanitarian Intervention

Authored by: Anthony F. Lang

The Ashgate Research Companion to Ethics and International Relations

Print publication date:  September  2009
Online publication date:  April  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754671015
eBook ISBN: 9781315612935
Adobe ISBN: 9781317043546


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Humanitarian intervention (HI) is the use of military forces to provide aid, ensure the protection of rights, and/or enforce a peace settlement without the express permission of the political authority of the state in which the intervention occurs. As this chapter will demonstrate, HI reveals some important ethical dilemmas in international relations. At one level, HIs appear to be morally unproblematic for they provide economic and political goods in situations of humanitarian emergency. At another level, however, HIs generate a great deal of controversy; by overriding the authority structure of a state, an HI vitiates self-determination and sovereignty, the fundamental normative structures of the current international order. As a result, HIs highlight the difficulty of doing what is ‘right’ in an international system where state leaders define their own legal, political and ethical orders.

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