We can save state sovereignty or we can save strangers. The problem with humanitarian military intervention is that it has proven to be only sometimes effective – not always effective but only sometimes. It is undeniable that humanitarian intervention has catapulted a huge moral dilemma into the international realm. Humanitarian intervention has turned into a constant tug of war between the preservation of state sovereignty or enforcing global peace and security. United Nations SecretaryGeneral, Kofi Annan stated, “Surely no legal principal – not even sovereignty – can ever shield crimes against humanity.
When combined with the dilemma of whether to utilize military forces, humanitarian intervention becomes even more perplexing. I will show that military force in humanitarian intervention is morally justifiable as a last resort when all other humanitarian negotiations have been tried, when there is regional or local support and participation, and when the intervening state is equipped with the resources, the commitment, and the moral resolve to accomplish the humanitarian mission, using Natural Law and Just War Theory.
Human intervention is necessary when there is an apparent threat or occurrence of a grave breach of human rights, specifically the right to live. Military force can be used when a state forfeits their sovereignty as a result of its atrocious actions against the human right to life. According to the Natural Law Theory, an act is morally permissible if it promotes the fulfillment of human tendencies. These tendencies are ones that all humans share in common and can be identified as biological values of life and procreation and characteristically human values of knowledge and sociability.
When a state decides to massacre an entire group of people and, in the process, robbing every individual of their right to life, the state’s actions are in violation of the Natural Law Theory and, hence, the state’s actions are not morally permissible. In situations in which a state has evidently threatened their citizens’ right to life, the international realm can consider humanitarian intervention as a course of action. If the state chooses to utilize military force, it is faced with a moral dilemma of potentially violating one of the values of Natural Law Theory – the value of life.
Military intervention poses a great risk of casualties to either civilians or troops especially when the goal is to defeat perpetrators of violence. The principle of forfeiture states that a person who threatens an innocent person’s life automatically forfeits his own life. This principle can be applied to the state and citizen relationship. Supporters of humanitarian intervention argue that sovereignty is conditional based on whether or not states are actually protecting their citizens.
If a state violates the human rights of their subjects, then they have forfeited their right to full sovereignty. If a state has completely crumbled and is unable to provide for society, then the state cannot be considered a sovereign unit. Therefore, humanitarian intervention would not have violated any sovereignty. Natural Law Theory alone cannot address such an immense and perplexing moral dilemma such as humanitarian intervention. Natural Law Theory simply tells us that taking the life of another is wrong unless the situation qualifies in accordance with the principle of forfeiture.
The theory does not provide specific guidance on how high or how low the international society should set the bar when determining which crisis justifies an intervention with military force. Natural Law Theory simply tells us to act in self-defense of others, but it would be impractical to get involved in every instance of human rights violation. Genocides, ethnic cleansings, grave and systematic war crimes have typically been the benchmark for humanitarian action yet the United States was unresponsive when 1 million Ibos were killed in Biafra in the 1960s or when 2 million Cambodians were massacred in the 1970s.
It can be argued that there must be irrefutable evidence of a government’s clear intent to slaughter a specific group before intervening, but when this irrefutable evidence finally makes its way to our door steps, usually it is too late. This poses the question of whether we should set the bar lower and comply with the “Responsibility to Protect” standard. It would demand us to violate the sovereignty of the state, provide assistance to foreigners regardless of expense, and require us to help replace the current corrupt state institution with a new nation.
Nearly every instance of oppression would qualify for humanitarian intervention. To further clarify the criteria for military force intervention, the Just War Theory can be referenced. Military personnel should be used for the just cause of saving lives. When the state committing the immorally permissible action is unwilling to remediate their actions and all negotiations with the state have failed, use of force should be used as a last resort. Military force can be used to relieve the citizens from oppression with support from regional states and support from those in which humanitarian intervention was intended to help.
In the past, military humanitarian intervention has been authorized by the right authority either from the United Nations, the host nation, or both. If the action is to stop abuses of human rights, use of military personnel and resources should be within the proportional limit to achieve those goals. Lastly, as long as humanitarian intervention presents a high probability of success, it would be morally justifiable for a state to violate the sovereignty of another state. It would be unreasonable for a state to sacrifice their resources and their citizens for a cause they know they cannot win.
If a state is not equipped with the resources, the commitment, or the moral resolve, then the probability of a successful military intervention is low. Military forces in humanitarian interventions can be used to protect aid operations, rescue victims from oppressive conditions, and overcome the source of harm. Intervention in East Timor is an example of successful use of military force to assist and protect aid operations. Foreign military forces were able to secure airports in East Timor for the safe transport of food and medicine supplies.
As a result of these operations, an estimated 5000 to 10,000 lives were saved. However, on deciding humanitarian intervention, the lesson learned from past examples is that if there is a lack of moral resolve and political will then sustaining popular support at home will prove difficult. At the end of the day, military forces may be used as the last resort and there may even be a likely probability of success from these operations, but, when a state does not have a long term plan for their military operations, the humanitarian mission will fail or may even worsen the conditions of the country in need.
For example, in Somalia, the humanitarian goal was to relieve human suffering by feeding the starving Somalians and by setting up conditions that would allow relief to flow. Political will collapsed as soon as the United States was dealt with combat casualties and Americans quickly withdrew public support for humanitarian efforts. The United States quickly launched military operations to facilitate the humanitarian effort, but the country soon discovered the limitations of U. S. ower in a country where the support was unwanted.
This is the consideration that must be taken into account when military force proves unsuccessful and local participation was minimal. A state should not intervene unless the state is prepared to persevere when the situation gets rough or if local support is absent. A state must also consider long term consequences, not just a short term fix. Military force may halt violence at the time, but it must also address the cause of the violence as well.
Humanitarian intervention is morally problematic because of the complexities and difficulties involved in calculating the costs and the benefits, as well as the harm and the good produced from intervening. One option is for state actors in the international realm to turn a blind eye when another state commits grievous violations against human rights. However, not intervening can weigh just as heavily on the human conscience because a blind eye does little to relieve a guilty conscience.
In the international realm, there is no standard template for which a state can refer to when examining when humanitarian intervention is necessary. Examples of history only provide learning lessons. No doubt that the goal of humanitarian intervention is to relieve human suffering. Just War Theory and Natural Law provides the moral justifications of military force in humanitarian intervention, but unless a state intends to invest the time, the resources, and the manpower carrying out a successful humanitarian mission will continue to prove difficult.