This week you will learn about the practice of UN peacekeeping and the controversy surrounding humanitarian interventions. These are interventions undertaken by a state or a group of states in the internal affairs of another state without their consent in order to prevent an atrocity like genocide, ethnic cleansing or war crimes. Opponents of humanitarian interventions argue that they violate the principle of sovereign non-interference and potentially encourage forms of neo-imperialism by the great powers. Proponents argue that the right to non-interference is contingent upon the willingness and capacity of the government to protect its population from atrocities, and sovereignty does not give governments the right to commit atrocities against their own people.
The argument that humanitarian interventions should never be permitted effectively allows governments to commit genocide against their own people, but the alternative raises a host of difficult ethical and political questions.
Should humanitarian interventions be permissible? What level of harm should be the threshold beyond which such interventions should be permitted? Who should authorize these interventions? The UN Security Council? Regional organizations? Should unilateral humanitarian interventions be permitted?
Humanitarian intervention should be permissible under reasonable circumstances. The concept of state sovereignty and non-intervention have proven to allow governments to commit atrocities against their own people. Therefore, the inviolability of state sovereignty has to be modified.
State sovereignty takes second importance when active genocides, ethnic cleansings, mass persecutions, or civil wars, are taking place. The level of harm has to be the threshold; otherwise, states will be allowed to intervene all the time. There are no perfect countries that never undermine their citizens’ rights. There has to be a loosely defined limit that crossed by governments, state sovereignty can be broken. The level of harm has to be severe to justify the intervention.
In addition, states that violate the agreed norms and intervene without a justifiable reason should be held accountable for engaging in imperialist behavior.
The interventions have to be authorized by international organizations. The UN Security Council is not the best option because the P5 can block the intervention if it is against one of their allies. I would suggest creating a new organization to monitor and authorize interventions or use the UN General Assembly, where everyone gets one vote and a majority is needed to start intervening. Regional organizations could give important information about the region and the conflict; however, they might not be powerful/reliable enough to issue such a demand. An intervention has to be authorized collectively by the global society, not just regionally.
Unilateral interventions should not be explicitly prohibited. As long as the authorization has been given multilaterally, one country can engage in the intervention. However, if one state is allowed to determine on its own when to intervene single-handedly, then that would undermine state sovereignty. It has to be a multilateral decision! The states executing the intervention can be one, two, or as many as decided.
State sovereignty is important and should be protected when there are no severe human rights violations.