Military Force and Humanitarian Intervention

In a world of independent autonomous sovereign states, intervention – especially armed military intervention – in the domestic affairs of another state is normally prohibited under international law and the UN Charter. In fact, international law forbids the use of military force, except for purposes of self-defense and/or collective enforcement  (as authorized by the UN Security Council).

While Article 2(4) of the UN Charter (1945) prohibits the use of military force against the ‘political independence’ and ‘territorial integrity’ of autonomous sovereign states, the UN Charter also commits states to protect fundamental human rights. In fact, Article 1(3) of the UN Charter identifies the protection of human rights as one of the principal purposes of the UN system.


All of that being established, let’s discuss all of the following:

1. Does the international community have a “right to protect” populations in other countries from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity?

2. Should the UN Security Council and/or the world’s major powers be more predisposed towards using military force to intervene in a humanitarian crisis and large-scale human rights abuses – such as ethnic cleansing, genocide, mass killings, or other crimes against humanity? Think of the recent situation in Libya, President Obama’s recent decision to send 100 “military advisors” into central Africa, the massacres in Bosnia, the genocide in the African nations of Rwanda and Darfur, as well as the extreme violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

3. Can you think of any potential problems, dangers or negative implications that are associated with such military intervention? When considering this question, you may want to examine some of the reasons why developing nations in the “global south” are alarmed by the prospect of such intervention.

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