The Morality of Military Intervention

When a people rise up against a dictator but the dictator fights back with superior forces, what is the moral case for other countries to intervene? Is there a right to humanitarian intervention? Should the West intervene in Libya?

One argument says that if a dictator commits crimes against humanity then there is an argument that other countries should intervene. 900,000 people were killed in Rwanda and in that example the international community did not act and genocide took place. In Kosovo, NATO bombed to stop mass killings and it worked. The threat of mass killings of innocents is surely an argument to carry out military intervention.

Geoffrey Robertson, QC, is a member of the UN’s Justice Council and author of Crimes Against Humanity. He argues there is a moral case:

“As Colonel Gaddafi, with his army and air force, his tribal supporters and his propaganda machine, begins to counter-attack, only one thing is certain. He is a man utterly without mercy. The history of his regime demonstrates how he deals with opponents: hanging them from lamp-posts, sending death squads to assassinate them as ‘stray dogs’, killing them in their jail cells… # Will the world stand idly by once he starts to deliver on his threat to ‘fight to the last man and woman’?”

He asks, is there a right or a duty to use force to relieve a humanitarian nightmare? The UN charter bans “the use of force against territorial integrity or political independence of any state” but in the event of a breach of the peace the Council may “take such action – by air, sea or land – as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace or security”. He argues that for such intervention to be lawful there must be a request of potential victims, for the purpose of stopping crimes against humanity. There must be no question of ulterior motives, such as gaining oil or land. It must be proportionate so no greater force should be used than necessary to achieve a reasonably obtainable objective.

His full argument can be read here:

Two other views may be considered:


Which is more convincing?

Download the entire essay here

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