When, if ever, should states interfere in each other’s internal affairs

We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

The issue of state interference is a hugely contentious one in International Relations. Interference occurs on a daily basis; economic decisions by one state have impacts on others, is this interference? A decision not to honour an agreement to play cricket matches in a particular state has implications, but is this interference? This essay shall limit its discussion to cases of interference, particularly of a military nature, that are purposely pursued by states to modify the internal structure or policy of another state.

It is the premise of this essay that there are two clear situations in which the interference by one or more states into the internal affairs of another is justified; self defence, and the protection of human rights. This essay shall begin with some necessary definition; of intervention, sovereignty, and human rights. These definitions are by no means accepted by all, but a general conception of such ideas, acceptable (if too brief) for most, shall be reached. It shall be seen that sovereignty in particular can be interpreted in different ways, which has an enormous impact on the contention of this essay.

Subsequently, this essay shall examine the first situation in which intervention is acceptable; self-defence. It is relatively uncontroversial and therefore forms a minimal part of this piece; it concerns the interference of states into each other’s affairs when there exists a clear threat to the independence of the former state. Such interference is justified on grounds of ‘self-defence’ and is recognised as legitimate. However, as will be seen, there are certain controversies surrounding this and these shall be investigated. The third part of this essay shall suggest justification on grounds of humanity.

On this front, the basis of this essay shall be largely moral nature. Though considerations of politics, law and others are crucial to understanding this topic, a moral basis for argument allows the essay to answer the question of should rather than the question of will. It will be seen that the norm of non-intervention, suggested by Michael Walzer, and largely accepted, does not allow for intervention where intervention is warranted. It is suggested that Walzer’s formulation is flawed: he is too arbitrary in deciding what constitutes serious crimes and sets the bar for intervention too high.

It will also be seen that Walzer’s theory suggests the existence of global moral values, which in turn allow for his theory to be nullified. The existence of global moral values suggests that Walzer’s theory overstates the importance of community rights at the expense of the individual. By drawing on a more liberal conception of the individual and the community, this essay suggests that a much broader exception to the norm of non-intervention should be allowed. The existence of global moral values also allows for states to judge one another by neutral standards; a contentious suggestion. Read also what led to the Rwandan genocide

Finally, this essay shall discuss some of some of the difficulties associated with its main premise and the objections raised by realist thinkers. The difficulty in distinguishing between humanitarian motives and more selfish, national interest-based calculations of intervention is chief among these. It shall be concluded that little can be done to resolve this dilemma given the current state of international relations and international organisations, notably the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

Consequently, while this essay suggests when and why states can interfere in each other’s affairs, it recognises that the practical application of such a theory is unlikely. This essay shall briefly consider some definitions of the relevant terminology used in the interference-sovereignty discourse. Sovereignty is a much debated topic. Generally it can be construed in two ways. Firstly, as the legitimate rule over a defined territory; this is internal sovereignty. The second definition of sovereignty, external (or state-) sovereignty is the idea that such a territory be autonomous from external influence.

These are often termed “internal control and external autonomy. “1 However, as degrees of control and autonomy tend to vary over time, many find it more beneficial to define sovereignty as authority, “the right to rule over a defined territory and the population residing within it. “2 This brings together the internal and external aspects. In addition, rather than stating that sovereignty is an attribute of statehood, in the sense that states possess sovereignty because they are states, this essay takes the view that sovereignty is a necessary condition for statehood.

This can be seen in moral and legal grounds. The moral concept stems from the idea of ‘popular sovereignty’; the population confer powers on the state to act on its behalf, in the form of a social contract. The legal grounds for this interpretation can also be seen in the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1933), which implies sovereignty as a pre-condition of statehood, not a characteristic. 3 What constitutes a Human Right is also a matter of huge debate. There is not the scope in this essay to give this subject the attention it deserves.

However, two broad types of definitions can be identified; those concerned with negative rights, which include the right not to be killed and the right not to be tortured; and those concerned with positive rights, such as the right to food, to shelter, to water etc. For the purposes of this essay, Human Rights shall be considered to be those of the negative kind. This is partly due to practical reasons; one could argue that the UK fails in providing positive human rights (to the homeless for example), but foreign, military intervention in this sense would be absurd.

The other reason is that the cases of human right’s abuses that have been the concern of the international community have focused on these negative rights. As has already been noted, interference will be taken, for the purposes of this essay, to mean the use of military force, either in self defence or in an attempt at humanitarian intervention. This is not to downplay the other forms of interference, such as economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure or even the distribution of aid. All of these factor and more can and do interfere with the internal affairs of states.

However, the use of military force takes such interference to a higher level, often involving the intended loss of life. Such interference in an attempt to alter, against the wishes of the government of the ‘target’ state is thus the most invasive form of interference and the subject of this essay. The first instance in which such force is justified is when it is used in self-defence. This essay shall now turn to this subject. Self-defence is the least contentious reasons for inter-state interference.

Ever since states came into being and the principle of sovereignty first widely applied, states are formally seen to be independent of one another. Any violation of this independence legitimises interference against the violator to the effect of halting the violation. The right to self-defence, either by one state or many, is firmly established in the international system and enshrined in international law. Article 51 of the United Nation’s Charter speaks of an “inherent right of individual or collective self-defence. Thus, the first Gulf War (1990), in which a US-led coalition expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait, is a clear example of self-defence justifying and legitimising the interference of one state (USA, Britain etc. ) into the internal affairs of another (Iraq). The legitimacy of military interference on grounds of self-defence is clear when such self-defence is against an armed invasion. It becomes a lot less clear when self-defence is pronounced in response to hostage-taking, mistreatment of nationals4 or even pre-emptive self-defence against a potential aggressor.

The legal arguments in such situations may be able to shed some light on the situation. The question regards the scope of the right to self-defence. Though states agree that an armed attack is justification for armed self-defence, there is disagreement as to what constitutes an armed attack. 5 The attack by the USA on Nicaragua was justified as self-defence against the latter’s attacks upon Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras, but this was found to be illegal as International Court of Justice (ICJ) found such actions did not amount to an ‘armed attack. 6 Other incidents have occurred, but led to no hard rule regarding what constitutes an armed attack. Other issues effecting the scope of self-defence is the cross-border actions by irregular forces (i. e. not the recognised army. ) Portugal claimed such a basis for self-defence against Guinea, Senegal and Zambia repeatedly in the 1960s and 1970s.

Once again the ICJ found such justification inadequate, but this was mainly due to its view that Portugal’s territory in Africa was illegally held, not necessarily that irregular forces do not count as ‘armed attacks. 7 Perhaps the controversial use of the self-defence justification for the interference in a state’s affairs is the ‘pre-emptive’ self-defence often attributed to Israel’s bombing of Egyptian airfields in 1967. What is interesting is that Israel did not claim to be acting in a ‘pre-emptive’ fashion, but in response to what it considered an armed attack by Egyptian forces blocking the Straits of Tiran to Israeli vessels. 8 Similar cases have shown that the reliance ‘pre-emptive’ self-defence for the justification of military interference has been rare and that the general scope of what is deemed self-defence is relatively narrow.

However, more recent developments have suggested a possible shift to a wider definition. ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ as well as US-led ‘interference’ in Afghanistan have suggested that action against states can be justified in terms of self-defence against irregulars. This is the case with Afghanistan; though the Afghan Army didn’t commit the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001, ‘irregulars’ from that state did. In the case of Iraq, ‘pre-emptive’ (some have suggested preventative) self-defence was certainly used in the UK’s justification of invasion.

What matters for the purposes of this essay is not whether such invasions were ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but that such justifications are acceptable and seen to be acceptable by the world community. In the case of the former, it seems self-defence against a state due to irregular forces is now acceptable. 9 However, the general response to the US-led invasion of Iraq seems to suggest that ‘pre-emptive’ justification is not so widely accepted. Overall, self-defence is justification for military interference by one or states into the internal affairs of another.

By attacking a state, the aggressor loses the right to strict sovereignty with regards to that particular situation. The next section of this essay shall tackle a much more controversial justification for interference; reasons of humanity. The issue of humanitarian intervention is a contentious one. It encompasses many levels of debate and disagreement is rife on all; from the military strategy perspective to the international legal debates to those of moral philosophy.

Concerning subjects such as justice and rights, moral philosophy plays an important role and this essay shall outline the major theoretical approaches before offering suggestions on what basis humanitarian intervention is justified and some necessary considerations that need to be taken into account before any such operations are launched. The theoretical basis for a firm stance on non-intervention draws on the moral philosophy of many thinkers, particularly Hobbes and Hegel, but finds contemporary resonance in the writings of Michael Walzer. 0 For Walzer, it is the state that best represents the political community, which is based on a “common life” including shared experiences and co-operative activity. 11 The principle of non-intervention is therefore necessary for the protection of the political community that is an important human right. 12

Walzer also proscribes intervention on the grounds that the state, being in a society of states, have a right to territorial integrity and political sovereignty. 3 It is also important to note that Walzer construes these two separate justifications for non-intervention as being independent. 14Walzer’s position means intervention is morally unjustifiable on two grounds; Intervention therefore ordinarily constitutes a double violation of fundamental rights: of the right of a people to live unmolested by foreigners in a political community – a state – of their own, and of the right of this state itself to political sovereignty and territorial integrity. 15 For Walzer, the situation within a particular state is largely the concern of the inhabitants. 6

This is largely due to his belief that specific moral principles are not universal, but culturally specific to political communities, and cannot be set by other political communities in the absence of a global community. Of course, Walzer accepts that certain situations are so grave as to justify intervention, but he places firm restrictions on such endeavours, preferring that the “common brutalities of authoritarian politics” and the “daily oppressiveness” of some states “have to be dealt with locally. 17 This position draws heavily on communitarian moral philosophy, which stresses the importance of community to human existence. 18 Walzer’s position allows for three derogations from non-intervention; when a secessionist movement is sufficiently strong to remove the possibility that a single political community exists; when intervention by another state has taken place and intervention is needed to restore the ‘balance’; and in the gravest situations of massacre, genocide or enslavement. 19

Walzer’s third situation is what most concerns this essay. 0 He justifies intervention when gross violations of human rights that “shock the moral conscience of mankind”21 are committed by governments, but he does so in two distinct ways. On the one hand, Walzer asserts that such crimes indicate that the link between the state and the community that it purports to represent no longer ‘fit’. 22 In this sense, intervention is justified because the legitimacy of the state can no longer be drawn from the existence of a political community. This is a troublesome postulation, as surely there are acts other than the most heinous abuses that indicate a lack of ‘fit’ between community and state.

In addition, many if not most states nowadays are multi-national and multi-ethnic and indicate, often quite strongly, that the state does not represent the political community. Such an assertion could be made of Ukraine in recent times. Walzer’s other justification for intervening on humanitarian grounds, distinct from the lack of ‘fit’, is the seriousness of the crimes. However, Walzer’s justification here seems too arbitrary. He includes few crimes; genocide and enslavement among them, and excludes a great deal.

Also, the immediacy of the crimes seems crucial and thus it would seem Walzer would have little problem with non-intervention in the case of the lengthy, systematic abuses carried out by such states as Chile in the 1970s with the ‘disappearances’ of tens of thousands of people over many years. Walzer’s position is simply too arbitrary to be acceptable; he offers no criteria for judging where or when everyday abuses become so ‘shocking’. To be forced to rely on his first justification, that of the ‘fit’ (or lack of it) between community and state is also unsatisfying.

As has been seen, many states do not easily ‘fit’ the community they represent, but do not abuse the rights of their citizens. On the other hand, many states that do closely relate to the community still commit heinous crimes. Many states reflecting the will of the majority, have committed severe human rights abuses in the past, Nazi Germany being the most obvious example. To base the justifiability of intervention on this criterion would mean “there could be no morally justified external intervention in the cases of majority tyranny, no matter how severe. “23

Tagged In : ,

Get help with your homework

Haven't found the Essay You Want? Get your custom essay sample For Only $13.90/page

Sarah from CollectifbdpHi there, would you like to get such a paper? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out