Intervention and Use of Force

Scott A. Silverstone

in International Relations

ISBN: 9780199743292
Published online March 2011 | | DOI:
Intervention and Use of Force

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Intervention is commonly defined as interference in the territory or domestic affairs of another state with military force, typically in a way that compromises a sovereign government’s control over its own territory and population. The meaning and importance of “sovereignty” as the key concept defining the global political order has made intervention a controversial and debated subject for the past several hundred years. The concept of sovereignty is typically traced back to the Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years’ War in 1648 and established a political order of territorially defined states that had exclusive control over their own political affairs and populations. In the following centuries, international legal scholars further developed the noninterference principle, which, by prohibiting meddling in the internal affairs of other states, was intended to reduce conflict and cultivate order in an already violence-prone system. This objective was formally codified in the Charter of the United Nations, which explicitly prohibits interference in the domestic affairs of member states. Despite the importance of sovereignty and noninterference in international theory and law, many scholars point out that these principles have never been given absolute respect in practice. Since the end of the Cold War, an increasing number of scholars, political leaders, and activists have argued that sovereignty should not stand in the way of international intervention meant to protect victims of gross human-rights violations. A number of cases illustrate this new normative claim and the controversy this position has generated, such as the 1992 Somalia intervention, the Bosnian civil war, the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and the 1999 Kosovo war. The literature on intervention reflects these key themes, with authors arguing over the meaning and continuing importance of sovereignty and the noninterference principle, whether the international community has a right or obligation to respond to humanitarian abuses, whether intervention can actually make a positive contribution to peace and stability at acceptable costs, and how intervention can be made more effective for those military and civilian practitioners engaged in actual interventions. There has been a strong surge of attention in this last question since the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, as the United States found itself with a much more complicated political, social, and military challenge than first anticipated when American leaders decided to intervene in those countries.

Article.  7870 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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