Saying “humanitarian intervention” in a room full of philosophers, legal scholars, and political scientists is a little bit like crying “fire” in a crowded theatre: it can create a clear and present danger to everyone within earshot. Arguments burnfiercely – although fortunately not literally – onthe subject. Some people regard humanitarian intervention as an obscene oxymoron. How can military intervention ever be humanitarian? Others are so suspicious of the intentions of powerful governments that they reach, in practice, the same conclusion: humanitarian intervention should be outlawed.
Humanitarian intervention is definedby J.L.Holzgrefe in the first chapter in this volume. The termrefers to the threat or use of force across state borders by a state (or group of states) aimed at preventing or endingwidespread and grave violations of the fundamental human rights of individuals other than its own citizens, without the permission of the state within whose territory force is applied. Unauthorized humanitarian intervention refers to humanitarian intervention that has not been authorized by the United Nations Security Council under Chapter VII of the Charter. NATO's military actions in Kosovo are a prominent example of unauthorized humanitarian intervention.
The central question thatwe pose pertains to the conditions underwhich unauthorized humanitarian intervention is ethically, legally, or politically justified. None of the contributors regards humanitarian intervention as anathema under all conditions, but all of them are well aware of the potential for abuse inherent in its practice.