Some critical voices (e.g., the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela) believed that armed humanitarian intervention has “gone so far as to use the Security Council as a platform to encourage armed interventions against sovereign states and peoples with a view to promoting the poorly named regime change” (United Nations 2013). It changes the more traditional dictum that “a state loses its moral shield against military intervention only when it has wrongly attacked another state” (Tesón 2014, p.63). The critics’ position is based on the norm of non-intervention in the internal affairs of states and the non-use of military intervention in any form (United Nations 2013).
However, the moral space reserved for armed humanitarian interventions is not closed off. The editor of The Ethics of Armed Humanitarian Intervention, Don E. Scheid (Professor Emeritus at Winona State University), believes that there are stronger reasons to intervene and protect vulnerable populations from violence, with or without permission of the targeted state. Scheid considers that armed humanitarian intervention should be taken under the claim that all people and their states have duties to “refrain from violating anyone’s human rights’, and to ‘protect and enforce everyone’s human rights against violations” (Scheid 2014, p. 10). To put it differently, in the words of Fernando R. Tesón, people are entitled to “defend others who are victim of unjust attacks,” and armed humanitarian interventions can be conducted to prevent “the most seriously wrong acts of coercion perpetrated by governments” (Tesón 2014, pp. 65, 67). In this regard, sovereignty is conditional, that is, “a state’s legitimacy and the enjoyment of its sovereignty depends on the protection it provides for the human rights of its population” (Scheid 2014, p.13).
From the perspective of humanitarian ethics, The Ethics of Armed Humanitarian Intervention explores the normative issues related to armed humanitarian intervention, which means “a military intervention into the jurisdiction of a state by outside forces for humanitarian purposes” (Scheid 2014, p. 3). In this collection of essays, 14 essays analyze the dynamics of armed humanitarian interventions in the past decades and explore the normative issues related to armed humanitarian interventions around the world.
This edited volume has three parts. In part I (chapters 1–3), Don E. Scheid, George R. Lucas, Jr., and Tzvetan Todorov sketch and order the literature on armed humanitarian intervention during the past 25 years and the approach of “responsibility to protect” in the context of humanitarian intervention in the Libyan Civil War. In the following part (chapters 4–7), from a moral perspective, Fernando R. Tesón, Ned Dobos, C.A.J. Coady, Helen Frowe, and James Pattison explore whether armed humanitarian interventions would be permissible in specific contexts, particularly vulnerable population are persecuted or exploited by their government. Lastly, the contributors (i.e., Michael Blake, Luke Glanville, Alex J. Bellamy, Michael W. Doyle, Jennifer M. Welsh, Brian Orend, and David Rodin) stress the competing arguments related to armed humanitarian intervention, including but not limited to human rights abuse, justice, regime change, and human sovereignty.
In the view of the reviewer, the most thought-provoking arguments to readers are put forward in Chapter 4 by Fernando R. Tesón, Chapter 5 by Helen Frowe, and Chapter 9 by Luke Glanville. As Tesón suggests, just cause (e.g., self-defense) is a necessary but not sufficient justification for armed humanitarian intervention, which “may be impermissible because of its bad consequences” (Tesón 2014, p. 73).
In the opinion of Scheid, conditional sovereignty depends on whether a state’s population is threatened by genocide, ethnic cleansing, or another kind of violence against humanity. At present, an armed humanitarian intervention should only be authorized by the UN Security Council, with or without the targeted state’s permission. In this regard, the 2011 intervention in Libya represents the most significant example where the concept of conditional sovereignty was applied.
Tesón suggests that armed humanitarian intervention can be justified as “a defense of persons (the persons within the targeted state) against their government,” if such intervention does not greatly increase civilian causalities or significantly changes the social and political structures in the targeted country (Tesón 2014, p. 63). Frowe’s argument goes a step further. For instance, Frowe stresses that “intervening for self-interested reasons, but in a way that secures humanitarian goods, is better than not intervening at all” (Frowe 2014, p. 112). In a similar fashion, Glanville gives possible reasons to embrace armed humanitarian interventions. Against fears that the idea of armed humanitarian intervention could facilitate abusive interventions, he contends that since the end of the Cold War the number of interstate wars has actually been on the decline (Glanville 2014, p. 161).