Deen K Chatterjee and Don E Scheid (eds), 'Ethics and Foreign Intervention'

IssueDecember 2003 - February 2004
Review by Trevor Curnow

It is a sign of the times that books about the international use of military muscle are increasingly about “intervention” rather than “war”, and that the interventions most often discussed are “humanitarian” ones.

While not all of the thirteen papers in this collection are primarily concerned with humanitarian intervention, that is the single most dominant theme. The countries most often mentioned are Rwanda and Kosovo. They provide obvious focal points for the discussion. As the editors point out in their introduction (p5), “For most observers, Rwanda stands as a horrific moral failure.” Five years later, NATO began its bombing of Yugoslavia. Two case studies, close in time, one representing inaction, the other action. The sense of failure with regard to Rwanda made calls for intervention more appealing. The results in Kosovo made people think again.

The variety of approaches taken in the book make any kind of summary of them impossible in a short review. However, they all share a concern that any criteria for intervention should be tightly drawn, although some allow more room for manoeuvre than others. Against this general background a number of specific points are developed. For example, Henry Shue draws attention to the problems involved with bombing, and argues that present conventions are too permissive with respect to targets such as power stations that have both a military and a civilian function. George R Lucas Jr points out that those involved in “policing” operations have less right to protect themselves from harm than do soldiers in a conventional war. Erin Kelly suggests that citizens who support a corrupt regime must expect to bear some of the burden of any punishment meted out to it. Iris Marion Young, drawing on the work of Hannah Arendt, develops the distinction between violence and power to telling effect, and points out that the leap from humanitarian intervention to humanitarian military intervention is often made far too quickly.

What becomes apparent from reading this book is that traditional just war theory is becoming increasingly irrelevant, and, to the extent to which it remains relevant, is in need of a drastic overhaul. The different writers shed useful light on different aspects of the problem, and the volume overall is an illuminating contribution to an increasingly pressing debate. re

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