Date of Award


Document Type



Political Science

First Advisor

Claudio López-Guerra

Second Advisor

Jeppe von Platz


Through the course of this year, 900 thousand people will have to struggle through conditions of famine, and a total of 345.2 million will experience food insecurity of some kind. These concerning figures represent an over twofold increase since 2020.1 This presents a serious problem, as access to food is so plainly vital to every aspect of an individual’s existence. It should therefore be uncontroversial to assert the grave nature of the occurrence of famine and other food emergencies faced by so many today. Food emergencies are not merely a result of insufficient food, but rather the institutional policies enacted that affect food’s distribution. Therefore, it is similarly uncontroversial to express the intuitive desire to contend that addressing these crises is a matter of justice. However, this course of action presents a problem: the sort of actions needed to meaningfully address famine oftentimes require intervention. This remedy would almost certainly violate another value which also presents itself intuitively important, state sovereignty. This is specifically the case wherein an intervention is unwelcome. Under these circumstances, what is the appropriate course of action? Which of these moral maxims must give way? In this essay I argue that economically advantaged countries have a positive duty of justice to assist in addressing famines and other food emergencies. I defend this claim on the basis of John Rawls’ theory of justice as fairness.3 In doing so I will present the tragedy of food emergencies as a distributive issue, and chiefly concerning primary goods. To address objections of state sovereignty, I point again to the principles of justice as fairness. Those same principles which establish a positive duty of advantaged nations to aid in the case of food emergencies, also implore affected nations to receive that aid. Furthermore, for the affected nation to go against this would represent an infringement on those principles of justice so widespread and so egregious that any right to sovereignty is overwritten. Similarly, these same principles of justice as fairness govern the conduct of these interventions. Taken altogether then, even when keeping in mind state sovereignty, economically advantaged nations have a positive moral duty to intervene in the case of extrajurisdictional famine.