Perhaps the most discussed topic amongst just war theorists during the 1990s was the moral (and legal) justifiability of armed humanitarian interventions. Not surprisingly, that changed after the 9/11 terrorists attacks and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, with topics such as the morality of terrorism, torture, and preventive war receiving the lion's share of attention. Nevertheless, for reasons both good, such as the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty's endorsement of a limited duty of intervention in its report, The Responsibility to Protect, and bad, such as the conflict in Darfur, the morality of humanitarian intervention remains a live topic amongst theorists and practitioners alike. A striking feature of the contemporary discussion is the extent to which one prominent feature of the debate during the last decade of the twentieth century, namely the tension between intervention and respect for sovereignty, is no longer at issue. Theorists writing today almost universally endorse the moral permissibility of humanitarian intervention, at least under certain conditions. Disputes remain, of course, as to precisely what those conditions are, who enjoys the right to carry out a humanitarian intervention, and exactly how to balance those moral considerations that count in favor of it, e.g. protecting those subject to a genocidal campaign, against those that count against, e.g. preserving some degree ofrespect for the rule of international law and state sovereignty. Yet the fact that hardly any theorist, and not a few practitioners, would deny that under certain conditions humanitarian intervention is morally permissible, and indeed, something that certain agents have a right to do, marks a significant and, in my view, positive change from the previously dominant position.
Copyright © 2011 Ashgate. This chapter first appeared in New Wars and New Soldiers: Military Ethics in the Contemporary World.
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Lefkowitz, David. "On a Duty of Humanitarian Intervention." In New Wars and New Soldiers: Military Ethics in the Contemporary World, edited by Paolo Tripodi and Jessica Wolfendale, 87-101. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2011.