Burma Cyclone

Lessons and Theory: Does state sovereignty trump humanitarian intervention by international community? by carpediemdg

(via Sree Sreenivasan, Dean of Students, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism)

The Carnegie Council for International Intervention has compiled a useful synopsis of some key lessons on humanitarian intervention in the wake of the Burma cyclone disaster. It draws comparisons to the Tsunami response and also one clear distinction:

” … in the case of the tsunami, the affected governments not only welcomed international humanitarian relief, they literally pleaded for it. Not so in Myanmar. What began as a purely natural disaster has quickly become exacerbated by the lack of cooperation–even the obstruction–of the country’s ruling Junta.”

The news digest goes on to pose a critical question: “Does the sovereignty of the state trump the responsibility of the international community to take action when the peoples of a nation are at risk?”

The think tank says it has been trying to answer the complex question by engaging some of ‘the brightest minds and most profound thinkers on this topic.’ The result is a comprehensive sampling of works from their journal – Ethics and International Affairs, that explore the boundaries (and beyond) of humanitarian intervention from a variety of perspectives.

See a list of work samples below:


Toward a Realist Ethics of Intervention
Michael Wesley, Vol. 19.2, Summer 2005 [Excerpt]
Wesley explores the possibilities for developing a realist-informed
normative framework for humanitarian intervention in the context of the
post–September 11 international concern with transnational threats.

The Moral Basis of Humanitarian Intervention [Abstract]
Terry Nardin, Vol. 16.1, Spring 2002
Nardin examines the moral principles underlying the idea of humanitarian
intervention from the perspective of international law and from that of the
natural law tradition.

Humanitarian Intervention: An Overview of the Ethical Issues [Excerpt]
Michael J. Smith, Vol. 12, 1998
This essay analyzes the arguments justifying or opposing the notion of
humanitarian intervention from realist and liberal perspectives and
considers the difficulties of undertaking such interventions effectively
and consistently.

Intervention: From Theories to Cases [Full Text]
J. Bryan Hehir, Vol. 9, 1995
This piece examines the ethics of intervention in light of recent policy
and academic debates on the subject. It proceeds from an examination of the
reasons for intervention today to an assessment of the moral and legal
traditions governing intervention and also provides a review of selected
cases of intervention recently confronting U.S. foreign policy.


Legitimizing the Use of Force in Kosovo [Full Text]
Julie Mertus, Vol 15. 1, Spring 2001
Kosovo captured the attention of policy makers, ethicists, journalists,
peace and human rights activists, military analysts, and international
relations scholars. Something new happened there. This review covers books
by Noam Chomsky, Howard Clark, Michael Ignatieff, and others.

Humanitarian Intervention: Which Way Forward? [Abstract]
Richard Caplan, Vol. 14, 2000
NATO’s member states put aside their concerns for national sovereignty in
favor of humanitarian considerations, acting without UN authorization.
European states are rethinking historic prohibitions against humanitarian
intervention after Kosovo.

Special Section: The Politics of Rescue [Abstracts]
Lead authors Amir Pasic and Thomas G. Weiss, “Yugoslavia’s Wars and the
Humanitarian Impulse”, plus commentaries by Andrew S. Natsios, Morton
Winston, Alain Destexhe, and David R. Mapel, Vol. 11, 1997


Whither the Responsibility to Protect? Humanitarian Intervention and the
2005 World Summit [Abstract]
Alex J. Bellamy, Vol. 20.2, Summer 2006
This article examines how consensus was reached on the responsibility to
protect, given continuing hostility to humanitarian intervention expressed
by many (if not most) of the world’s states and whether the consensus
will contribute to avoiding future Kosovos and Rwandas.

Responsibility to Protect or Trojan Horse? The Crisis in Darfur and
Humanitarian Intervention after Iraq
Alex J. Bellamy, Vol. 19.2, Summer 2005 [Excerpt]
What does the world’s engagement with the unfolding crisis in Darfur tell
us about the impact of the Iraq war on the norm of humanitarian
intervention? Is a global consensus about a “responsibility to protect”
more or less likely? There are at least three potential answers to these

Redefining Sovereignty and Intervention [Full Text]
Joelle Tanguy, Vol. 17.1, Spring 2003
The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty’s effort
to revisit intervention and the lessons of the 1990s have resulted in a
conception of intervention as a “responsibility to protect.” But its effort
to ensure that past failures are not repeated may go unfulfilled. (Review

— Divya


1 Comment so far
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The UN charter mandates humanitarian intervention if governments fail to act, which France used to justify food drops without authorization.

There’s always some pressure on outside governments to assist -even if the assistance is unsolicited- because everyone remembers the grandiose int’l fuckup in Rwanda. Hence NATO action in Kosovo.
Only this is on a totally different scale and of a much different scale. I doubt anyone would shoot a plane full of food out of the sky.

Comment by Thomas Zraick

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