Barely Borders: Issues of International Law

By Brown, Bartram S. | Harvard International Review, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Barely Borders: Issues of International Law


Brown, Bartram S., Harvard International Review


Was the US-led attack on Iraq justified? The question comes from all corners of the globe, and answers are varied. Our collective response should be to cooperate in thoughtfully examining the practical constraints and legal limits to military intervention. The issue is not black-and-white, but multifaceted, and only by addressing it head-on can our international community hope to reach a consensus that will cement genuine autonomous international security for all.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

As a cornerstone of international law for more than 350 years, the principle of non-intervention protected a range of different interests. Originally, it protected the sovereign prerogatives of the crowned heads who ruled Europe. While monarchies are not totally obsolete, the principle of non-intervention is now more likely to protect the democratic systems of self-determination and popular sovereignty. It has always helped to promote international peace and stability by discouraging the use of force against the territorial sovereignty and political independence of states. Today, both the reasons for the principle and the necessary exceptions to it can best be understood in terms of human rights.

When the current system of international law began to develop in Europe, it was built upon new rules of sovereignty and non-intervention. This system, unlike that of the hierarchical Holy Roman Empire that preceded it, is founded on the idea that each state is independent and has the same set of sovereign rights. Those who took responsibility for order and justice within the territorially-based state had all the rights of sovereignty under international law, including the exclusive right to make and enforce laws within that state. The principle of non-intervention promotes the peaceful coexistence of autonomous sovereign states by banning each of them from the use of force within the territory of the others.

International law recognizes each state's rights of sovereignty and territorial integrity but cannot guarantee that other states will respect those rights. The international legal system is weak in that it lacks the centralized legislative and judicial organs and coercive executive powers to enforce the rule of law at the national level. Due to this weakness, states must often rely upon self-help to protect their rights under international law. The classic form of self-help is self-defense.

The Right of Self-Defense

The most notable exception to the general principle of non-intervention stems from the right of self-defense. Customary international law develops when the behavior of states over time indicates they have accepted a rule of law. Under that law, two essential conditions limit the right of states to use force in self-defense. First, the use of force must be necessary. In an 1841 letter to British Minister of Foreign Affairs Henry Stephen Fox, US Secretary of State Daniel Webster described this requirement as "a necessity of self-defense, instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation." The second requirement is that the acts of self-defense must be proportionate to the threat. This customary standard does not condition the right on a prior armed attack.

The rules of international law are built upon the premise that states, like people, have a natural right to defend themselves against the imminent threat of harm. Article 51 of the UN Charter states that "[n]othing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations." To the extent that self-defense is an inherent right, the use of force in preemptive self-defense could be justified even without a prior armed attack. This topic raises difficult issues of how to define and apply workable legal standards in matters affecting national security.

Intervention on Behalf of Human Rights

Proponents see humanitarian intervention as a fundamental exception to the principle of non-intervention. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Barely Borders: Issues of International Law
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.