The Ethics and Politics of Humanitarian Intervention

By Stanley Hoffmann; Robert C. Johansen et al. | Go to book overview

2
SOVEREIGNTY AND THE ETHICS OF INTERVENTION

Stanley Hoffmann

T HE TRADITIONAL LEGAL order of international relations -- whether or not it actually began with the treaties of Westphalia -- has had as its cornerstone the principle of state sovereignty. It is a tricky concept, and the most serviceable definition is Hedley Bull's, who, in The Anarchical Society, describes sovereignty as independence from any outside authority. The corollaries of this principle are the norm of the equality of rights of states and the norm of nonintervention in a state's domestic affairs (another name for this is the duty to respect a state's domestic jurisdiction). This set of norms was enshrined in the Charter of the UN. To be sure, the Charter mentions human rights among the purposes of the organized international community, but it also reasserts the principle of state sovereignty and the principle of consent, except in enforcement actions ordered by the Security Council under Chapter VII.

The norm of nonintervention, as analyzed by Lori Damrosch,1 has two main functions. The first is to minimize inter-state conflict. Sovereignty is, so to speak, the actors' side of a coin of which the collective side is anarchy -- the absence, by definition, of any power superior to the states. Sovereignty can all too easily lead to conflict -- and indeed the resort to war was considered a right of states until the limitations introduced by the Covenant of the League and extended by the Charter of the UN. If states clashed not only over the usual range of conflicting interests but also because of interventions in each other's domestic affairs, anarchy could become unmanageable. A second function is the preservation of a state's autonomy,

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