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Humanitarian Intervention: A Realist Perspective

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Nation-states have lexical priority over all other institutions and their national interests are defined in terms of power; every state aims at the satisfaction of these interests by maximizing power (Donnelly 2000: 7-8).The primacy of nation-states and national interests in realism underscores the importance of the belief in sovereignty, non-intervention, and the non-use of force, which have been the fundamental principles of the international system since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. For realists, survival is the key national interest and, hence, no state can act on the basis of an overarching morality and concern for humanity, which humanitarian intervention demands. Rather, states intervene because of strategic and national interests.Further, leaders of states – entrusted with the responsibility of formulating rational foreign policies – have no moral right to engage their armed forces in bloody battles where their states’ immediate and long-term interests are not involved. Indeed, “[c]itizens are the exclusive responsibility of the state, and their state is entirely their own business” (Parekh 1997: 56).In addition, legitimizing humanitarian intervention in the form of international law shall give rise to the problem of abuse and preemption. Because states tend to intervene in accordance with their national interests, and since there is no objective determinant of whether a conflict can be deemed as a humanitarian crisis, countries may use the pretext of humanitarian intervention to pursue their national interests. If such intervention is legalized, strong states can always use it to their advantage against weaker nations (Wheeler & Bellamy 2001: 558).The basis for this last argument has evolved from the tendency of states to abuse the ban on the use of force, as enshrined in Article 2(4) of the Charter of the United Nations (UN), by employing the excuse of self-defence. The American intervention of 2003 in Iraq provides an excellent case for the elaboration of this point. The United States (US) attacked the sovereign Middle Eastern nation due to the perceived threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Following the failure of unearthing any such WMD, the program of the war was conveniently changed to offer a humanitarian face: the delivery of the people of Iraq from the tyrannical rule of a murderous despot.However, as early as the fall of 2002, more than 30 leading realists had written a
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preview essay on Humanitarian Intervention: A Realist Perspective
  • Pages: 4 (1000 words)
  • Document Type: Essay
  • Subject: Politics
  • Level: Ph.D.
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