The politics of strength: Humanitarian intervention, pretexts and the alternatives

By Johan Galtung

Written January 2002

1.  The issue: humanitarian intervention in Yugoslavia
We cannot stand by, watching a government committing serious crimes against humanity, even genocide, on its own population.

Certainly not! The doctrine of national sovereignty “within recognized borders”, like the doctrine of patria potesta giving the pater familias a carte blanche for terrorism within the walls of a recognized home, are cultural crimes against humanity, drawing artificial borders for human solidarity, delivering the subjects to the dominio of whoever are the tyrants.  The Roman law construct relating owners to whatever can be owned paved the way for such institutionalized crimes against humanity as slavery and colonialism. The problem arises when “whatever can be owned” includes human beings, for almost any definition of “ownership”.  The individual ownership takes precedence over the communal.

Humanitarian intervention, in all such cases, coming to the assistance of human beings in distress, is a human duty, flowing from norms of solidarity with human beings anywhere, regardless of artificial borders.  Of course, if action under that heading is done for such selfish goals as access to raw materials or to establish military bases, it should be better known as conquest.  But abuse is no excuse for doing nothing. Two wrongs do not make one right. [Read more…]

Advertisements