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The US Intervention Essay


An ethical issue arises when there is a “moral situation that one is not at fault, which all the choices presented are instances of ethically impermissible action” (Boylan 35). That is an ethical dilemma occurs from an unresolved interpretation of an ethical issue. For instance, the NATO and the US intervention in Libya in 2011 is only the most recent of a series of illegal interventions for which plausible moral justifications can be given.

This brings us to the question of whether the US should intervene in the political mess of countries such as Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, and Bahrain among others. The ongoing political uprising in the Arab nations is what we refer to as Arab Spring.

This research seeks to illustrate whether the US should help the citizens of these nations from the torment of their incumbent leaders. This paper need not be politically correct but rather respond to issues at hand. Thus, we try to put forward an argument that the US must intervene to save the citizens of lawless Arab states before they can degenerate into states of lawlessness and anarchy.

Issues of interventions

We have experienced complete holocausts across various states of the world. The Rwanda genocide, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Kosovo civil wars are crucial examples for ethical issues and foreign interventions. There are cases where the international communities have intervened to stop the carnage. Moral issues arise whether the attackers have the moral duties to intervene, particularly in cases where the United Nations Security Council or the Congress refuses to authorize military interventions in sovereign states.

Scholars define humanitarian intervention as “the threat or forcible entry across national borders by a nation or group of nations aiming at preventing or eliminating widespread and massive violations of the fundamental human rights of persons other than its own citizens, with no permission of the nation within whose territory attackers apply force” (Keohane 67).

Ethical dilemma recognizes forcible intervention to protect human rights. The main purposes of states and governments are to protect and secure human rights. Governments who seriously violate those rights undermine reasons that justify their political status, and should not be protected by international law.

State independence functions to serve fundamental human ends, and leaders who grossly abuse such power should not be allowed to ride on state sovereignty as a means of protection. Therefore, dictators can cause the fall of state sovereignty. This warrants a foreign intervention.

The moral assumptions are the fact that people have the obligation to respect others’ rights, promote respect for all persons, and obligations to rescue victims of dictatorship. The rights to rescue such victims entail the right of humanitarian intervention. This is because human rights are independent of history, national borders and culture.

While interveners have advocated humanitarian intervention principally as a response to outrageous methods, the precedents occasioned by advocates and scholars included cases like Kosovo, Haiti and Libya where the main stated purpose of intervention were the protection of democracy and human rights.

There is a powerful logic to challenging forms as well as methods of governance. Concern for democracy, a form of governance, and concern over methods crippling to individual rights spring from the same liberal root. Such views originate from the idea that human beings have equal moral agents entitled to an extensive freedom limited only by the equal freedom of others. This freedom includes a substantive as well as an instrumental value in the light of the way in which people govern themselves.

Consistent with this notion is the ideology in the Presidential Administration of Barrack Obama who declared democracy to be the most important human right, and the operational core of the administration human rights policy. This was the main reason for intervention in Libya. Still, in the past, the US has led most of the democracy crusades in almost collapsing countries.

On the other hand, libertarians argue that humanitarian intervention is wrong. According to them, governments do not have the rights to compel citizens to fight for the freedom of foreigners. The strong point of this argument rests on a moral issue of government coercing people into fighting wars to protect foreigners. The use of aggressive force is morally wrong, and a legitimate purpose of the state is to control aggressive violence (Bellingham 87).

However, the law does not ban the use of force to control aggression. Ethics morally permits it. It is up to the victim of an attack to decide whether he will fight for his protection. Therefore, the government cannot make such choices for the victim, and more so cannot coerce him into combat.

The idea is that a state is worth defending only if citizens rise spontaneously against the aggressor. People who choose to fight are within their rights and should be left alone. On the other hand, libertarians argue that coercion to force people to fight in defence of their own state, and fellow citizens have moral justification (Langlois 90). However, forcing citizens to fight for the freedom of foreigners is not. This argument rides on the public good that some people will free ride on the defence efforts of others.

This weak version of libertarian argument accepts the role of the government in defending the state. However, it rejects the legitimacy of humanitarian intervention perhaps because it does not regard foreigners as participants in a cooperative national process for the public good. Therefore, the government in a libertarian state does not have a mandate to protect the rights of persons other than its own citizens.

In recent years, John Rawls has added a lot of communitarian new insights to his social contractarian argument about foreign intervention. He now argues that international norms are just to the extent that the rational representatives of decent peoples deciding from lack of information would assent to such interventions.

In The Law of Peoples, Rawls argues that states owe a “duty of humanitarian rescue to the citizens of outlaw or failed states” (Rawls 29). In other words, to citizens whose governments fail to protect such basic human rights such liberty and security of ethnic groups from mass murder and genocide need foreign interventions.

Conversely, Rawls also note that states do not owe a duty of humanitarian intervention to the citizens of decent states. This is to citizens whose rulers guarantee basic human rights, but fail to protect other rights related rights of liberal democratic citizenship such as rights of civic equality, democratic governance, free speech, free association, and free movement among others.

This is because violations of these liberal democratic rights do not justify an act of foreign intervention. In addition, international bodies would not assent to humanitarian interventions on such grounds.

Do the US and other nations have the legal rights to offer humanitarian interventions to citizens under Arab dictators if the Congress refuses to authorise a military intervention? Critics argue that humanitarian intervention is objectionable because states have obligations to abide by international law.

Therefore, a government who uses force for intervention violates a central tenet of the international legal system. The international law compels states to obey the law outside their states. Humanitarian intervention undermines the stability system of a state by creating a risky precedent that lends itself to abuse by aggressive states (Cohen 129).

The illegal interventions and morality issues have also created a dilemma for the international law system. Scholars argue that there is a need to reform the international law system. There is a lack of clarity regarding the full range of options on how the reform might come about and which paths towards reform are morally preferable.

There are two main sources of international law. These are treaties and customs. If the world states aim at creating norms for moral improvement and prohibiting gross misbehaviour among some states, then the reforms by some states would be slow, that is, if they occur at all, in terms of changing sovereignty they enjoy.

For instance, some states would find it difficult to concur with reforms that require them to promote human rights within their own borders, and in addition, supply periodic reports on their progresses to some international body.

Still, the reforms obligate or permit the signatories to intervene so as to halt massive violations of human rights that occur in domestic conflicts in other states when lesser intrusive means have failed. Many states will refuse to sign such a treaty. Still, others may sign but postpone ratification indefinitely.

Some may sign and ratify, but weaken the force of the treaty by stating reservations regarding some clauses thereby exempting themselves from their requirements or by stating understandings which interpret burdensome clauses in ways that make them less inimical to state interests.

As a means for moral improvements, which are both significant and timely, the process by which international customary law occurs may be somewhat promising, but still it is difficult and uncertain. In short, international bodies may create new norms of customary laws as a result of the emergence of persistent patterns of behaviours by states (the cases of Arab Spring) accompanied by beliefs on the parts of state actors that behaviours in question are legally necessary or legally permissible.

However, there are several aspects of this process that substantially limit the efficacy of the customary route towards system improvement in changing such violations of human rights. First, international law allows states to opt out of the new customary norm’s scope by consistently dissenting from it.

Second, how widespread the new pattern of state’s behaviour must be before a new norm can be said to have stabilised is not only disputed, but probably not capable of a definitive answer. Third, even if we established a sufficiently widespread and persisting patterns of behaviours, the satisfaction of the opinion of the law requirement may not be clear; thus, subject to dispute.

Pronouncements by rulers may be ambiguous or mixed, in some cases indicating recognitions that the behaviour in question is legally necessary or permissible, but in other cases appearing to deny this. This can explain why foreign interventions may be necessary in some cases.

It is necessary for the US to access the situation and decide whether intervention is at all necessary. In this case, the focus should be on estimating the likely that intervention will lead to a “non abusive, and self-sustaining structure of political authority in these fighting states” (Keohane 179).

Evaluations of the “legitimacy, or prudence, of humanitarian intervention should be conditional on estimates of eventual political success” (Keohane 179). In addition, if intervention is necessary, then “decisions before intervention should depend on prospects for building institutions after intervention” (Keohane 67).

The ideas and responsibilities of protecting states sovereignty are to strengthen the sovereignty of states. However, we must understand this as a responsibility in sovereignity and not as a tool of an internal control. Sovereignity as a responsibility should not serve selfish political reasons.

State must remain main units of protection and collective action in the contemporary world where gross human rights abuses persist. In other words, the state must be greater than its rulers. Most citizens would demonstrate sovereignty to their states through loyalty they own states.

In this case, we must recognise the fact that people should be allowed to govern themselves except when they inflict severe and unjustifiable harm to others. Nationalism may make the imposition of foreign rule unsustainable in the long run as an anarchy continues to be horrible form of rule.

We somehow have to reconceptualise the nation as a political system that can observe and promote internal order, and at the same time, engage in international cooperation, without claiming the exclusive rights and ownership traditionally associated with sovereignty. We also have to accept the fact that states are different both in their capacities, and in legal status. From the definition of sovereignty with regard to states, states are not all equal (Keohane 43). Thus, a single and restrictive manner of looking at state sovereignty may not work for all.

The US may help rebuild unpeaceful countries that are in the verge of turning into failed states, and to direct their internal autonomies for good governance. However, the effectiveness of reform institutions depends critically on mutual interests and the quality of the intervening state. Therefore, the US decisions regarding humanitarian intervention should consider the possibilities of creating political systems that do not propagate total sovereignty at the expense of the masses and human rights.

Justifications for interventions

Critics who acknowledge the illegality of the humanitarian interventions also commended them. The strongest justification for intervening despite the illegality of intervening is that intervention was morally permissible, or even moral obligatory. The moral principle to justify humanitarian intervention is among the most fundamental human rights i.e. the need to protect basic human rights.

An illegal humanitarian intervention has a moral justification framed on fidelity law or basic moral values. The attacker insists that there is a dire moral emergency that justifies the attack without the UN Security Council authorization or any other form of authorisation. The attackers use basic moral values to trump the obligation to obey the law.

The public figures justify illegal humanitarian intervention by insisting that it is necessary if a humanitarian disaster is to be controlled. The international legal system supports prevention of humanitarian crisis. This gives the attacker an opportunity to appear lawful, but the attack is illegal. This is a case of a legal dilemma, and its justification identifies the values captured in the legal system. These are international legal and fundamental human rights of morality values (Langlois 76).

Another instance of justification for illegal humanitarian intervention posits that intervention aims at contributing to the development of a new, morally progressive rule of international law according to which humanitarian intervention without the UN Security Council authorization is sometimes permissible.

The attacker violates the existing international law to initiate a moral improvement in the international legal system. The need for reform to make the international legal system serves its own core value of protection of human rights necessitates the attacks.

The attacker presents the illegal action as moral necessity; thus, justifying their action. Subsequently, the inherent weakness in the international law system makes the attacker implies that the law does not serve its core value of protecting human rights. Therefore, the lawfulness and an illegal intervention both express a commitment to the rule of law.

The two maxims of recognition and application play a significant role in an ethical dilemma and the legal dilemma. The value served by the attacker is morally justified, but the intervention is illegal. The apparent weakness in the international law provides a loophole for the attacker to exploit it and justifies of why the intervention is necessary (Orford 85).


The global culture of human solidarity dictates that states intervene whenever one of their own massacres, enslaves, or forcibly expels large numbers of its citizens or collapses into a frenzied, murderous anarchy. This may explain why it is necessary for the US to intervene in the Arab Spring and aid their citizens.

History shows that during the Cold War the main threat to human rights was in the form of state tyranny in the Soviet countries, and in authoritarian regimes, in the Latin America countries. Some countries barely manage their sovereignty whereas others such as Somalia have become lawless and gone to warlords altogether.

Still, lack of intervention led to the genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have also seen states like Sierra Leone and Liberia. In Afghanistan, the civil war was responsible for anarchy and then terrorist groups took over the state control.

Many disagreements about ideas of humanitarian interventions are as a result of diverse conceptions of the sources of moral concerns that attempt to define conditions necessary for humanitarian interventions. We have noted that some school of thoughts support duties of humanitarian interventions whereas others do not.

Some consensual-based theorists support a duty of humanitarian intervention and others do not. This shows that humanitarian intervention support cannot rely on generalisation from a single theoretical approach. Thus, there are no ethically similar conclusions in this matter.

On the other hand, similar arguments about a clear look of moral concerns do produce similar ethical conclusions. For instance, most egalitarians and Universalists strongly favour a duty of humanitarian intervention, while most inegalitarians and particularists strongly oppose it.

Thus, the justice of humanitarian intervention seems to depend on how one responds to the question of moral duty. However, we must also recognizes that if states are unwilling or unable to protect the lives and liberties of their citizens, if they degenerate into anarchy or tyranny, then the duty to safeguard these rights reverts to the international community like the US.

Works Cited

Bellingham, Richard. Ethical Leadership, 2nd ed. Amherst, MA: Human Resource Development Press, 2003. Print.

Boylan, Michael. Basic Ethics. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2009. Print.

Cohen, Michael. 101 Ethical Dilemmas, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2007. Print.

Keohane, Robert. Humanitarian Intervention: Ethical, Legal, and Political Dilemmas. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.

Langlois, Lyse. The Anatomy of Ethical Leadership: To Lead Our Organizations in a Conscientious and Authentic Manner. Edmonton: Athabasca University Press, 2011. Print.

Orford, Anne. Reading Humanitarian Intervention: Human Rights and the Use of Force in International Law. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.

Rawls, John. The Law of Peoples. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993. Print.

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