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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 1 .

The Ethics and Politics of Humanitarian Intervention
Stanley Hoffmann.

(Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997). 116pp. Pb.: $14.95; ISBN 0 268 00936 8

Humanitarian intervention poses the conflict between order and justice at its starkest; it also raises the profound moral question as to whether violence should be used to promote humanitarian ends? The reader searching for moral certainties will not find them in The Ethics and Politics of Humanitarian Intervention, but what they will discover is a stimulating collection of essays on one of the most complex ethical issues of our time.

This volume brings together two essays on humanitarian intervention by Stanley Hoffmann (first delivered as lectures in 1995 at the Kroc Institute at the University of Notre Dame) together with responses from Robert C. Johansen and James P. Sterba. The book begins with an introductory essay by Raimo Vayrynen, director of the Kroc Institute. Focusing on the question of how much force was necessary to end the war in the former Yugoslavia, Vayrynen argues that it required the NATO bombings of late 1995 to finally bring the Bosnian Serbs to the negotiating table. This judgment is strongly supported by Stanley Hoffmann who argues that the problem in Bosnia was 'to put an end to the violence'(p.57) rather than delivering humanitarian aid to its victims. According to Hoffmann, bringing genocide and ethnic cleansing to an end requires using force against those who employ violence, 'rather than treating victims and victimizers alike'(p.57).

Hoffmann's conviction that force is sometimes the only realistic response to massive human rights abuses is taken up by Robert C. Johansen in his challenging contribution to this volume. Arguing against forcible humanitarian intervention because of its high costs and low utility, he proposes that we give more attention 'to finding a third path between doing nothing and sending in the troops'(p.61). His alternative strategy would be 'nonmilitary yet still coercive'(p.61) and would include such measures as economic sanctions and war crimes indictments. It can be agreed with Johansen that international society should pay greater attention to this type of intervention in future situations. However, as Hoffmann reminds us in relation to the case of genocide in Rwanda, atrocities can reach a level where the only way to halt the killing is by the use of force on the part of those powers that have the necessary military might.

Even if military intervention is judged to be the only means of stopping the killing, there is the objection that this violates the sovereignty rule. In his other contribution to this volume, Hoffmann addresses the balance to be struck between the competing claims of sovereign rights and human rights. This essay brilliantly steers the reader through the ethical, legal and political complexities of this question. Hoffmann recognises the dangers to international order of issuing a licence for unilateral humanitarian intervention, but claims that such action 'should be deemed legitimate'(p.22) if the UN and regional organisations fail to act to stop massive violations of human rights.

Hoffmann's proposal to permit unilateral intervention in certain circumstances is challenged by Johansen and Sterba in the volume. The latter argues that Hoffmann leaves 'the door too widely open for unilateral intervention because there can be good moral reasons why the UN or regional organizations are incapable of dealing with a particular issue'(p.94). Unfortunately, Sterba does not discuss how international society is to decide whether the absence of UN approval is for 'morally weighty'(p.95) reasons. It is the fear that a future rule of unilateral humanitarian intervention would be open to abuse which leads Johansen to argue that the task is 'to expand carefully the space for legitimate intervention on human rights grounds'(p.63).

Nicholas J. Wheeler, Department of International Politics, University of Wales, Aberystwyth

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