Centre for the Study of Interventionism

About Us: http://www.interventionism.info/

UN INTERVENTION picEver since the end of the Cold War, the idea has gained ground that there is a right or a duty to intervene in the internal affairs of other states. This can be for humanitarian reasons or in the name of UN Security Council Resolutions. According to this new doctrine, international law should be enforced by means of military violence and international criminal law can be used to indict. These claims stand in contrast to the hitherto existing principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, which is both an established principle of customary international law and also enunciated in the UN Charter.

The purpose of this Project is to take a critical look at the arguments in favour of interventionism and to analyse the track record of actual interventions.Interventionism can be judicial and military. On this site you will find information about the legal structures which have been created for interventionist purposes, as well as critical analysis of actual military interventions.

History: Interventionism in the sense which the Centre studies it is a post-Cold War phenomenon.  To be sure, there were military interventions before then but it is only in the period after 1989 – 1991 (during which the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed) that legal instruments came into force (principally United Nations Security Council Resolutions) which allegedly provide a legal basis for interventionism.

This legal basis is thin.  The legal documents listed here (click on “Legal documents” in the menu on the left hand side of this page) fall very far short of the thick layers of treaty law, costumary law and rulings by the International Court of Justice which form the legal basis for non-interventionism.  Those legal documents can be seen under the menu tab “Non-interventionism“.

None of the legal instruments listed in this section have explicitly superseded the Charter of the United Nations or the rulings of the International Court of Justice which contradict them.  Interventionists of course want to expand their legal base.  No interventionist, however, has ever proposed drawing up a general right of interventionism which would legalise, for instance, a Chinese intervention in the internal affairs of the United Kingdom.  Instead, interventionism, such as it is practised today, is exclusively by powerful Western states against weaker, non-Western ones.  NATO’s operation against Libya is only the latest and most obvious example of this trend.

Just war

The just war tradition made an unexpected eruption into an otherwise secular world under the presidency of George W. Bush and the prime ministership of Tony Blair.  Both men believed they were doing God’s work in their various wars.  The eruption was unexpected because just war theory is principally an aspect of moral theology, i.e. it is theologians who used to speculate on whether wars were just while modern international law has resolutely refused, for many centuries, to pronounce on ius ad bellum.  The only partial exception to this resolute refusal is the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, and some of the other regime trials held around that time, which criminalised aggressive war.  The irony is that the recent renewal of just war theory has been used to justify precisely that.  

This part of the site will aim to set the record straight on just war theory, one of whose traditional elements (according to St Thomas Aquinas) is that a war is only just if waged with a right intention.  Ulterior motives are obviously not permitted and therefore it is doubtful whether the claims made for contemporary just war can in fact stand up to scrutiny in the light of the heritage they claim.

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Regime Change:

The practice of interventionism is very closely linked to regime change – i.e., to overthrowing foreign governments.  Regime change can be effected by military or by non-military interventionism.  Examples of the latter include the use of foreign-funded “non-governmental organisations” to prosecute a political agenda inside another state.  The Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 is the textbook case of such an operation, where an alliance of Western-funded NGOs, Western media and Western-controlled international organisations like the OSCE managed to exploit the political grievances of a part of the Ukrainian population to advance the West’s geopolitical agenda.

Regime change plays a crucial role in providing apparent justification for intervention:  the “happy ending” of the fall of the dictator is written and proclaimed at the beginning of the script, and after it has occurred, attention moves elsewhere.  Who follows the politics of Serbia now, or even Libya, where regime change operations were conducted by the Western military and by Western NGOs?

Regime change is the quintessential revolutionary programme.  It represents the penetration of the sublime into politics:  “bliss it was, in that dawn to be alive,” wrote Wordsworth about the French Revolution.  Unfortunately, the inhabitants of countries onto whom the fantasies of foreigners are projected have to live with the consequences long after the foreigners have moved on to something else.

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