chapter  2
10 Pages

Setting the context: Intervention and norms in international society

Intervention, norms and international society Three norms are of particular importance in a discussion of intervention – sovereignty, non-intervention and human rights (summarised as the debate between order and justice) (Wheeler and Dunne, 1996: 92; Roberts, 2003b: 48). The debate centres on the relative importance given to the individual in relation to the state. The centrality of the state and importance of order, through adherence to the norms of sovereignty and non-intervention unless in cases of extreme suffering such as genocide, is contested by that position which prioritises the individual and argues for the use of intervention should states fail to provide basic rights for their citizens (Jackson, 2000; Ayoob, 2002; Knudsen, 1995; Wheeler, 2000). The norms themselves do not change, but rather their weighting. The strength of norms and how these enable or constrain states is particularly important in terms of the legitimacy which the norms provide, and the transmission and internalisation of norms therefore becomes central (Dunne, 2005: 74). This is especially important to appreciate if Dunne is correct in arguing that power creates a normative framework convenient to itself (Dunne, 2005: 69). Even if interest is not overtly present, are the norms themselves reflecting the interests of the powerful rather than a wider section of international society, and if so how does this influence our understanding of the tension between humanitarian and traditional norms of order? Bull saw the norms established in international law, including nonintervention, as being overridden when required, but even in so doing the interveners still sought legitimacy (Bull, 2002: 209-210). He referred to hegemony, a

situation which has been referred to as ‘imperialism with good manners’, in which the hegemonic power of each region, or ideological block, would resort to force, or the threat of force, in order to achieve its aims, but that this violence would not be habitual (Bull, 2002: 209). Bull painted a picture of an international society of states in which the very building blocks of this society – sovereignty, equality and independence – were not disregarded in word, but would be violated in deed if the need arose. Wight made it clear in Power Politics that in his opinion the League of Nations and the United Nations were overrated in their importance by scholars of IR, as evidenced by the interventionist activity of states (Wight, 1978: 216). During the Cold War, national interest became closely aligned with the ideological confrontation of both sides and acts of intervention reflected these national interests, overriding post-1945 norms of sovereignty and non-intervention. These acts of intervention, even if motivated by national interest and concerns of political and military power, were still required to be justified internationally (Jackson, 2000: 254). Reflecting the pragmatism of Jackson, norms were therefore not to be seen, in the realist fashion, merely as tools holding no authority in and of themselves, but norms both formed the basis of order and legitimated any act of disorder (Jackson, 2000: 19-22; Ramsbotham and Woodhouse, 1996: 49). This book contributes to an understanding of Bull’s position through its analysis of the justificatory discourse of each intervention, revealing through these references the normative site of legitimacy. The end of colonialism spread the rights of independence, sovereignty and self-determination. As Brown argues, the ‘old rules that applied only to fellow members of the European states-system now applied universally’ and the new post-colonial states were quick to support the notion of sovereignty to ensure their existence, in turn strengthening the norm of non-intervention (Brown, 2002: 159). The UN General Assembly’s 1970 ‘Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation’ states that ‘the practice of any form of intervention . . . violates the spirit and letter of the Charter’ (UN, 1970: 122-123). The norm of non-intervention came therefore to be supported by both the old European states and the new post-colonial states, in discourse if not always in practice. Sovereignty did not always protect weaker states from stronger ones, but if intervention was to occur, the strong did at least have to make a credible legitimising case for their intervention (Ayoob, 2002: 83). Vincent’s substantial theoretical and empirical contribution to this debate showed still further the importance of norms which underpin international society, particularly those of sovereignty and non-intervention (Vincent, 1974, 1986). The prioritisation of human rights and the resultant enquiry into humanitarian intervention is a normative development which stands opposed to absolute sovereignty, demanding a minimum standard of conduct by governments towards their own people, and is therefore central to any normative exploration of the nature of intervention.4 Only three Cold War interventions were perceived as embodying humanitarian characteristics. These were the interventions by: India in East Pakistan (1971); Tanzania in Uganda (1978); and Vietnam in Cambodia (1979). They were not,

however, justified as humanitarian by the interveners, nor were they motivated primarily by humanitarian concerns, but were justified rather in reference to selfdefence as prescribed in the UN Charter (Jackson, 2000: 259; Wheeler and Bellamy, 2000: 478). The failure to justify intervention on humanitarian grounds, or indeed for further interventions to have taken place to halt abuses during the Cold War, can principally be seen as a result of two factors: first, post-colonialism and the proliferation of states which relied on the principle of non-intervention; and second, the context of the Cold War in which the UNSC was deadlocked over intervention issues (Brown, 2002: 159). The failure of the US in particular to act for humanitarian reasons in the Cold War must be seen as intricately tied to the bi-polar system and the fear of a nuclear war. As Gaddis puts it, ‘When the alternative appeared to be the Bomb, blinking at brutality seemed the most prudent thing to do’ (Gaddis, 2004: 161).5 Bull and Vincent in particular struggled with the prioritisation of norms, fearing that placing human rights over sovereignty could destabilise and threaten the entire international system especially if they took the form of national interests in humanitarian guise (Bull, 1984; Vincent, 1974, 1986). Vincent argued that one should be aware of the importance of states to the current international system, have a sense of the direction in which international society should be pointed, but be positioned to analyse the rhetoric of states for suspicion of ulterior motives (Vincent, 1986: 124). However, he did point to the future precedence of humanitarian intervention over sovereignty when a ‘state by its conduct outrages the conscience of mankind’ (Vincent, 1986: 124). Interestingly both Bull and Vincent saw great danger in ideologically justified intervention, including liberal democracy, reflecting Wight’s view that ‘adherents of every political belief will regard intervention as justified under certain circumstances’ (Bull, 2002: 189; Vincent, 1986: 117; Wight, 1995: 191). The end of the Cold War facilitated a move towards developing and entrenching the norms originally intended in the UN Charter. A dual commitment emerged during this period, of upholding the foundational norms of international society as well as a renewed commitment to human rights and human protection – tested in the first two case studies of this book (Boutros-Ghali, 1992: paragraph 17; Slim, 1995; Jackson, 2000: 261). This book adds to the debate on norms by examining the reality of a commitment to human rights in intervention, as opposed to, or in addition to, the presence of national interests, and where the two intersect and diverge. A consistent argument against humanitarian intervention has been that there is a danger of its being used as a tool of the strong against the weak, and that the importance of sovereignty is such that it should not be risked by anything less than a clear legal right of intervention (Ayoob, 2002; Jackson, 2000). The cases to be studied in this book will reveal the normative foundations of the justificatory discourses in each case, and show the importance assigned to national interest, human rights and international law in order to identify changes in the normative landscape which underpins international society. Intervention postCold War was to be undertaken by or on behalf of the international community and not for individual states or narrow collective interests (Ayoob, 2002: 83).