Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Concern over Walzer's Case for Just Intervention

by Wesley Frazier

Walzer outlines a series of justifications for the intervention of one state towards another. They are drawn initially from Mill and largely from the legalist paradigm. They are as follows :

1) The formation of political communities within a nation due to secession or national liberation.

2) Counter balancing other external involvement.

3) Human rights and other humanitarian concerns.

Throughout the course of the chapter Walzer generates new permutations of the legalist position to cover all three of these contingencies. The final permutation being :

states can be invaded and wars justly begun to assist secessionist movements (once they have been demonstrated their representative character), to balance the prior interventions of other powers, and to rescue peoples threatened with massacre.

The argument is largely compelling and seems to fit with many everyday notions of when a war of intervention would be justifiable. However I am left with some lingering doubts as to how well Walzer has made his case, despite my wishes to agree with it. What Walzer has failed to prove ( or has failed to convince me of ) is that these are in fact the actual justifications for wars of intervention he cites. At every point in this chapter Walzer suffixes a disclaimer citing that the intervening nation may not act if it is against their best interests, and repeatedly fails by his own admission to find evidence of a war of intervention backed solely by these justifications.

In the case of the Hungarian Austrian conflict Walzer claims that England's non-involvement could easily not have been questioned until the Russian involvement, and then is still permissible under the desire for the maintenance of the european status quo.

In the later two examples, the Spane-Cuba conflict and the Pakistani oppression, the actual concerns of the United States and India seemed to contain many more pragmatic and self interested factors than the three justifications for intervention.

The decision to intervene or not intervene by each country in question in these examples seemed primarily centered on their own internal well being as the primary justification for action ( or non-action ) at the time. This seems painfully obvious when Walzer writes :

On the other hand or perhaps for this very reason-clear examples of what is called "humanitarian intervention" are very rare. Indeed, I have not found any, but only mixed cases where the humanitarian motive is one among several.

It should also be noted that the actions of every intervening nation he has cited has mixed motivations ( not just the case of India from which the quote was taken ). This being said the primary justification for intervention seems akin to justifications of preemption for domestic safety and not based on the interest of the target country's autonomy.

Defenders of Walzer's position will argue that I am conflating justifications for war and when a nation ought to go to war. However it is clear in these examples that the intervening nation's self interest was present just as often, and rooted in some sort of pragmatic sense of self defense ( economic or otherwise ). This style of self defense alone may be enough to justify the intervention on the behalf of the states. It takes no stretch of the imagination to believe that their is a larger wealth of examples of states intervening due to defensive self-interest.

This being said I think their are wider areas of exploration to be had in Intervention many of witch are pressing considering current events, specifically in the areas of regime changes and nation building.

In such cases however I believe that Walzer would be forced to argue heavily in favor of non-intervention, especially in light of recent events. Having drawn heavily from Mill one would be forced to respect the autonomy of a nation until an independent political community reached fruition within it.


Anonymous Mitch Ullman said...

Kurds anyone? Sorry, by the end of the paper, I was thinking about that particular group who have been attempting to gain their own state for a while now and somehow, we've left that out of our rhetoric machine... it could have been an excellent purpose that far more people would have been in favor of. But, I suppose that brings me back to the whole intent issue. But hey, that's what the whole 'balance' term of intervention is for, right? I suppose it is, but therein lie a bed of snake s that I'd rather not step on. Anyhow, I think you raise some excellent questions about Walzer's approach.

11:48 AM  
Anonymous jamie mccall said...

I see your point completely. There are no cases I can think of where intervention was solely for the purpose of humanitarian aid. While it’s nice to think nations would do this (act on the basis of giving aid only), the reality seems to be that nations will not intervene where they stand nothing to gain. That doesn’t always have to be material gain either, I can think of a few cases where countries have intervened for high political gain as well.

Of course, I'm making a positive claim but I realize were supposed to participating in normative discussions (else Dr. Miller will be forced to strangle me for talking about reality again). However, even on how things "should be" I don’t see why nations should be forced to intervene at all unless they gain something. Yes, this could/would lead to very regrettable consequences, but still…

1:15 PM  
Blogger Joe Miller said...


The issue here is not that someone is being forced to intervene. Walzer's aim is to provide a framework for allowing nations permission to intervene. It's that old distinction between 'obligated to' and 'permitted to'.

1:26 PM  
Anonymous jamie mccall said...

I do realize that distinction, but it causes me to have the same concern: even if someone is permitted to, no one is going to unless they gain something. If, in their attempt to gain something, they do something which they otherwise would not do - is that intervention still just? I

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Wesley Frazier said...

Over all I actually find Walzer's arguments largely compelling. But Never really know what to say when I simply agree with someone other than "yes".

I laregly suspect the fact that the lack of clear cut cases to support for Walzer, is simply that the pragmatic consequences and costs of international intervention tend to run higher than normal everyday moral dillemas.

9:27 AM  
Blogger Drew said...

i agree, the inervention notion is not soly on the idea of humanitarian aid and with your concerns for Walzers assesment i can see where you have found some gliches in his study. Your choice to intervene lies soly on the state and their reason to step in. Good paper

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Jeremy Page said...

I can't think of time when simply "helping" a country through intervention was a completely unselfish endeavour. So yes, I'm agreeing wiht Walzer's point. But even if the country offers mixed reasons for intervention, assuming it involves somewhere that they are helping the country, does it really matter why? So long as some right is done?

4:04 PM  
Anonymous steven grueshaber said...

Walzer's second justification for intervention kind of scares me. If you enter a war with the desire to balance out the sides, wouldn't that just result in more bloodshed and, therefore, make the war less just?

4:19 PM  
Blogger Adam Johnson said...

I think you are right to conclude that Walzer would be forced to favor non intervention in most cases by the argument he has presented. I think that was somewhat his purpose in chapter 6, but the structure of it sorta lends itself to appear to be somewhat intervention favoring.

4:25 PM  
Anonymous Kim Morrison said...

Agreeing with the majority here, I can't think of any situation when a country intervened just to help out a suffering nation. And in all actuality, the suffering country doesn't always come out better after an intervention than before. Sometimes worse off, at least for several years after. I think that even if a country wasn't permitted to intervene where human rights are being violated, there should be an obligation to save those who are suffering. People do things they're not permitted to do every day. But if in doing that something they're not permitted to do they save another life then the situation is approached differently. I don't know if that made any sense but that's how I'm leaving it.

4:37 PM  
Blogger Wesley Gibbs said...

The largest problem I have with Walzer's justification is that, as you pointed out, no example of a nation actually intervening for the "right" reasons. He seems to want to make this a point that should be used in some way, and yet there is no example throughout history to back it up.

7:43 PM  
Anonymous Mitch Ullman said...

That quote from Joe's paper that I was talking about follows:
the tolerance clause alone is an insufficient condition for a
minimally tolerable society. Aprinciple of tolerance says only that people should
be free to live their lives as they see fit; by itself, such a principle does not tell
me whether I must tolerate my neighbor’s new club, The Hemlock Club, which
prides itself on killing philosophers.

I just thought that was funny, for some reason. Good point, just a light way of making it. There was another one that I can't seem to find for some reason...I guess you just had to be there. Then again, I was there and it is no longer funny, at least so much so that I can find the thing. Whatever.

1:10 PM  

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