Ethics & International Affairs

Roundtable: Libya, RtoP, and Humanitarian Intervention

The Ethics of Humanitarian Intervention in Libya

James Pattison*

Wars and interventions bring to the fore certain ethical issues. For instance, NATO's intervention in Kosovo in 1999 raised questions about the moral import of UN Security Council authorization (given that the Council did not authorize the action), and the means employed by interveners (given NATO's use of cluster bombs and its targeting of dual-use facilities). In what follows, I consider the moral permissibility of the NATO-led intervention in Libya and suggest that this particular intervention highlights three issues for the ethics of humanitarian intervention in general. The first issue is whether standard accounts of the ethics of humanitarian intervention, which draw heavily on just war theory, can capture the prospect of mission creep. The second issue is whether epistemic difficulties in assessing the intervention's likely long-term success mean that we should reject consequentialist approaches to humanitarian intervention. The third issue concerns selectivity. I outline an often overlooked way that selectivity can be problematic for humanitarian intervention.

(Online publication August 12 2011)

James Pattison is Lecturer in Politics at the University of Manchester. Prior to that he was Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of the West of England, Bristol. His research interests include humanitarian intervention, the responsibility to protect, the ethics of war, and the increased use of private military and security companies. His book, Humanitarian Intervention and the Responsibility to Protect: Who Should Intervene?, was awarded a Notable Book Award in 2011 by the International Studies Association (International Ethics Section). He has published various articles on the ethics of force, including for Ethics & International Affairs, International Theory, Journal of International Political Theory, Journal of Military Ethics, International Journal of Human Rights, and Journal of Political Philosophy. He is currently working on a second monograph, provisionally entitled The Morality of Private War.


* I would like to thank Eric Heinze, John Lango, and Shogo Suzuki for their helpful written comments on an earlier draft of this paper.