It is generally assumed that, when judging the proportionality of a humanitarian intervention, the relevant costs that must be factored into the equation are not only those brought about directly and immediately, but also those brought about via the interceding agency of other parties; the mediated consequences. Here I want to challenge that assumption. First, I argue that rebels fighting off an oppressive regime cannot reasonably be held to a standard of proportionality under which mediated consequences count fully in the calculus. Given this, I ask whether we can justify holding international rescuers – using similar means in pursuit of similar ends – to a more stringent standard. If the answer is yes, then curiously it turns out that an intervention might fail to satisfy the principle of proportionality despite its expected costs and consequences being identical to those of an insurrection which is rightly judged to satisfy that principle. I argue, however, that every attempt to justify the asymmetry has shortcomings. If this is right, then the standard of proportionality to which we hold states or coalitions engaged in armed international rescue operations should be reviewed and, arguably, relaxed.
Ned Dobos is Lecturer in Ethics at the University of New South Wales, Canberra, and Adjunct Fellow at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, Charles Sturt University. He is the author of Insurrection and Intervention: The Two Faces of Sovereignty (2012), and coeditor (with Christian Barry and Thomas Pogge) of Global Financial Crisis: The Ethical Issues (2011). N.Dobos@adfa.edu.au
* Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, University of Melbourne; at the Australian National University's Social and Political Theory seminar; and at the HASS research seminar at the University of New South Wales, Canberra. I would like to thank all who attended and provided such incredibly helpful feedback. I am especially grateful to Andrew Alexandra, Peter Balint, Christian Barry, Tom Campbell, Stephen Coleman, Adam Gastineau, Seth Lazar, Igor Primoratz, and Nicholas Southwood. I am also immensely grateful to Christopher Finlay and two other anonymous reviewers for Ethics & International Affairs, as well as to the editors of the journal, for their insightful comments and suggestions. Some of the material in this paper builds on my work in Insurrection and Intervention: The Two Faces of Sovereignty (Cambridge University Press, 2012).