Archive for December, 2006

[the following is a term paper written for my Intro to Ethics class this semester]

When history books look back at the past century of armed conflict, they will note that the 20th century was the most deadly century in terms of wars and mass deaths. But standing stark amongst the dozens of wars and genocides and ethnic cleansings will be the international failure to act on the part of the Tutsi people of Rwanda in 1994. As the Hutu army swept across the country in premeditated genocide, over 800,000 died and over 1.5 million were displaced to refugee camps. The world stood by watching the events unfold but did nothing until the majority of the violence had already subsided. With this recent memory so harsh in the international community’s mind, the world is constantly struggling with what to do when similar situations arise. In situations like this, mostly contained by borders, the laws of nonintervention and national sovereignty reign and seem to take precedence over people and the dignity of humanity. But this overriding philosophy is slowly giving way to a more nuanced view on sovereignty and human rights, and the issue of humanitarian intervention has gained prominence in recent years as a top foreign policy issue. The questions are immense – what justifies intervention in situations and who are the proper actors? One such situation is extremely pressing right now in the world, and it is this subject which this paper is concerned with.

The political situation in Sudan today is complex. The British government officially stepped out of Sudan in 1956, allowing all the competing tribes and regions to release their pent up frustrations. Since the 1960’s a guerrilla waged civil war has taken place between the majority Black Christian southern part of the nation and the majority Arab Muslim northern part of the country. In the course of the past 30 years it is believed over 2 million people have died in this country due just to this war. This war was brought to a halt in late 2005 when a peace agreement was signed, recognizing the Khartoum government as the official government, and including both members of the southern and northern regions in its parliament. This fragile government is currently working to establish itself, and according to the peace accord, after 6 years, the southern part of Sudan will have the opportunity to become independent.

The current situation in the Darfur region of Sudan started in 2003, when rebellion broke out in the region. The western part of the nation had felt the effects of discrimination and racism for many decades and finally two groups – the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement rose up in indignation. The western part of the country was populated mostly by African Muslims, and when they rose up, the northern government armed its Arab Muslim mounted army to quash the rebellion. The militia began to systematically do that, riding through the western part of the country killing all they came in contact with and by the best estimates they put to death nearly 180,000 people – civilians and militia members – in a years time. At the end of 2004, a fragile peace agreement engineered by European & US negotiators was reached between the Darfur region and the Khartoum government, but this fell apart within a matter of months. The situation has gradually returned to its original status – with the janjaweed (the “unofficial” state-armed Arab-Muslim militia) bringing terror throughout Darfur. To date it is estimated that over 400,000 civilians have been murdered and over 2.5 million have been displaced to refugee camps. The refugee camps where the displaced are living within Sudan are not safe either, with many having been attacked by militias and burned.

The world is aware of the situation. Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, called Darfur an “inexcusable tragedy” earlier this year, and has announced in the past month that it is his top priority until he leaves his position at the end of this year. Currently there are 7,000 African Union troops in Darfur for peace-keeping purposes. They are supported by UN and US equipment, but limited by the Sudanese government in their abilities. They also are in charge of policing an area of Sudan roughly the size of France. As it stands right now, the region is so volatile that no Non-Governmental Agencies or relief organizations can safely enter to help care for refugees. Meanwhile the refugees and the militias have started crossing the Sudanese border into neighboring countries, Chad and Central African Republic. Both countries are already fragile economically, and Chad has historically poor relations with Sudan, leading to increased regional tension.

Despite all the violence in the western Darfur area, the northern region is attempting to rebuild stability and infrastructure in the wake of its 30 year civil war. Its closest ally in recent years has been China, who currently buys the majority of oil output from Sudan. In return, Arab and Chinese investors are pouring billions in to the Nile regions of Northern Sudan. Thus, many are beginning to look to China to use its leverage in helping bring an end to the situation in Darfur. This will be discussed more in depth later.

Darfur is gaining attention worldwide, as the region continues to falter under worse circumstances. The refugees in camps who do escape the violence have no food and no medical care, leading to even more deaths as a result of the instability. Calls have been made – and are being made more increasingly – for intervention of some sort. This paper attempts to examine the purpose behind intervention in order to decide whether or not Darfur demands more action than the minimal that has been taken thus far, and if so who should be the actors in that intervention.

What justification is needed for intervention to happen? Is the US the one who should intervene, or do we even have the ability to weigh in on the issue at all? If the US ought not to intervene, what is their position in this situation, and who should intervene? All these and more are questions that should be wrestled with in regards to Sudan. The biggest questions of all deal mostly with the ethics of humanitarian intervention – is it even right for foreign policies to deal with morality and worry about the states of countries less involved in global affairs than major powers?

Michael Walzer, in his essay “The Politics of Rescue” asks the question, if not the US, then who should act in these times of need? The truth, however, is that the United States has no direct responsibility to the current situation in Sudan. In the same essay, Walzer examines two contingencies that would lead towards responsibility by an outside country or agency. The first is looking at the abilities of neighbors to provide help, and the second is the nature of the crimes being committed in the country.

The ability of the neighbors to help is a bit more complicated than just whether they are able to help, because many other issues come into play. The motives for help can be varied – a desire for peace and stability being the purest motive, while the desire to subjugate the nation for selfish means being an unjustifiable motive. Politically speaking, in modern times only interventions with desires for resolution and not for imperialistic purposes will be supported, so the neighboring countries must be seeking to support the country’s sovereignty once the situation is resolved. Beyond just the motives for intervention though, there is the question of capabilities.

It is an original tenet of Just War theories that a nation must not enter a war that from the outset it is obvious it will lose. The same ought to apply to humanitarian intervention – the goal of intervention is ending the crimes against humanity, and if that goal cannot be accomplished, the agency intending to intervene ought not to do so. This criterion is not simply one of initial force though, as the current situation in Iraq shows. Putting a stop to crimes and war in the country may be possible in a matter of a few weeks (although this is not true in situations of genocide), but the rebuilding and long term reworking of the political infrastructure of the country may take much longer. This must be recognized in advance by nations who would intervene, but it ought not to be a deterrent due to responsibility, only a deterrent due to capabilities. That is to say, a country must not shirk its duty to its neighbors because it does not want to get too involved in the affairs of the unstable country – instead the reason for not intervening ought only be one of inability to handle the necessary responsibilities.

The nature of the crimes being committed or the magnitude of the instability in a country is the very foundation of humanitarian intervention ethics, so to examine this issue it is necessary to understand all the components. If neighboring countries, for failing to meet the requirements above, are unable to intervene, should there still be intervention? The fact that a situation merits intervention means that no matter whom the agency, intervention of some sort is necessary. The question here then is, what situations merit action, and if those whom the responsibility falls upon most directly are unable to carry out the requirements, who then is responsible?

Humanitarian intervention is largely a modern concept. The basic premise is two-fold: that instability on a national scale hinders stability on a global scale, and secondly, crimes committed against a specific people-group or religious group are crimes that supercede borders and must be viewed as crimes against all of humanity. It is nearly impossible to place explicit technical requirements by which a situation must be judged as meriting intervention or not. Typically even proponents of limited intervention, such as Michael Walzer, view it as a negative responsibility, with the general philosophy being that of non-intervention. This means that in foreign policy and world affairs, the guiding policy is that intervention is not justified and nations are overall independent. There are occasional exceptions to this philosophy though, and the questions put forth in this paper is generally speaking, what are those exceptions – and does Sudan meet them.

Just War theory was mentioned previously in regards to the initiators of intervention, but to back up now, the theory needs to be applied to the idea of intervention to ask the question when should intervention take place? The basic tenets of Just War theory on the part of the aggressor have 8 criteria. The first is that the Right Authority initiates the war. The initiating actors must also have a Just Cause. Thirdly, the actors must have Right Intention, fourth the war must be Last Resort. Overall, the actors must have strong cause to believe that the Proportionality of good to harm will swing towards good, and, thus, they must have Reasonable Hope for victory. The seventh criterion is known as Relative Justice, in which case the acting initiators must not believe they have absolute justice in the issue. The last criterion is that there must be an Open Declaration – in other words sneak or surprise attacks are not justified.

These 8 criteria are helpful in application to humanitarian intervention as well as to war, to discover what must be met in order to justify the intervention. The primary question in humanitarian intervention is “can anything else be done?” The alternate routes to achieving what intervention hopes to achieve are mostly boiled down to two categories, economic and diplomatic. The economic options involve multiple ideas, from sanctions to opening trade to increase persuasive powers. The diplomatic routes are in the same vein – varying opinions from seclusion to multilateral diplomatic talks and pressures. None of the specifics matter in this examination, instead, what must be proved for this criterion to be met is that all other routes have proved unsuccessful or cannot be shown to offer any more hope for the situation. Once it is shown that all other measures are unsuccessful, the acting party or parties can begin to examine the other tenets.
The idea of Just Cause, the second tenet of Just War theory, is hard to examine in light of intervention, and will be looked at further on in this paper as well. In brief, it is the responsibility of the acting parties to prove that the situation for which intervention is taking place is one that requires the action. Just Cause in intervention is also closely tied to having a reasonable hope of victory and proportionality. Even though each of these is a separate tenet in Just War theory, for intervention theory the questions that must be examined by the actors are what is their likelihood of success and can it be shown that in the end, good will most likely come from the actions?

The questions of Right Authority and Right Intention have already been raised as well, but they must apply not only to neighboring countries attempting to intervene, but any party or actor that would intervene for humanitarian causes. As the particular case of Sudan is examined more later on, the question of Right Authority will be raised more in depth. Right Intentions must be a desire for resolution in conflicts, stability for weakened governments, or justice for crimes against humanity such as ethnic cleansing or genocide.
Open declaration is a fairly easy criterion which humanitarian intervention will meet on the practical level, because in the modern world, nearly all military ventures are subject to some sort of public debate before they take place, particularly in intervention realms. Take for instance the lead-up to the United States interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the United Nations handling of the situations in Kosovo in the late 90’s. In each instance, the military ventures were for the most part publicly debated and justified before the first bomb was dropped. But Open Declaration raises another question in certain instances. As with Darfur, any military interventions would not be purely aggressive, instead they have the goal of working with a certain side of the issue or for resolving whatever situation is demanding of attention. Thus, it may not even be enough that intentions are openly declared – instead they may have to be approved by sovereign governments who will remain in power after the humanitarian intervention is completed. In this case, the acting parties will not only have to openly declare their move to arms, but often these declarations will have to come with with permission of the ruling parties in that nation.

The last question to be raised is the question of Relative Justice, and this is the problem many have with the idea of humanitarian intervention itself. If no state may act as if it possesses absolute justice, then can any state claim that another state is in need of help? It is at this point, after having examined the other 7 tenets of Just War theory in relation to Humanitarian Intervention, that attention must be turned to the concept of Human Rights and how this concept factors into the ethics of this issue.

This subject, because it is not the main focus of this paper, will not be examined in depth. However a full examination of the justifications for humanitarian intervention cannot help but look to the issue of human rights and how they play into the current global society.

Human rights in the secular (deontological) view are the basic rights which all humans possess. They are however, typically negative rights; no man has the right to murder another person, therefore all men have the right to life. For this paper though, human rights and the proceeding analysis is based on the Judeo-Christian teleological view. Under this view, rights are the God-ordained aspects that all humans innately contain, simply because they are created beings. These include basically, the right to life, innate value and dignity as a person, a right to ownership or personal property, and a right to freedom from unjust restraints. These are positive rights, taken directly from the nature of the Creator and instilled without exception in all humans.

Human rights therefore, are not simply guidelines for interaction towards other people, but are inherent traits that must be protected for all people. This is typically seen as the responsibility of the government, and that is where the issue of humanitarian intervention comes into play. If the government of a country is unable to uphold the basic human rights of its citizens, or is actively campaigning against them, the issue is not simply a matter of national sovereignty. Instead, the world at large recognizes that crimes against a portion of humanity must be dealt with, just as national criminal justice systems deal with crimes on an individual scale. The immediate response to the “who then should act” question is the United Nations, seemingly the proper organization for action. But there are often too many political and diplomatic objections in the way of the UN acting quickly or timely for situations that merit response. This question is best raised situation by situation, so to answer it for Sudan, all ethical issues need to be taken into account prior to its answering. In order to do that one more issue remains: the issue of what situations merit intervention – or how should the world decide which situations demand or require an exception to the overall policy of nonintervention?

The most recent instances of humanitarian intervention have been Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor, Bosnia, Somalia, and Burma, while with Rwanda it was seen as justified, but action did not occur. In each of these situations, at least two criteria were being met. First, the crimes being committed were on a large scale – either towards the population as a whole in the sense of a dictator (Iraq, Bosnia, Afghanistan) or towards a specific ethnic or religious group in a nation (East Timor, Somalia, and Rwanda). Second, the government of the nation was either complicit in the crimes, unable to deal with the crimes, or it was the purveyor of the crimes. In the first criterion, there is the recognition that human rights abuses on a large scale by their very nature deserve global attention and are not bound by borders. The second criterion deals with the actual nonintervention policy – is there justification for making an exception? As with most ethical issues, neither criterion allows for concrete tests by which potential actors know the situation is deserving of intervention. Combined with the tests of Just War theory outlined above however, I believe that the situation in Darfur can be shown to necessitate humanitarian intervention. I will first outline the justification for this, and finally I will answer the more practical questions and objections regarding who is the proper authority for intervening.

Is Sudan a situation meriting intervention? As outlined above, there are two criteria for answering this question. Looking back to the original summary of the situation, it becomes clear that there are indeed human rights abuses happening at this moment in Darfur. The term genocide has been applied by some and argued against by others, but it seems at this point to be a fruitless debate. The question is not what to call the horrors in Darfur but what to do about them. The next criterion then is whether or not the situation can be handled internally. In this situation, history proves a negative answer. Currently the political situation in Sudan is fragile at best, as the Northern and Southern governments each attempt to establish themselves under the recent peace agreement. The janjaweed (the Arab Muslim militia) is technically not under either government, acting as it pleases, and despite Khartoum governments promises, the violence has not decreased at all in the past 2 years.

Because of these reasons, Kofi Annan has declared Darfur his top priority until he leaves his position, and as more news emerges from the regions, others fall in line with his prioritizing. The fact that the world agrees that something must be done however, leaves looming the largest question of all – who should intervene to help Darfur?

This takes us back to earlier in this paper, with Michael Walzer’s question, if not the US, then who? And since it has already been shown that the US has no direct responsibility to Sudan, are they still the best option for intervention in the Darfur situation? In the last part of this paper, I am arguing that currently the US is not the proper actor for intervention but we do have a responsibility towards Sudan.

As of right now, the US is constantly criticized for considering itself the world police. We are viewed as having orchestrated two major failed interventions, Somalia in 1993 and the current situation in Iraq. The jury is still out on Afghanistan but the majority of the responsibility now is in NATO’s hand. Despite perceptions though, Somalia, aside from the Black Hawk Down incident, was not a failed intervention, instead we saved the lives of as many as 100,000 Somalis, as well as reducing the number of refugees by half. In each of these situations, too, the question arises who would have acted if the US had not? In theory, we can say that the UN or NATO might have, but in truth each had proper time to act before the situation – especially in the case of Iraq. Neither did, and the US took on the responsibility despite the criticism it faced.

Should this be the case again? As the UN sits by saying “something ought to be done,” should the US move forward and answer the call – though uninvited? I do not believe this is the case yet. Sudan’s neighbors near Darfur (the previously mentioned Chad and Central African Republic) are unable to help for a multitude of reasons, foremost of which is their lack of goodwill towards Sudan itself. The African Union currently has troops in Sudan, but only 7,000 and the Sudanese government shows no sign of allowing more in. This seems to leave 4 major players who could intervene. Three are obvious from the discussion thus far – the UN, NATO, and the United States. But the fourth is a bit unlikely – China. Currently China has the most economic investment in Sudan and, thus, has the most hope hanging on continued stability between the northern and southern regions. But China also hopes to keep its good standing with the government of Sudan and would not risk losing this to intervene in Darfur.

China’s position with Sudan economically does necessitate some sort of action on their part. I would argue that similarly, the United States has a responsibility to act in some manner because of the nature of the crimes in Darfur and the previous recognition that crimes against a people group or region are crimes against humanity that must be dealt with. But neither of these arguments satisfy all the requirements of the applied Just War tenets, meaning that neither the United States or China alone could justify intervention in Sudan, and at this point it appears that neither desires to do so.

My solution then is a bit idealistic in regards to foreign policy and international politics, but it is the best solution I see. The United States, recognizing the horrors in Darfur as crimes against humanity, needs to step up pressure on a worldwide scale for action in Darfur. Specifically, the US needs to convince China of the necessity of intervention in Sudan to help protect China’s economic interests. With China as an ally (a position that is entirely possible, as evidenced by recent cooperation in regards to North Korea), the US needs to press the rest of the UN Security Council to action. Currently the UN is attempting to provide equipment support to the African Union troops that Sudan has agreed to allow in. But the situation has progressed far enough that the UN needs to recognize that unless Darfur is resolved, the Sudanese government will not be able to establish itself towards the achievement of the peace agreement. As long as the janjaweed continues unabated in Darfur, the southern government will not be able to establish itself as a proper authority of the region, and the likelihood of the North-South cease-fire being broken will continue to loom. Thus the UN must face up to the fact soon that intervention on a larger scale must take place, whether the Sudanese government agrees to it or not.

The UN will find more freedom to act outside of the Sudanese government if the US and China were to jointly place pressure on the Security Council and on Sudan. This would at least allow the UN greater freedom to increase African Union troop presence in Darfur and hopefully begin the ending of this tragic situation. Why would the UN have justification to act? Looking back to the tenets of Just War theory as applied to Humanitarian Intervention, if the UN were to act at the behest of the Security Council, it would be the proper authority to act. The just cause would be intention of ending the mass murders in Darfur and return of the region to a stable atmosphere. As I have shown, this would be a last resort, because the Sudanese government has had three years to act and the situation has only worsened; meanwhile, economic and diplomatic measures have thus far and presumably will continue to prove unsuccessful. Ending the janjaweed’s control and returning stability will allow the millions of refugees to be taken care of and eventually return to their land, and also will allow the northern and southern governments to continue to establish themselves, meaning that there is a high likelihood of much good coming out of intervention. There is no fear of the UN acting as if it contained absolute justice because currently the majority of the world, including implicitly the Sudanese government, recognizes the need for action. The final two tenets are reasonable hope of the goal being achieved and an open declaration of intentions. These can only be decided at the time of intervention but it is clear that right now, the actions that have been taken, while being in the open, have little to no hope of successfully achieving peace and stability in the region.

It is therefore my position, in summary, that the current horrors in Sudan demand action of some sort. Because the Sudanese government has shown itself to be incapable of stopping the violence itself and unwilling to allow full measures to be taken by outside agents, action by outside parties is necessary. The best possible way for this action to happen immediately is for the United States to convince China of the need for action for the two to work together in propelling the rest of the UN Security Council towards action. If this goal is not achieved soon, then the violence and horrors in Sudan will continue to increase, and the news will only grow worse.

Extended Source Notes


Gaita, Raimond. A Common Humanity: Thinking About Love and Truth and Justice. 2nd. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Pullen, L. Larry. Christian Ethics and U.S. Foreign Policy: The Helsinki Accords and Human Rights. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2000.

Walzer, Michael. Arguing About War. Boston: Kingsley Trust Association, 2004.

Pettman, Ralph. Moral Claims in World Affairs. New York: St. Martin’s, 1979.


Fixdal, Mona, and Dan Smith. “Humanitarian Intervention and Just War.” Mershon International Studies Review 42(1998): 283-312.

Berger, Rose Marie. “A Responsibility to Protect.” Sojourners Magazine Dec 2006: 8-9.

Johnson, Dominic, and Dominic Tierney. “The Wars of Perception.” The New York Times 28 Nov 2006: 23.

“Will They Be Rescued? Darfur..” The Economist (US) 23 Sep 2006: 51.

“Now seize the Moment; Darfur..” The Economist (US) 13 May 2006: 14.

“Failure in Sudan – Stop the Killing, again..” The Economist (US) 03 Dec 2005: 10.

“It’ll Do What it Can Get Away With – Sudan.” The Economist (US) 03 Dec 2005: 25.

“Must Intervention Be Legal?.” The Economist 31 Jul 2004: 48.

“How to Help Neighbors.” The Indian Express Online 06 July 2006:


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Some days

Some days I realise I’m not as much wise as I am overconfident.

Other days I’m content in my blindness.

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