The Ethics of Humanitarian Intervention in Libya

| August 2011
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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.

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Category: Issue 25.3, Roundtable: Libya, RtoP, and Humanitarian Intervention, The Ethics of War and Peace

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