From Intervention to Non-Intervention:
The Triumph of State Sovereignty over Human Rights?
The fundamental organising principle in the international system has long been one of state sovereignty, whereby states are considered to have authority over a defined and internationally recognised territory, protected from external intervening forces. Thus, inextricably linked to sovereignty has been the further principle of non-intervention. In 1991, George Bush Senior spoke of a ‘New World Order’, one in which the United Nations would now be free to fulfil its founders’ visions. As a result, for much of the post-Cold War period, the principle of non-intervention was challenged by successive interventions into the sovereign affairs of states by international organisations, notably the United Nations and NATO, as well as some states. As if in acceptance of this new world order in which human rights protection could – would – be privileged over traditional understandings of sovereignty, in 2005 the international “community” adopted the principle of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). R2P has since been widely debated by reason of the emphasis it places on achieving justice for people, placing obligations on states to protect the wellbeing of their citizens and to face the possibility of an outside intervention when they fail to do so. However, following the so-called Arab Spring, successive states in North Africa and the Middle East have experienced instability and/or intrastate conflict, leading to enormous loss of life, injury and displacement of people. After a speedy intervention in Libya in 2011, western states particularly have apparently lost all appetite for intervention, as the Syrian people have discovered since the start of the intrastate conflict that has engulfed their own state.
In November 2015, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs spoke of this war “that has cost an estimated 250,000 people their lives, given rise to extremist and terrorist groups, and reduced much of the country, a middle-income country, to rubble”. He estimated that 13.5 million Syrian people were now in need of humanitarian assistance, while more than 4 million had become refugees. Despite these figures, it was not until Syria’s conflict was brought to the streets of France through the Paris attacks in November 2015 that European states began to reconsider their non-interventionist stance. Thus, just 10 years after R2P, circumstances are suggestive of a limited and certainly wavering commitment to the principle of rights protection and therefore to the vision of a New World Order.
In this course, students will be introduced to the underpinning concepts and competing understandings of (non-)intervention in situations of conflict, state collapse, humanitarian and human rights emergencies. Students will learn to identify and deliver a critical analysis of those factors that shape crisis, international intervention and non-intervention. Emphasis is then placed on the application of concepts and theories to real-life scenarios, examining a few of the case studies that have been particularly significant in respect of developing international-level responses to crises. Ultimately, students will be required to deliver well-evidenced verdicts on whether human rights have been relegated to the second tier of principles to be defended by the United Nations and its signatories.
Throughout the course, students will be asked to consider the causes and effects of events and actions in relation to conflict and crisis in the international arena. Four core themes in the study of Intervention will sit at the heart of our studies: Sovereignty, Legitimacy, Legality, Human Rights. The course aims to help students understand the arguments for and against intervention: what motivates actors to intervene, what constrains them, the inherent costs and dangers of their choices. Through study of a number of interventions, students will debate the choices available to actors in order to achieve an understanding of the context in which difficult decisions are made and the consequences of those decisions. Finally, they will have to consider whether and how those decisions shape the wider international order.
Dr Maxine David is Lecturer in the Institute for History, Faculty of Humanities at Leiden University and Research Fellow at the Global Europe Centre, University of Canterbury, Kent. She is a Foreign Policy analyst, specialising in Russian and EU foreign policy.
Published works include Routledge’s May 2013 edited collection, National Perspectives on Russia: European Foreign Policy in the Making?; the January 2015 Special Issue "Modernisation in EU-Russian Relations”, in European Politics and Society, for which Maxine was co-editor and single author of an article "New Social Media: Modernisation and Democratisation in Russia”. Open access online publications include “Learning from Crisis: The Challenge for the Euro-Atlantic States” in The Riga Conference Papers 2015: Towards Reassurance and Solidarity in the Euro-Atlantic Community (2015) and various articles for The Conversation, to which Maxine is a regular contributor. She is currently working on a monograph to be published with Palgrave: The Triumph of Agency in Russia’s Foreign Policy. Rethinking the Power of Western Structures.
Maxine has an extensive, wide-ranging teaching portfolio and is currently teaching courses on EU-Russia Relations, the European Neighbourhood Policy and EU Today. She is a member of Pearson’s external stakeholder groups (ESAGs), advising on proposed reform to the UK’s A level for Politics. She adopts an experiential approach to learning. Thus, her students are always encouraged to understand the necessity of active involvement in, and a reflective approach to, learning, which stimulates critical thought and conceptualisations.