The Ethics of Interventionism

The ongoing war in Ukraine has, once again, raised the question of the rights and wrongs of military interventionism.

In discussing this topic, we should start off by noting that, when it comes to conflicts between states – entities which are unethical and unjust by definition – it is difficult to make neat categorisations between aggressor and victim. States are fundamentally aggressive by definition, and so it is difficult to talk about them as if we are discussing the rights and obligations that arise between private individuals and entities. As such, any acts by states can often be judged not in terms of right or wrong but only of what is better or worse for the freedom of the citizens who must suffer from their rule. In fact, the Russia/Ukraine/NATO conflict is an exemplar of this. Moreover, much interventionism that feigns to be defensive tends not to be so – the Iraq war being a prime, recent example.

However, if we ignore this complication by assuming that the assessment of a given situation provides a clear distinction between an aggressor state and a victim state, what can we say about interventionist efforts by third party, non-aggressing countries to either prevent or quash the act of aggression?

To be a libertarian is to believe that the initiation of force against the person or property against another is inherently unjust. This belief proscribes neither the right to self-defence of one’s person and property, nor the right to provide defence services towards someone else who is the victim of aggression. There are two key elaborations to make to this principle.

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