West Point: The Morally Good State and Its Intervention Obligations

Discussion in 'Politics & Religion' started by 2cents, Sep 7, 2006.

  1. a good read... http://www.usafa.af.mil/jscope/JSCOPE02/Barnes02.html

    "David M. Barnes
    MAJ, AR
    Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic
    United States Military Academy
    West Point,

    The Morally Good State and Its Intervention Obligations[1]

    On 21 August 2001, the NATO minister Lord Robertson announced that TF Harvest (~3500 peacekeepers) will deploy to Macedonia to keep the warring factions apart and begin the disarmament of the Albanian rebels in the region.[2] By deploying these international forces into the area, NATO experts estimate that the fighting will end, the number of arms will significantly shrink, the refugees will be able to return home, and the region will stabilize.[3] Furthermore, NATO now has another chance to stop a war before it truly begins. As Roderick von Lipsey, an international political theorist, wrote, “Stopping the violence and preventing its recurrence are the first and most essential tasks Eof the intervention cycle. Without these, other forms of intervention will be premature and likely to fail.”[4] Paying for years of inaction in Bosnia, Europe wants to ensure war in its backyard is something that does not happen again.

    Nevertheless, many believe that this military intervention (or any other) while permissible is not morally obligatory. What moral ties do we have to the people of Macedonia? What are our national interests there?

    I think these questions however seem too dismissive. Certainly, we view the brutal fighting associated with recent civil wars with horror, especially when the cost to innocents is so high. Further, regional stability is paramount to trade, policy, and defense. Ending the fighting, reducing the arms, and establishing some peace and security in a region previously wracked by civil war are all generally considered good ends—ones we should be trying to attain. Preventing a war seems an even greater good. Even if one believes that we in the western community have no business answering every call for help in every far-flung region of the world, she cannot deny that the loss of innocent lives is a tragedy. So if our conscience recognizes the dire problems facing these people, might our ethical make-up demand some action? This is not such an easy question to answer. International intervention,[5] by any workable definition, involves the intrusion of forces, supplies, and/or observers into the territory of another state. Intervening into the affairs of another state by its very nature is a violation of that state’s sovereignty. Thus, any proposal that obligates, let alone permits, intervention has to address these issues.

    There are various arguments for why humanitarian intervention is morally permissible, even (in some cases) morally obligatory. Furthermore, large portions of moral writings recently published on the question of intervention are limited to deontological theories. They are interpretations and applications of deontological normative ethics and concern themselves with whether an intervention can be obligatory because it would be wrong not to intervene.[6] But these views could lead to a prima facie duty to intervene or even an intervention categorical imperative. Consequentialist proponents of intervention on the other hand also face other potential shortcomings. These pitfalls include an objection of unforeseen consequences and an objection regarding the problem of providing continuing aid. Perhaps we need to look at the decision to intervene in a different light. We should not be looking specifically at which acts are right or wrong because views as proposed by deontological and consequential theories often fail to capture the essence of moral behavior—i.e. what it means to be good—and they often are severally challenged by their own limitations.[7] While these theories have their merits, I propose that we address the question of intervention by focusing on a character-based framework: What kind of state do we want to be: a just and moral state or an unjust, immoral state? What I propose is that good states will intervene for humanitarian reasons. Furthermore, intervention itself may be a good, and intervention may sometimes be necessary for a state to be morally good.

    But first allow me to digress. Aristotle thought that Man becomes morally good by performing good acts—thereby habituating morally good behavior.[8] Similarly, if states can act as agents, then they must habituate acts to develop as moral states. Another words, in order for a state to be a morally good state, the state must perform good, moral acts. Although the concept of a morally good state may seem like a stretch, historical and ethical precedents exist. Apart from the international legal position of a state’s right of sovereignty, Hegel and other philosophers have suggested that states also enjoy the right of moral autonomy in addition to sovereignty. Political philosopher Gerard Elfstrom also proposed that “nation-states themselves possess a moral autonomy analogous to the moral autonomy possessed by individual human beings.E[9] Therefore, if states posses a moral autonomy, then they can also act as moral agents, even as morally good ones.

    The separate issue is whether an intervention is a good. (Certainly not all interventions are good. In fact, some may use the guise of humanitarian help to mask other intentions.)[10] If intervention is indeed a good, then good states will intervene because the states are de facto morally good. Furthermore, it seems that in some cases, states ought to intervene to continue to develop as a morally good state.

    First I will present some background on the virtuous individual and how she develops a virtuous nature; I will call this virtuous individual the Morally Good Guy. Next, I will show that states can be virtuous and thus should act in a virtuous manner. Since the Morally Good State seeks to maintain its morally good nature by being good and acting good, I will show how intervention is a good. Thus, the morally good state intervenes as a habitation of its good nature.

    Are we a morally good state? Perhaps. We certainly like to believe we are. Most of the time, however, we consider ourselves a superpower—a name which often connotes ideas of power: military, political, and financial, and also abuse. Does this mean that as a morally good state we are a “goodEsuperpower? Do we as the sole superpower have international obligations? I think the answer to both these questions is “yes.E The name “superpowerEcan entail obligation. But with this obligation comes the danger of over-involvement or even abuse of our influential role. I will discuss this superpower dilemma and its impact on our country’s decision to intervene.

    Should we as a superpower even worry about intervention outside our sphere of national interests? Henry Kissinger raises several issues with the intervention in Bosnia and how there are differing perceptions about our international obligations.[11] I will show how we can adapt the perceptions of the role of a superpower and undertake those interventions obligated by our morally good character, our leadership role, and our resources.