Humanitarian and Other Interventions

By:

Oscar Schachter was among the first to try to reconcile (1) a growing global sentiment in favor of international (and sometimes, as a last resort, even regional or unilateral) intervention to prevent or stop the most egregious abuses by governments of the fundamental rights of their own citizens with (2) the equally profound global concern that humanitarian interventions could be used, as they often have been in the past, to disguise hegemonic designs and to undermine state sovereignty. This Essay builds on Schachter’s insights, arguing that it is well within the proven capacity of the UN system to separate the sheep of humanitarian operations, undertaken to prevent real impending catastrophes, from the goats of old-fashioned recourse to force in pursuit of parochial interests. The problem is not with the Security Council acting as a jury. Rather, it is with the unprincipled threat, or use, of the veto to prevent the taking of timely collective humanitarian measures. The Essay suggests ways, short of Charter amendment, to curb such abusive recourse to the veto.