Friday, February 15, 2013

LD Mar 2013 Humanitarian Intervention - Aff Position

Resolved: The United States is justified in intervening in the internal political processes of other countries to attempt to stop human rights abuses.

For part one of this analysis, click here.

Aff Position

Obviously Aff will be trying to prove the US is justified in intervening, etc.  Whatever we define those terms to mean.  Generally speaking there is not a lot of specificity in this round.  Most importantly Aff is not expected to argue the US MUST intervene as one would expect if there was a moral duty to stop human rights abuses within the borders of another country.  So for the purposes of this debate and when it is convenient to the Aff case, the US may pick and choose its interventions.  In fact this position is not all that far removed from the status-quo (for example our intervention in Libya). I suppose the difficulty for the Aff will be in proving that any decision taken by the US to intervene can only be justified on the grounds of stopping human rights abuses.  So, if the US goal is to topple a regime and in the process eases the suffering of a mass of people, does that violate the resolution?  It seems it does, although I suppose one could always claim, "yeah, we toppled that government because our primary purpose was to stop human rights abuses."

Clearly, the empirical evidence will show there have been precious few military interventions despite numerous incidents of human rights abuses around the world.  "Operation Provide Comfort" was one such humanitarian intervention which took place in the 1990s in northern Iraq to protect Kurds following the 1991 Gulf War.  In this example, there was a UN resolution 688 issued calling for members to provide assistance for Kurdish refugees, but clearly, despite support from the coalition partners, the intervention was unwelcome by Iraq and seen by them as a violation of their national sovereignty.  A second major example of US intervention occurred in 1999 when Serbian troops were accused of mass killing of Kosovar Albanians.  (see Operation Allied Force).  Once again, there was UN support, the action was conducted by a US led coalition (NATO forces) and involved a significant air-war and bombing campaign in Serbia which resulted in their withdrawal from Kosovo.

So, despite the fact there are few examples and in each case there was really no unilateral actions on the part of the US, the Aff must prove the justification for such actions, even unilaterally are a given when humans are being deprived of their rights.  This brings us to another major area where lack of specificity harms the Aff.  According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights everyone has a right to move within or out of their country.  So technically if a nation restricts the movements of a group of people (or perhaps even one) assuming they have not forfeited such right through the commission of a crime, that nation is violating human rights.  On the other hand, everyone has a right to life so if a nation is killing a group of people it is depriving them of their human rights.  Obviously there is a huge difference between repressing movement and killing and so the wide spectrum of human rights violations strongly suggests the intervention must be proportional to the violation.  So now we see a very familiar concept of proportionality in Lincoln-Douglas debate which lends itself very naturally to the value of justice.

Aff needs to create a framework which accommodates the lack of specificity and I see definite parallels in the Aff position for this resolution and several recent resolutions dealing with the right of self-defense as related to the protection of innocent bystanders or victims unable to defend themselves.  If you have been debating long or have been following this blog over the last year and a half, you are already familiar with the philosophical and moral arguments which can be reworked for this case.

The Legal Case

To anyone who has researched this topic, a legal framework for Affirming the resolution probably seems difficult if not impossible.  A great deal of evidence will highlight decades upon decades of precedence which claims that national sovereignty is a paramount value.  Especially given the potential for abuse, since every war could be "justified" on the basis it is a humanitarian action.  Let's not forget, homicide is illegal but there is a thing known as justifiable homicide and it recognizes there are times when the illegal act may be necessary as the only way to avoid another equal or worse harm.  Killing in self-defense is one such example.  So it stands to reason that certain utilitarian principles come to bear when examining the justification for an act.  The fact of the matter is, there can be no evaluation of the act of intervention until after it occurs.  Therefore one must evaluate what was the situation before and what is the situation after and if the consequence of the intervention is an increase in desirable outcomes, perhaps the act can be deemed justified.  Now of course, Neg is undoutedly going to think of some scenario in which something which seems good today turns out to be awful tomorrow.  But a strong utilitarian case makes sense if the result turns out to be  humanitarian disaster is averted with minimal harms inflicted by the US.

Nevertheless, perhaps there is a reasonable legal framework already in place, called the Responsibility To Protect, also known as R2P.

Ensuring the protection of human rights implies that there are limits to sovereignty, for if there were not there would be no grounds on which to justify humanitarian intervention except in cases in which is was requested. According to Stanley Hoffman, humanitarian intervention can be justified and sovereignty overridden “whenever the behavior of states even within its own territory threatens the existence of elementary human rights abroad, and whenever the protection of the rights of its own members can be assured only from the outside.” Related to this, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) argues that there is a right to protect the victims of human rights abuses and a subsequent duty that is held first by the home state and second by the international community. If the home state is unable or unwilling to put an end to the human rights abuses going on within its borders, the international community has a duty to intervene to stop them. Therefore, “sovereignty then means accountability to two separate constituencies: internally, to one’s own population; and internationally, to the community of responsible states.”

R2P emerged from the UN mainly as a response to the failure of the International community to respond to the Rwanda genocide in the mid-1990s.  R2P states that each nation has a duty to protect its own people from massive human rights abuses and other countries have a responsibility to assist that nation in fulfilling its duty.  Now of course those provisions basically create a reasonable threshold for intervention when a state fails to perform its duty and is either unable or unwilling to seek outside assistance. At that point, the international community now has a duty to take coercive actions to stop the atrocities taking place.  The legal grounds for R2P is based upon existing international laws and is administered by the UN. In other words, the UN will declare when the action may escalate to coercive intervention.

PILPG (2012):
R2P, an emerging norm of international law endorsed by the UN Security Council, represents a profound evolution in the way international law treats humanitarian crises. Under R2P, state sovereignty is not absolute. A state forfeits sovereignty when it fails to protect its citizens from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, or crimes against humanity...The Responsibility to Protect developed in response to the international community‟s failure to prevent the humanitarian tragedies in Rwanda and the Balkans during the 1990s. R2P establishes that states have the responsibility to provide security for their populations and protect them from crimes against humanity. When states fail in this responsibility, the international community can intervene to protect the civilian population through peaceful or coercive means.

The US invoked the principles of R2P to justify its intervention in Libya.  While some may argue the US "abused" R2P as an excuse to topple the Libyan regime, it has been a significant precedent.

The Limits of Sovereignty

Most LD debaters should already have a working knowledge of social contract theory.  There are several flavors of it which basically states people in the state of nature, band together for their mutual protection and each person relinquishes her right to preserve their own properties and liberties in deference to the "state" which then assures their mutual protection.  In other words, we choose to give some of our rights to a government in order to enjoy the benefits of its protection.  However, when the government fails its duty, the government loses its legitimacy.
Heyman (1984):
Locke emphasized that, because government is established for this purpose, it is "obliged" to secure every individual's life, liberty, and property. When it acts contrary to this trust, the government is dissolved and the community regains the right to establish a new form of government. Such dissolution occurs, in Locke's view, where the government invades the rights of subjects, or where it fails to use its power to secure those rights. Locke implied that the Glorious Revolution of 1688, in which King James II was dethroned and replaced by William and Mary, was justified on these grounds.

The Westphalian notion of sovereignty is no longer valid in a world which has mostly overturned the authoritarian regimes or monarchies of the 17th century.  The rise of democracy has changed the meaning and recognition of what constitutes legitimate sovereignty.

Wallerstein (2004):
There is one further fundamental feature of sovereignty. It is a claim, and claims have little meaning unless they are recognized by others. Others may not respect the claims, but that is in many ways less important than that they recognize them formally. Sovereignty is more than anything else a matter of legitimacy. And in the modern world-system, the legitimacy of sovereignty requires reciprocal recognition. Sovereignty is a hypothetical trade, in which two potentially (or really) conflicting sides, respecting de facto realities of power, exchange such recognitions as their least costly strategy.
These ideas support the argument that prohibitions on infringing the state sovereignty apply only to legitimate states, states which fulfill their duty to their citizens and are recognized by other legitimate states.

The Moral Framework

Of course there must be a moral reason to favor the Affirmative.  Despite the talk of nations and states, they are generally agents of the people they represent so we can deal with the subject on a very human level.

Bagnoli (2004):
Framing a moral universalist argument for intervention has important consequences whose significance is greater than the intervention debates suggest. First, to claim that respect for humanity grounds a moral basis for humanitarian intervention is to say that intervention is morally justified whenever human rights are seriously violated. If intervention to protect human rights is defended on moral grounds, any reference to whether the state against which we act is dangerous or aggressive is irrelevant.6 Its threat can be considered a secondary supporting reason for undertaking war, but it is neither a primary nor a moral reason. In some cases, the violation of human rights might occur exactly because such a state failed as a state, that is, it failed to guarantee law and order, and it is in such a state of dissolution that it does not represent a threat to anyone. By paying attention to the threat that such a state may pose to other countries, when considering the moral status of intervention, we make a prudential case for intervention. Prudential and moral reasons may pull in the same direction, but I am urging that in discussing the wrongdoing that justifies armed intervention, we should keep these two kinds of reasons separate. My claim is that a moral argument applies universally and unconditionally, that is, independently of (although not necessarily incompatibly with) prudential considerations.
Second, to ground the duty to intervene on the principle of respect for humanity makes any consideration of special relationships or other contingencies irrelevant. There is a duty to intervene independently of considerations of proximity, friendship, capability, expertise, or effectiveness.
Third, to appeal to humanity importantly affects both the normative status of armed intervention and the question of proper authority...
In violating another person’s dignity, I fail as a moral as well as a rational being in that I fail to act upon a maxim that can be conceived and willed as a universal law.35 Others are then permitted and required to coerce me, if coercion is needed to obstruct my wrongdoing. Although the underlying reasoning is clearly moral, Kant defends the permission to coerce as a juridical permission, according to which one person may force another to act rightly; that is, we may obstruct wrong actions.36 This conception of coercion is based on the idea that the wrongdoer and the victim are both members of a moral community of mutually accountable equals. The moral norms that regulate the moral community are merely the standards of respect for the equal dignity of all members. All members of the community have equal standing to demand compliance. When those standards are violated, the victims have a claim on the wrongdoer, and they have grounds for complaint if he does not comply.

Nardin (2000):
Though derived ultimately from the principle of respect, the right to use force to defend the innocent from violence rests more proximately on the idea of beneficence–the idea that human beings should assist one another in appropriate ways. To respect other human beings as rational creatures means not only that we must not interfere with their freedom but also that we should help them to achieve their own ends. Common morality is at its core a morality of constraint, but its precepts are not limited to those that constrain us. It also requires us to further the well-being of others in ways that are morally permissible and not disproportionately costly. In other words, we are forbidden to do wrong for the sake of others and we are not required to do more than we can reasonably afford.

At the end of this discussion on a moral framework for the Aff I wish to bring up the Doctrine of Double-Effect as an answer to potential Neg arguments about how any kind of forced intervention will likely result in unintended consequences of innocent deaths and loss of property.  Just keep telling yourself, DDE is my friend.

For the Neg position, click here.

McIntyre (2011):
The doctrine (or principle) of double effect is often invoked to explain the permissibility of an action that causes a serious harm, such as the death of a human being, as a side effect of promoting some good end. It is claimed that sometimes it is permissible to cause such a harm as a side effect (or “double effect”) of bringing about a good result even though it would not be permissible to cause such a harm as a means to bringing about the same good end. This reasoning is summarized with the claim that sometimes it is permissible to bring about as a merely foreseen side effect a harmful event that it would be impermissible to bring about intentionally.

Humanitarian Intervention, Cambridge University Press,
Edited by J.L Holzgrefe & Robert O. Keohane, 2003

Treva Panajoti
UN & Humanitarian Governance
Humanitarian Crises and World Politics: the Conflict between Ethics and Pragmatism in Humanitarian Intervention Decisions

The Legality of Humanitarian Intervention, University of Georgia School of Law
Eric Dejei, 2005

Memorandum, Prepared by the Public International Law & Policy Group
May 2012


Immanuel Wallerstein
DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS Durham and London 2004

Humanitarian Intervention as a Perfect Duty: A Kantian Argument
Carla Bagnoli, 2004

The Moral Basis of Humanitarian Intervention, Symposium on the Norms and Ethics of Humanitarian Intervention, Center for Global Peace
and Conflict Studies, University of California, Irvine, May 26, 2000
Terry Nardin

McIntyre, Alison, "Doctrine of Double Effect", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This helped me a lot in both my aff and in fromaing my neg.

  3. Hi, could I possibly have a case structure of V: Justice and VC: thomas aquinas doctrine of double effect???

    1. Hi Kat, you can have a value of justice since there are many ways to make it work. The VC should not necessarily be a philosophy. Many times debaters choose similar VC's like utititarianism, deontology, etc. but they really do not help the judge a whole lot because they are very broad concepts and the idea of the VC is to narrow the scope of the debate. In this case, DDE is a moral philosophy, but I am wondering how one can claim it upholds justice? I suggest finding another VC related to what your evidence proves. Maybe use DDE as a justification in one of your contentions; perhaps, a contention that claims moral acts promote justice and intervention is moral as long as it is proportionate (i.e. just) and conforms to the DDE (intends no secondary harms).

    2. okay, so would a better VC be the responsibility to protect doctrine? or saving lives??? Sorry, bad with structures. But my Contetnions are essentially 1) Humanitarian Intervention no matter what the outcome is preferable because inaction is morally reprehensible
      2) Humanitarian Intervention Is Needed to Stop Crimes against Humanity and save thousands of lives
      3) Humanitarian Interventions are Justified Because Human Rights Trump State Sovereignty

      Do those work? Someone suggested to me that I use the responsibility to protect doctrine as my VC... would that work?

      Thanks for the help!

  4. What are some potential objections to DDE in general?

  5. It is of note that R2P specifies actions done by the international community, not a single acting state. Also, it must be done through the United Nations.
    Here's the exact wording.


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