The Moral Structure of Humanitarian Intervention

The chapter The Moral Structure of Humanitarian Intervention by Fernando Teson is a good example of how the representatives of the Neoliberal lobby in this country (such as the author himself) go about trying to convince readers that there is nothing wrong about America’s agenda to continue violating international law in the most blatant manner. The reason for this is that, according to the author, the very political realities in today’s world call for the legitimization of the practice of ‘humanitarian intervention’, which is, in fact, nothing but a euphemistically sounding synonym that denotes the notion of ‘military invasion’.

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In other words, it will be thoroughly appropriate to refer to the concerned chapter as the pseudo-philosophical justification of aggressive war – even despite the well-meaning sounding of many of the author’s arguments. When subjected to the analytical inquiry, however, these arguments will be revealed as such that they do not hold any water whatsoever.

The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated, concerning just about every argumentative claim, contained in the chapter. The author’s the most notable logical fallacy is concerned with the epistemic nature of his assumption that: “Just as national self-defense is justified as a defense of persons (me and my compatriots) against an aggressor, so humanitarian intervention is justified as a defense of persons (foreigners) against their own government” (Teson 392).

After all, this assumption does appear strongly axiomatic, in the sense that the author refuses to recognize that there may be any alternative points of view on the subject matter in question. Apparently, Teson expects people to recognize the soundness of his suggestion, in this respect, just because he said so. This simply could not be otherwise, because the author’s attempts to convince readers that it is Ok invading a foreign country under the pretext of ‘defending democracy’ are best described as rather feeble.

For example, according to Teson, there are situations when the governments of foreign countries can no longer be considered the legitimate agents of national sovereignty – usually because of the affiliated governmental officials’ willingness to indulge in the acts of genocide against their own citizens. It is understood, of course, that just about any governmentally endorsed atrocity represents a morally objectionable act – something that should come to the attention of the UN Security Council.

The author, however, suggests that the UN Security Council can no longer be deemed a legitimate arbiter in the arena of international politics – all due to the presumed ‘ineffectiveness’ of this organization: “Before the UN Security Council authorizes the use of force against a criminal regime… many improbable things have to happen” (Teson, 402). Apparently, it never occurred to the author that the UN Security Council is not there to help the US toppling ‘criminal regimes’ in the resource-rich countries – the organization’s mission is to enable the world’s most powerful countries to mediate their differences peacefully, so that no major war may break out again on this planet.

Given the fact that each of the Council members has its own geopolitical agenda, there can be no universal definition as to what the notion of ‘criminal regime’ stands for. The Moral Structure of Humanitarian Intervention does not even slightly contribute to constructing such a universally accepted definition because the author’s view on what is moral/immoral in the domain of IR is highly subjective.

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For example, while elaborating on what should be deemed the indications of a particular government being illegitimate, Teson evokes the notion of “standard of substantive justice” (393). He, however, does not bother to explain what this ‘standard’ stands for, or where it came from, in the first place. In all probability, the author had in mind the American standard of ‘substantive justice’.

And we all know how this ‘standard’ is being used by the US in practice – if a particular resource-rich country refuses to act as America’s lowly puppet, the US Department of State accuses it of having violated ‘human rights’, with the controlled media beginning to raise hysteria about this government’s sheer ‘evilness’. In its turn, this prepares ground for the US-led military invasion of this country. On the other hand, the governments of those countries that are considered America’s allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Ukraine, enjoy full freedom doing the most despicable things to their civilian populations, with the US preferring to turn a blind eye on it.

Today’s Ukraine is particularly notorious, in this respect – ever since the US-endorsed ‘democratic revolution’ of 2014, this country has been ruled by the fascist junta, which flies swastika flags and pursues the policy of genocide against its own Russian-speaking citizens in the country’s East (Mearsheimer 85). The US Department of State, however, could not care less about it – it is specifically the ‘violation of gay-rights’ in the ‘Russian occupied’ Crimea, over which the Department’s representatives prefer to cry crocodile tears in public.

As time goes on, it becomes increasingly clear to more and more people in the world that America uses ‘humanitarian intervention’ to advance its own geopolitical interests – even if it comes at the expense of destroying other countries and plunging them into the chaos of a civil war (as it was done to Yugoslavia, Lybia, Irag, and now Syria). This, of course, cannot result in anything else but in undermining America’s reputation, as a geopolitically responsible country.

Hence, Teson’s another ‘brilliant’ suggestion – when it comes to invading a foreign country, America should use mercenaries: “Hiring mercenaries solves the problem” (or breaking international law and getting away with it). Moreover, mercenaries are professional soldiers who will presumably increase the chances of victory, so they are preferable for efficiency reasons as well” (404). This particular claim appears especially ridiculous – being greed-driven professional killers, mercenaries are the least fitted for the role of ‘humanitarian relief workers’.

What it means is that America’s intention to form ‘private armies’ for the purpose of using them abroad will be automatically looked upon in terms of casus belli by most countries in the world. In its turn, this will contribute to the escalation of geopolitical tensions on this planet –something that should naturally cause the number of the intentionally organized ‘humanitarian catastrophes’ in the world to continue increasing exponentially.

There can be only two explanations for Teson’s persistence with advocating the idea that ‘humanitarian intervention’ is permissible. One of them has to do with the possibility that the author is arrogant enough not to understand that, given the new political and economic realities in the world (brought about by the rise of Russia and China), yet another US-led ‘humanitarian intervention’ may result in triggering the outbreak of the WW3.

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However, it is most likely that Teson merely acts on behalf of the earlier mentioned Neoliberal lobby in America, which now supports Hillary Clinton in her Presidential campaign. Those representatives of America’s financial elite, who belong to it, believe that the US must continue imposing the essentially unipolar (with America in the center) ‘new world order’ upon every other country on this planet while using military force to deal with the locally bounded instances of resistance. This is the actual reason why the notion of ‘humanitarian intervention’ is now being popularized by such authors as Teson.

The author is smart enough not to make any explicit references to America, as the would-be perpetrator of ‘humanitarian intervention’. However, one does not have to be a genius to realize that Teson’s chapter is written for the specific purpose of providing a philosophically sound justification for the US to continue violating international law, as something that is meant to delay the collapse of America’s economy due to the enormous budget deficit. After all, as it appears out of the chapter’s context, it matters very little whether the ‘humanitarianly intervening’ country is genuinely concerned about trying to help the ‘oppressed’ or not.

The only thing of importance, in this respect, is to repeat the mantra ‘criminal regime must be deposed’ often enough: “Even if right intent should be a requirement for the legitimacy of humanitarian intervention, the presence of non-altruistic motives does not invalidate the goodness of the act” (Teson 398). Thus, it is indeed quite impossible to refer to the reviewed chapter as anything but a pretentiously sophisticate but morally repugnant glorification of aggressive war. Apparently, the author does not quite understand that those who provide a philosophical justification for this type of war are just as liable to face criminal charges, as such war’s actual perpetrators themselves – something that was shown to the whole world in 1945, during the Nuremberg Trial.


Mearsheimer, John. “Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions that Provoked Putin.” Foreign Affairs 93.5 (2014): 77-89. Print.

Teson, Fernando. “The Moral Structure of Humanitarian Intervention.” Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics. Eds. Andrew Cohen and Christopher Wellman. Boston: Wiley-Blackwell Publishers, 2014. 389-404. Print.

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