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Humanitarian Intervention

  1. Terry Nardin

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee119

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Nardin, T. 2013. Humanitarian Intervention. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


What should be done when a massacre or similar atrocity occurs in a country other than one's own? The thought that the governments of other countries should halt the atrocity, using force if necessary, yields the doctrine of humanitarian intervention. The moral rationale underlying that doctrine is not hard to grasp. When human lives are threatened by violence, those who are able to rescue the victims and to resist the violence should intervene, if they can do so without imposing disproportionate costs and by morally permissible means. The rationale is strongest when violence rises to the level of “crimes against humanity,” an expression adopted for the trial of German leaders at Nuremberg in 1945 to cover degrading, large-scale violence by a government against its own people. Because it is in tension with the idea of state sovereignty, humanitarian intervention has an insecure place in international law and is problematic on practical grounds as well, but that tension has only fueled debate on the circumstances in which forcible interference by one state in the territory of another is justified to prevent such crimes.


  • legal and political;
  • practical (applied) ethics;
  • crimes against humanity;
  • human rights;
  • war and conflict