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A normative case for pluralism: reassessing Vincent's views on humanitarian intervention



    1. Professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of Somerville College.
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    • The author would like to thank Chris Brown, Andrew Linklater, Nicholas Rengger, Christian Reus-Smit and Chandra Sriram for comments on earlier versions of this article.


While R. J. Vincent's overall goal in Human rights and International Relations was to demonstrate how human rights might be promoted in international society, there was one area in which he was sceptical about allowing human rights to serve as the basis for international conduct: military intervention. This article begins by demonstrating that Vincent's greatest fear—that legitimizing humanitarian intervention would lead to countless wars—has proved largely unfounded. Nonintervention in the face of gross violations of human rights has marked the post-Cold War period more than rampant interventionism. Moreover, while the use of force for humanitarian purposes has become acceptable in very exceptional circumstances, the manner in which it has been legitimized and the depth of the consensus around its appropriateness illustrate lingering scepticism among states about infringements of sovereignty. The article concludes by showing how Vincent's writings on humanitarian intervention, in particular his caution about an imperialist advance of cosmopolitanism, might provide a basis for a more robust normative defence of pluralism in contemporary international society.