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The problem of humanitarian intervention sits at the crossroad of ideas of human rights, theories of sovereignty and Just War theory.
In contemporary international relations, there exist three different models of sovereignty that vary considerably over the importance of state rights versus human rights, authority of the state to protect human rights, and the need to conceive an international system to protect human rights.
The models correspond to the three most generally accepted traditions of international theory—the Machiavellian tradition, the international tradition, and the cosmopolitan tradition.
In the absence of coherent international legal order, law cannot provide the sole basis for humanitarian intervention.
It must instead be found in ethics, which can be highly subjective.
For instance, the Israeli interventions in Lebanon in 2006 cannot be legitimized under the failed state dictum.
All sovereign states have the right to decide matters within their own territorial jurisdiction.
For instance, the UN policies in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995 were criticized for being too slow to act militarily and failing to prevent the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica, where over seven thousand males were killed despite the town being in a declared UN safe area and the nearby presence of UN peacekeepers.
In this case, the United Nations waited too long to take sides in the conflict, yet by taking sides with one of the aggrieved parties, the issue of humanitarian intervention is likely to become politicized.
The question of right authority is crucial to the debate on humanitarian intervention because the very decision to intervene contravenes a state’s claim to sovereignty.
It may be justified only in those cases in which the government agrees to accept the UN peacekeeping forces or in those cases in which the states might have “failed.” However, it is not easy to legitimize humanitarian intervention in all such cases.