In his article on humanitarian intervention, Michael Smith explains that the dynamics of international society has grown increasingly complex. Although sovereign and stable states remain the majority in the contemporary international system, they now face a greater threat from the development of renegade states (480). In addition to “failing” or “failed” states, which have broken down due to their inability to establish legitimacy, there has been an increase in states where conflict seems unavoidable. These “dangerous” states seek to bring attention to themselves through excessive and violent actions. Smith believes that these types of states will “continue to provide a worry for those trying to enforce some version of international order,” leaving no shortage of occasions for intervention (481). The international community, however, has been unable to determine when or how humanitarian intervention is appropriate. In the current international system, which Smith defines as a “subjective” environment, it is difficult to determine the moral value of humanitarian intervention. He argues that there is still a great deal of doubt and suspicion of unauthorized intervention within the international community (483). The multiple forms of humanitarian intervention (unilateral and collective) have further complicated these problems. Traditional international law has typically been unfriendly towards both types of intervention, with the exception of a few specific situations: threats to peace, breaches in peace, and “overt” aggression (483). Although organizations have intervened in state affairs to provide relief for minorities, monitor elections, and keep the peace, the UN has failed to endorse a general doctrine concerning the nature of humanitarian intervention.
Smith believes that international intervention should operate under the following principle: “Individual state sovereignty can be overridden whenever the behavior of the state even within its own territory threatens the existence of elementary human rights abroad and whenever the protection of the basic human rights of its citizens can be assured only from the outside” (498). Therefore, the international community should intervene in domestic affairs whenever there is a clear violation of human rights. Although this seems to be an appropriate guideline, it is only a step towards removing the ambiguity surrounding the concept of humanitarian intervention. The UN will be unable to endorse a general doctrine until the international community defines who is responsible for protecting human rights. Should the international community rely on specific nations to intervene whenever human rights are violated (the members of the Security Council, for example), or is it more plausible for the “defenders” of human rights to vary according to the situation? Furthermore, the international community must also define what humanitarian intervention consists of. “Is humanitarian intervention a rescue operation…or an attempt to address the underlying causes of the conflict?” (483). Until these specific issues are resolved, humanitarian intervention will remain in a cloud of confusion.