Outlaw states are one of four types of societies discussed in Rawls’s The Law of Peoples. The discussion occurs within the context of nonideal theory, where one concern of justice is how to bring noncomplying societies into compliance (LP 89–90). Outlaw states fail to comply with principle 4of the Law of Peoples, which states “a duty of non-intervention,” and with principle6, which requires societies “to honor human rights” (LP 37). Generally, Rawls distinguishes states from peoples by claiming that the former “as rational” are often “anxiously concerned with their power . . . and always guided by their basic interests” (LP 28). Outlaw states pursue their rational aims without limiting them by the reasonable constraints of the Law of Peoples. In contrast, “liberal peoples limit their basic interests as required by the reasonable” (LP 29).
Due to their noncompliance, outlaw states are not to be tolerated and respected as members of international society (LP 81). Various constraints of the Law of Peoples, such as the duty to honor treaties (LP 37), do not apply with respect to outlaw states. Liberal and decent societies may subject them to political and economic and sanction for their failure to honor human rights and if these violations are sufficiently grave military intervention may be justified (LP 81). Moreover, if liberal peoples and decent societies “sincerely and reasonably believe that their safety and security are seriously endangered” they may fight just wars against outlaw states that fail to observe the duty of nonintervention (LP 90–91).War against outlaw states, then, is justified only if the human rights violations occurring are very grave or if the outlaw states pose a reasonable threat to the safety and security of liberal and decent peoples.