With the black letter law of the UN Charter denying states to unilaterally intervene in third states on humanitarian grounds, this article tries to project a picture of the moral controversy of humanitarian intervention as a balance for order and justice. The author argues that some post-cold war armed interventions may be taken as evidence of an emerging rule of international law outside the UN Charter system allowing the use of unilateral humanitarian intervention to keep a third state from committing large-scale human rights violations on its own territory. However, in the absence of prior authorization from the relevant UN organs, it is necessary to address concerns of possible abuse and manipulations of such an emerging rule. The article includes recommendations to this end.
To go to war for an idea, if the war is aggressive, not defensive, is as criminal as to go to war for territory or revenue; for it is as little justifiable to force our ideas on other people, as to compel them to submit to our will in any other respect. But there assuredly are cases in which it is allowable to go to war, without having been ourselves attacked, or threatened with attack; and it is very important that nations should make up their minds in time, as to what these cases are.John Stuart Mill, A Few Words on Non-Intervention (1859)