Should States Ever Interfere in the Affairs of Other States?

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Is the intervention of one state in the affairs of another ever justified? Do states have a moral duty or a legal right to interfere? Where is the line drawn? This essay will observe some of the answers to these and other questions surrounding the interference of one state in the affairs of others. It will also distinguish between interference and intervention and consider the conflict between these issues and sovereignty. Furthermore, it will examine different types of intervention and pro- and anti-intervention arguments to try to determine whether states are ever justified in interfering in the affairs of other states. The Westphalian Constitution of world politics based on the peace treaty of Westphalia in 1648 formed the foundation for the international system of states we know today. It outlined three main principles: firstly, territoriality - humankind is organized principally into exclusive territorial (political) communities with fixed borders. Secondly, sovereignty - within its borders, a state or government has an entitlement to supreme, unqualified, and exclusive political and legal authority. This is also called political self determination. Lastly, autonomy: countries are autonomous containers of political, social and economic activity in that fixed borders separate the domestic sphere from the world outside. Based on the Westphalian constitution, and further developed by the UN Charter , the general rule is that a state should never interfere in the affairs of other states because the international state system is based on state sovereignty. A sovereign state, as a political authority, has no internal equal and no external sovereign. Sovereignty is absolute, pertains to the ruler (in a dynastic system – in the modern system the ruler can change without affecting the state’s sovereignty), and is perpetual, meaning it doesn’t expire with its holder. It can also be seen as the legitimate exercise of power by a state. Modern sovereignty is the fundamental right of political self-determination, legal equality between states, and the principal of non-intervention of one state in the internal affairs of another. Although the default position based on state sovereignty and the constitution of Westphalia is that states should never interfere in the affairs of other states as it erodes their sovereignty, it could be argued that there are some exceptions. First let us distinguish between “interference” and “intervention”. Interference, by definition, is clearly premised on the fact that it is wrong and unwelcome by the party that is being interfered in. Intervention, however, is arguably a more neutral term. Both aim to change the policies and goals of the other states government and often aim to achieve effects that favour the intervening agency . A classic example of one state interfering in the affairs of another is the post-9/11 invasion of Iraq by the USA. According to the ‘Bush doctrine’, the interference was justified as the US believed that they had a right to interfere as they thought there was a possibility of a threat to US national security. Therefore, the Iraq war is seen by many as a preventative war based on a possibility of a threat, which many commentators say is unjustified and taking interference too far. Some people would argue that an exception to the general position that interference in the affairs of another state is never justified is self-defence. For example, the 1919 post-war treaties completely disarmed Germany, took away and divided up much of its territory, and demanded that it pay reparations and take full blame for causing WWI. Many would say the Allies were justified in doing this to prevent another war on the same scale from happening again. Another exception to the rule is Just War Theory – particularly jus ad bellum, which outlines the just conditions for going to war. There must be a just cause, a right intention, proper authority, a probability of success, fair proportionality...
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