Humanitarian disintervention

Shmuel Nili*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


When discussing whether or not our elected governments should intervene to end genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity in other countries, the humanitarian intervention debate has largely been assuming that liberal democracies bear no responsibility for the injustice at hand: someone else is committing shameful acts; we are merely considering whether or not we have a positive duty to do something about it. Here I argue that there are important instances in which this dominant third party perspective (TPP) is empirically false and normatively misguided. Much before our positive 'responsibility to protect' potential victims from mass atrocities, we violate our negative duty not to harm these victims. Employing work by Thomas Pogge and Leif Wenar, I argue that this harm currently comes about as our elected governments either buy, or allow our corporations to buy, the world's most precious resources from brutal dictators and warlords, who dominate some of the states that are at the heart of intervention discussions. In these cases, democracies' most immediate duty is not intervention but rather humanitarian disintervention: boycotting severely oppressive regimes, and in particular stopping to recognizing these regimes - whether dictators or civil warriors - as possessing legitimate authority to sell their peoples' resources. I begin with a brief survey of the intervention literature, followed by the foundations for the disintervention alternative. I then elaborate the conceptual and practical advantages of disintervention, concluding with thoughts on the reasons for TPP's lasting dominance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-46
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Global Ethics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1 2011


  • Thomas Pogge
  • disintervention
  • humanitarian intervention
  • resource curse
  • third party perspective
  • use of force

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science


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