Teoria Politica, 22 (1), 2006, pp. 81-98.
In situations of state failure marked by large-scale loss of life, military intervention can sometimes be justified as a lesser evil, when compared to the prospect of ongoing suffering and destruction. Advocates of humanitarian intervention however often appear to be reasoning in excessively deontological terms. Their insistence on the need to “do something” in the face of human suffering has forestalled an adequate reflection on: (a) the dilemmas of actually taking sides to coerce local parties into peace; (b) the likely consequences of military intervention on the local balance of power; and (c) the need to subsequently commit adequate time and resources to rebuild a viable state. Drawing on the principles of classical just war thinking, the article lays out the framework for a moderately consequentialist theory of humanitarian intervention: without denying that there is a moral duty to react in the face of widespread human suffering, military intervention can ultimately be justified only if its likely consequences are adequately dealt with, and if those who intervene have the political will to rebuild an inclusive, self-sustaining state.