Reconciling Sovereignty and Humanitarian Intervention in Contemporary International Society


  • Colin Rylan O'Connor University of Regina


Sovereignty, Humanitarian Intervention, English School of International Relations, Pluralism, Soladirism


This article seeks to reconcile the notion of Humanitarian Intervention with that of sovereignty within international legal and political theory. The current global order is built upon a framework of international positive law that emerged following the 2nd World War and entrenched the right of states to sovereign equality and non-intervention. However, in the wake of state-perpetuated mass atrocities and instances of both intervention and non-intervention in the late-20th century, immense attention has been given to the seeming contradiction between the legal norm of sovereignty and the moral imperative to prevent mass atrocities and human suffering. By employing an English School of International Relations (ES) perspective, this article argues that sovereign states form an international society and frames humanitarian intervention within this normative orientation. By comparing the social contract theories of Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Rawls in the context of international society, it becomes clear that sovereignty is a privilege of membership which requires some basic level of qualification. Thus, implying the notion that states are social constructions developed for the purpose of meeting some basic goal(s) of society. In turn, sovereignty becomes dependent upon the fulfillment of said basic goal(s), and should a state fail in this duty, it loses its right to sovereignty and, thus, humanitarian intervention becomes legal and legitimate.