Intervention is a term that refers to the interference by one state in the affairs of another state. This interference can take many forms, including military, economic, or political intervention. Intervention is often seen as a violation of a state’s sovereignty, and therefore, its legality has been a subject of debate among international lawyers.
The United Nations Charter (Art. 2.7) forbids such intervention and upholds the non-intervention or non-interference principle, which states that States should not intervene in matters to preserve the independence of weaker states against the interventions and pressures of more powerful ones. Since this idea serves as the cornerstone of international relations, it only applies to interactions between states and not to humanitarian efforts carried out by unbiased humanitarian organizations.
There are several types of intervention, including humanitarian intervention, which is the use of military force to protect human rights in another state. Another type of intervention is economic intervention, which involves using economic pressure to influence another state’s policies. Political intervention is another form of intervention, which involves interfering in another state’s political affairs.
In the past, States have employed humanitarian arguments to justify direct and armed interventions that violated other States’ sovereignty. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) clarified in 1986 in the case of Nicaragua v. United States of America, the circumstances in which humanitarian aid can constitute an interference and as such an unlawful intervention into the internal affairs of a State. Today in this contemporary world, the UN Security Council holds the monopoly on the use of armed force in the international arena.
Only one “right of intervention” into a State’s internal affairs is acknowledged by international law; it is outlined and limited in Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Thus, the UN Security Council is granted this authority whenever a state’s actions pose a danger to global peace and security. The Council can adopt a number of actions in this situation, including economic or diplomatic sanctions. The Council may also decide that an international armed intervention is required to stop the activity of the State in issue. The Council is also permitted to deploy force if needed.
Therefore, it’s crucial to distinguish between “humanitarian intervention” supported by States or the UN and humanitarian actions carried out by unbiased humanitarian organisations in conflict situations.
Background and Definition of “Intervention”
Due to its ambiguity, the idea of the “right of humanitarian intervention” or the “right to intervene for humanitarian purposes” has gained a lot of support. This idea was put forth in an effort to support and legitimize the use of force permitted under the UN framework in order to defend populations that were endangered within their own nation. This allowed for armed operations to take place within the framework of the UN or with its approval, but it failed to make clear the responsibility of UN soldiers for protecting vulnerable populations or the role that humanitarian concerns play in decisions to use force.
Since ancient times, states have used noble goals to defend armed intervention in the internal affairs of other States. These grounds include protecting minorities, human rights, and their own citizens. It started with the idea of a “just war,” then the notions of European nations intervening to defend Christian minorities in the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century (1827, 1860, when 6,000 French soldiers were dispatched to Syria to stop the massacre of Christians; Russian interventions in 1877 to defend Christian minorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina within the Ottoman Empire). More recently, India intervened in Pakistan in the 1970s to defend the Bengali people from military extortion (1971).
When carried out unilaterally by one State, modern international law does not acknowledge the validity of such action. In 1945, a system of collective security established by the United Nations Charter took the place of just wars, holy wars, and other interventions motivated by humanitarian considerations. A single State may no longer decide to launch a military intervention, with the exception of self-defense, regardless of the potential basis for such an intervention.
In a multilateral setting, only the threat that a state poses to global peace and security can support the use of collective force against that State as authorized by Chapter VII of the UN Charter. These clauses do not specifically address violations of humanitarian law.
When approving the use of international armed force in peacekeeping missions, several Security Council Resolutions cited the protection of humanitarian action — or flagrant violations of human rights—as justification. However, in reality, these interventions had military, political, and diplomatic goals. Humanitarian corridors or safe zones have tragically failed in several cases to safeguard populations.
Additionally, militarization of humanitarian aid—with the presence of international armed forces—has a detrimental effect on its objectivity and has a propensity to radicalise war tactics. NGOs have no influence or control over the ideas contained in this notion. Interventions carried out under the authority of the Security Council — or approved by it — remain dependent on the military resources that States will provide to the UN and the political decisions and consensus that change depending on external restrictions.
Most peacekeeping missions involve signing agreements with the “host State” under the auspices of the UN that establish the force’s presence. Since access and protection are negotiated with the very authorities in charge of controlling the population, neither access nor protection are frequently enforced. Even when doing so is necessary to deliver relief or defend populations that are in danger, UN peacekeepers hardly ever engage in battle to carry out their duty. Their decision not to intervene—even in situations where their enforcement mandate had been enlarged to include use of force—when the communities they were meant to assist or protect were being attacked has been explained by the type of equipment they carry (light guns) and their very modest numbers.
With the approval of the State in question, Chapter VI of the UN Charter offers the possibility of conducting non-coercive international operations. On the other hand, Chapter VII allows for the option of conducting collective military operations without the approval of the State in question in situations when the integrity and safety of the international community are under danger. The UN occasionally decides to engage in a “humanitarian intervention” under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, but more usually under Chapter VII, or occasionally under a combination of the two. These decisions typically imply that:
- the UN Security Council has not expressly or clearly recognized that the massive violations of humanitarian law or the persecution of civilian populations, against which it has decided to intervene, genuinely represent a threat to international peace and security; and
- the UN does not have the material means or the military doctrine for these operations to enforce the protection of these populations through force.
Landmark cases on Intervention
The Republic of Nicaragua v. the United States of America: Background and brief facts
This case was about the military activities which were conducted directly, or with the help of the United States. In 1909, the United States of Americas’ military and marine rule deposed the President of Nicaragua and established their rule by occupying the territory of Nicaragua.
A Pro-US government was constituted which led to the formation of several treaties between the two States. These treaties gave exclusive rights and privileges of trade, transport, commerce, and access of Nicaragua to the United States. This led to a rebellion in Nicaragua between 1927 to 1934 which resulted in forcing the United States to leave Nicaragua while withdrawing the marines.
Somoza, who was the head of the Nicaraguan National Guard was instated as the head of the State by the United States. He later ended up becoming the dictator of Nicaragua.
In 1972, an earthquake occurred in Nicaragua, which led to large-scale destruction in the country. After the earthquake of 1972, the Sandinista (FSLN) Movement was seen rising. The purpose of this movement was to provide support to the affected people, regardless of their position in society. This Movement later ended up transcending to a rebellion against the Somoza governed dictatorship rule of the Country.
This threatened the control of the United States over Nicaragua. As a consequence, the United States stopped its aid to Nicaragua around April 1981, and later in September 1981, Nicaragua claimed that the United States decides to plan and undertake activities directed against the country. This was followed by armed activities being conducted against the government which was formed in Nicaragua. These activities were mainly carried on by FDN (Fuerza Democratica Nicaragüense) and ARDE (Alianza Revolucionaria Democratica). The former operated along the border of Honduras and the latter along the border of Costa Rica. Later they resorted to the formation of Contras. Contras was a rebel group formed for the purpose of suppressing the Sandinista (FSLN) Movement and continuing with the dictatorship rule. This was still covert support.
Alas, Contras lost and the involvement of the United States by way of supporting the organization led to the violation of the sovereignty of Nicaraguan, the government of Nicaraguan filed a claim before the International Court of Justice against the United States.
Issues Raised And Arguments Presented
1. Whether the International Court of Justice had the jurisdiction to try and adjudge the matter?
The US claimed that the International Court of Justice had no jurisdiction to try and adjourn the matter as the UN Charter and the Charter on the Organization of the American States are multi-lateral treaties and an essential element to try a case as such is that all members of the treaty are parties to the case. Given the absence of other members, the United States claimed that the International Court of Justice doesn’t have jurisdiction in the present matter.
The United States also claimed that the provisions invoked by Nicaragua have been reserved by them and so the International Court of Justice is not competent to pass any judgment based on them.
2. Whether the support by the United States to the Contras amount to interference with the sovereignty of Nicaragua?
Nicaragua argued that the role that the United States played by giving rise to Contras and assisting them directly to suppress the Sandinista (FSLN) Movement was a clear intervention in the internal affairs of the country and hence in violation of the Convention on the Rights and Duties of the States.
Apart from this, Nicaragua also claimed that the attacks done by the United States by way of land, air, and sea where a violation of the International Laws of Land and Seas. It was an act of aerial trespass which violated several international laws and treaties
3. Whether the United States has violated Article 2 of the UN Charter, Articles 18 and 20 of the Charter on the Organization of the American States, and Article 8 of the Convention on the rights and duties of the States?
The argument raised by Nicaragua was that the United States had recruited, trained, and equipped the recruits with arms to cause disruptions and stir up violence in Nicaragua. This was a clear violation of Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter as the members were refrained to use force against the political independence and territorial integrity of any State. The United States government had taken unauthorized military actions against Nicaragua and since this was not an act of self-defense, it was a clear violation of Article 18 and 20 of the Charter on the Organization of the American States.
The United States also pled self-defense to surpass the accusation of violating Article 18 of the Charter on the Organization of the American States.
Rule of Law
1. Article 2 of the UN Charter
All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
2. Article 18 of the Charter on the Organization of the American States
The American States bind themselves in their international relations not to have recourse to the use of force, except in the case of self-defense in accordance with existing treaties or in fulfillment thereof.
3. Article 20 of the Charter on the Organization of the American States
All international disputes that may arise between the American States shall be submitted to the peaceful procedures set forth in this Charter, before being referred to the Security Council of the United Nations.
4. Article 8 of the Convention on the Rights and Duties of the States
No state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another.
This was a 142-page judgment, containing 291 points of the verdict. The arguments put forth by the United States regarding multilateral treaty reservations were valid. This made it difficult for the Court to depend upon the UN Charter. So, the court ended up developing a significant jurisprudence on customary international law.
The Court in passing this judgment observed that:
- There did exist a direct relationship between members of Contras and the United States government.
- The United States government was in fact directly involved in recruiting and supplying arms to members of Contras which lead to violence being provoked in Nicaragua
- The United States government did commit illegal trespass by way of marines and armed forces resulting in violation of the laws of Sea and Air
- Sufficient evidence has been found to conclude that the sovereignty of Nicaragua was hampered directly by the acts done by the United States government.
- The claim of self-defense was rejected as it lacked merit.
The International Court of Justice held that the United States is liable for the violation of several international treaties and customary international laws. It was ordered to withdraw support from Contras and put an end to the attacks on Nicaragua. The court also ordered reparations against the United States.
It was also observed that the independent nature of treaty law in comparison to the existence of customary laws. A controversial aspect of this judgment was the definition given of armed attack. The court held that an armed attack includes action taken by an armed force beyond the international border and sending any groups of people to carry out acts of armed force against another state.
This part of the judgment closely resembles Article 3(g) of the UNGA Resolution 3314 (XXIX) on the Definition of Aggression.
This judgment is set based on the customary international laws on matters relating to the elements which are necessary to establish customary international laws, the relationship between customary law and treaty law, and lastly, using force and non-intervention. In spite of the multilateral treaty reservations, the court ended up relying on the multilateral treaties which helped determine the customary international laws. The court goes into great detail to establish the relationship between the treaty and international laws.
Legality of Intervention
The issue of intervention in international law has been a contentious one, with many nations holding differing views on the legality of such action. Intervention can be defined as the use of force or other means by one country to influence the affairs of another sovereign nation. This article explores the legality of intervention in international law and the various arguments for and against such action.
The legality of intervention in international law is a complex issue that is often debated in political and legal circles. The principle of non-intervention is enshrined in international law and is a fundamental aspect of the principle of state sovereignty. However, there are certain circumstances where intervention may be deemed legal under international law.
One of the most commonly cited justifications for intervention is self-defense. According to Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, states have the right to use force in self-defense against an armed attack. However, the use of force in self-defense must be proportional to the threat faced and must be reported to the UN Security Council.
Another justification for intervention is humanitarian intervention, where a state or group of states intervenes in another state to prevent or stop widespread human rights abuses. The legality of humanitarian intervention is contested, with some arguing that it is a violation of state sovereignty while others argue that it is justified to prevent human suffering.
Responsibility to Protect:
The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is a principle endorsed by the United Nations that places a responsibility on states to protect their citizens from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. The R2P also recognizes that if a state fails to protect its citizens, then the international community has a responsibility to intervene to prevent or stop such crimes. The R2P has been invoked in several instances of intervention, including in Kosovo and Libya.
Unilateral intervention, where a state intervenes without the approval of the UN Security Council or the consent of the state being intervened upon, is generally considered illegal under international law. The use of force without UN approval is a violation of the UN Charter, which requires states to seek authorization from the Security Council before using force.
In conclusion, the meaning of intervention is the interference by one state in the affairs of another state. The legality of intervention in international law has been a subject of much debate. While some argue that intervention is illegal because it violates a state’s sovereignty, others argue that it is legal under certain circumstances. These circumstances include self-defense and humanitarian intervention. The use of economic intervention is also a subject of much debate, with some arguing that it is legal under international law and others arguing that it is a violation of a state’s sovereignty. Ultimately, the legality of intervention in international law depends on the circumstances surrounding it.
 Malcolm N. Shaw, The Concept of International Law, 3rd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 21-23.
 Martti Koskenniemi, “International Law and Hegemony: A Reconfiguration,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 18, no. 1 (2005): 25-47.
 Anne-Marie Slaughter, “International Law and International Relations Theory: A Dual Agenda,” American Journal of International Law 87, no. 2 (1993): 205-239.
 Chimène Keitner, The Optimalism of International Law, 97 Va. L. Rev. 1859 (2011).
This article is written and submitted by Devam Krishnan during his course of internship at B&B Associates LLP. Devam is a B.A. LLB 4th year student at National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi.