The Ethics and Politics of Humanitarian Intervention

Stanley Hoffmann

From the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies / Kroc Institute Series on Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding

In 1995, the Kroc Institute at the University of Notre Dame, hosted the first of the Theodore M. Hesburgh Lectures on Ethics and Public Policy. At this inaugural gathering renowned author and scholar Stanely Hoffmann delivered two lectures on the problems of humanitarian intervention in international relations. This timely volume presents Hoffmann’s lectures to a wider audience, together with responses made at the conference by Robert C. Johansen and James Sterba, and an introductory essay contributed by Raimo Varynen, director of the Kroc Institute.

In his first and premiere lecture, Hoffmann attacks from a theoretical perspective the political, legal, and moral problems of outside intervention in the affairs of a state. He analyzes the traditional principle of state sovereignty and examines the trends that are weakening this principle, i.e., economic and environmental interdependence, human rights concerns, nuclear proliferation, and the growing international consciousness of the widespread dangers of domestic chaos. As a matter of practical ethics in the “real world,” Hoffmann proposes norms and guidelines for controlled, impartial, collective intervention and the enforcement which must accompany it.

In his second illustrative lecture, Hoffmann delivers a stinging indictment of international community in the case of the tragic disintegration of Yugoslavia, which he uses as a case study to illustrate the failure of collective intervention. In the responding essays Johansen presents guidelines for humanitarian intervention short of sending in troops, and Sterba argues that Hoffmann’s basic norms can be derived from Kant’s moral philosophy. Because Hoffmann’s principles—and indictments—can be readily applied to other tragic events and cases of international turmoil, The Ethics and Politics of Humanitarian Intervention will be a valuable tool in the hands of students and scholars of international relations.

Stanely Hoffmann is a professor of Government and the D. Douglas Dillon Professor of the Civilization of France at Harvard University. Hoffman is the author of many books, including Living with Nuclear Weapons (1983), The European Sisyphus : Essays on Europe (1995), and After the Cold War (1993).


“. . .a well-reasoned account of why traditional norms of sovereignty have been eroded and why the case for humanitarian intervention is more compelling now than previously.” — Foreign Affairs

“In The Ethics and Politics of Humanitarian Intervention, the eminent Stanley Hoffman takes on the task of coming up with guidelines that preserve the moral purpose of humanitarian aid and intervention . . . . What he comes up with is specific and nuanced.” — Slate

“. . .a stimulating collection of essays on one of the most complex ethical issues of our time.” — The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest