Research Output

Nationalism and the problem of humanitarian intervention

  In this article we argue that the issue of nationalism has been neglected in much of the academic and policy debate over humanitarian intervention to protect human
rights. Underpinning much of the international relations literature, for example, is a set of taken-for-granted assumptions, which derive some of their force and salience
from the grip of nationalism. Drawing on some of the more critical literature on nationalism that has emerged in recent years, we subject these assumptions to
critical scrutiny, looking in particular at the Westphalian origins of the modern international order; the role of violence in the making of modern nation-states; and
the problematic nature of rights of national self-determination. At the same time, a closer examination of the justifications offered in support of a number of cases of
intervention shows that these still fail to break sufficiently out of a nationalist frame of reference. We conclude with a discussion of the possibilities and difficulties
associated with the emergence of new cosmopolitan norms, partially expressed in the principles of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ of the ICISS. Finally, we argue for a
break from nationalist principles if clear norms of, and support for, humanitarian intervention are to be developed.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    31 October 2007

  • Publication Status:


  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    172 Political ethics


Spencer, P. & Wollman, H. (2007). Nationalism and the problem of humanitarian intervention


human rights; nationalism; intervention; nation-states; international relations; Westpahlian order;

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