Munich Personal RePEc Archive

The sovereignty of nations: When is it proper to derogate the duty of nonintervention?

Ifediora, John (2003): The sovereignty of nations: When is it proper to derogate the duty of nonintervention? Published in: Journal of Policy Perspective , Vol. Vol. 3, No. Issue 1 : pp. 1-8.

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Abstract

The doctrine of nonintervention, a staple of traditional international law, provides that each state should refrain from interfering in the domestic affairs of other states. This prohibition includes not only military intervention, but also, in Hersh Lauterpacht’s formulation, all “dictatorial interference in the sense of action amounting to denial of the independence of the state.” Directly linked to this obligation is the notion of state sovereignty which has, at different times, enjoyed a wide and varied interpretation. However, as commonly understood, sovereignty implies that the only source of power within the geographic confines of a state is the state itself; hence any intervention in matters that are purely domestic would be illegal, for it implies another source of power in the state.

The norm of nonintervention continues to be serviceable, and provides the primary foundation on which international laws and relations are erected, principally because it recognizes the need to accept and respect the geographic, ethnic, religious, and cultural integrity of nations. Furthermore, the norm internationalizes the doctrine of self-determination, and the acceptance that a viable state and its people have the right to exist without fear of foreign aggression or interference in purely domestic matters. In principle, this customary rule of nonintervention gives substance, and sustains the doctrine of state sovereignty.

The duty of nonintervention, however, is not based on moral grounds. It is predicated on the assumption that a state, once recognized as such by the community of nations, enjoys sovereign powers. This practice makes no distinction between a de facto sovereign power and the legitimate exercise of power in the sense that legitimacy derives from the governed. Nonintervention may also be given a different interpretation; which is, that the obligation of noninterference in a state’s domestic matters is owed, not to the target state, but to the international community at large as a means to peace. This view comports well with the United Nation’s Charter, and its primary objective of world peace and security.

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