Structural violence and the paradox of humanitarian intervention
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Humanitarian interventions tend to be justified by claims to the existence of an obligation upon ‘us’ (the benevolent saviours) to intervene militarily when a state is responsible for large-scale atrocity crimes against its own population. However, this justification is paradoxical, given that there is rarely held to exist a commensurate obligation to address structural violence (even when ‘we’ may be partly responsible for, or complicit within, structures that are violent). The paradox arises because structural violence can be harmful – even evil – in its own right, and can also lead to – or exacerbate – direct violence. Hence, intervening militarily, and inevitably causing further harm in the act of intervening, results in a moral shortfall. This shortfall is indicative of a prevailing understanding of harm that is blind to the potential for structures to be violent. In responding to the paradox, I adopt a critical cosmopolitan perspective to argue that because structural violence can be harmful on a great scale, and because it is co-constitutive of direct violence, we ought not to countenance intervening with the use of military force (with what this brings in the form of inevitable intended and unintended harm) to stop direct violence without also considering and addressing violent structures, especially if they are violent structures that we are, ourselves, embedded within. Therefore, it is morally imperative to engage in an ongoing process of illumination and addressing of evil structures to rectify the harms they cause, alongside any efforts to stem direct violence, if any sort of intervention is to be legitimate and just. This requires us to a) expand our understanding of harm and evil at the global level, and b) engage in consistent and sustained deliberative processes that bring to the forefront structural violence and structural underpinnings of direct violence.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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Embargo Date: 2021-03-09
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 9th March 2021
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