Making Universal Human Rights a Reality, Essay Example
Making Universal Human Rights a Reality: Why the U.S. Should Militarily Intervene in Foreign Dictatorship
As evidenced by American foreign policy in the last ten years, such as U.S. military interventions in both Iraq and Afghanistan, much controversy surrounds the ethical foundation for such invasions. Is the U.S. justified to intervene in the sovereign affairs of another country so as to enact, for example, regime change? Clearly, for intervention against dictatorships to have legitimacy, they must be based on a firm commitment to human rights, as, for instance, outlined in the United Nations Charter on Human Rights. Unfortunately, the U.N. does not possess the military capabilities to make such human rights a reality. As the world’s foremost military power, the U.S. has the capability to militarily intervene in order to overthrow regimes such as dictatorships with a poor human rights record. This would be interpreted by the international community as a dedication to the ideal of a liberty without exception, thus ameliorating the living conditions for the world’s people and enacting a global paradigm shift about how we think about each other. Moreover, according to its democratic tradition and its wealth, the U.S. has an obligation to help realize individual liberty. Prospective U.S. military interventions against brutal regimes are ethical acts that have their legitimate basis in the idea that human rights should be universal.
One of the problems of intervening in dictatorships concerns the issue of ethically judging whether a particular regime harms its own citizens. This potentially opens a Pandora’s box about which specific governments restrict the liberty of its people. In this case, however, the very concept of a dictatorship clearly restricts individual liberties, as citizens are prevented from determining their own political future. In essence, the commitment to overthrowing dictatorships is a commitment to maintaining democracy, thus allowing the individual a say in how their respective societies should be structured. To say that America should militarily intervene in order to remove all dictators from power simply means that the U.S. has a humanitarian obligation to the rest of the world. Mark Gibney, in his work on U.S. ethics in the globalized world, cites the American philosopher Henry Shue: “Why do we protect defenseless people? Because they are defenseless and they are people” (142). To deny intervention means to deny that certain individuals live under murderous regimes and disgraceful humanitarian conditions. The thesis that America should be allowed to remove all dictators from power is an ethical viewpoint that people are suffering in this world, and that the U.S. should remain committed to helping these unfortunates. It is not that the U.S. would invade any country as it feels. Rather, it would intervene in those dictatorships where humanitarian concerns are clearly at stake. As Gibney states, “one of the hallmarks of ethics is consistency” (8), hence prospective U.S. intervention should be grounded on the consistency of an ethical vision about human rights.
The eminent scholar Paul Kahn has written a book entitled Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, where he argues for the validity of American intervention in international problem areas, such as dictatorships. America exists as an “exception” to international law, an exceptional status based on the U.S.’s “long history of citizen sacrifice in national wars” (16). For Kahn, America is justified to intervene because it has remained democratic throughout its history, and moreover, the U.S. has always come to the aid of others historically for the right reasons: “Our exceptional political history of sustaining a two-hundred-year-old constitutional text, our practice of judicial review, our easy recourse to violence, and our willingness to sacrifice” (22) means that the U.S. “will never find an adequate explanation of the politics of sacrifice in liberal theory” (22). This is because America has always been a democratic exception within a world run by monarchies and tyrannies. While the democratic message has spread, it began in the United States. The U.S.’s history as a democratic polity clearly reflects a fundamental commitment to human rights. The issue is which type of country Americans want to portray to the world: one that is based on economic exploitation and multi-national corporations, or one that is grounded in ethical principles and universal liberties? The intervention in foreign dictatorships as a consistent American foreign policy would display this second face of the U.S. to the world, thus moving towards a global community that is founded on notions of liberty and freedom. The U.S. can play a crucial role, according to its geopolitical strength, in realizing such a vision.
Yet the U.S. must also be considered an exception to the world order because the United Nations has continually shown itself incapable of successfully resolving humanitarian crises. As Muldoon writes, “the continuing violence in Bosnia, Somalia, and Rwanda in 1994 and 1995 revealed the limits of…the U.N: doctrine of “humanitarian intervention” formulated after the demolition of the Iron Curtain seems to be failing anywhere.” (60) In other words, the U.N. has continuously been unable to prevent humanitarian crises and dictatorial abuses. Where, then, is the hope for the oppressed? In a world in which global bureaucracy is unable to alleviate suffering, the opposition to U.S. intervention in removing dictators can only mean the support of suffering, as no options exist to remove despotic regimes. The necessity for U.S. intervention indicates the absence of a global world organization that could effectively realize the ambitions of human rights. Certainly, the United Nations should be credited with developing the Charter on Human Rights, which sets clear goals rooted in individual liberties. Such documents present a prescient foundation for the establishment of this world view on a global scale. However, it is simultaneously an organization that is incapable of fully realizing these ambitions, as the geopolitical games that constitute the multi-national structure of the U.N. inhibit practical action. In the case of the U.S., there is no such inhibition to practical action. America is one of the few countries that can assist in realizing human rights aims on a global scale. Accordingly, U.S. military intervention would essentially function as the practical supplement to the ethical commitments agreed upon by the world community through bodies such as the United Nations.
Of course, it will be argued that U.S. intervention in overthrowing dictatorial regimes is ultimately a justification for American hegemony: the U.S. would be able to intervene wherever and whenever it chooses, irrespective of international law. Hence, the threat emerges that the U.S. could select who it considers to be a dangerous dictator, according to situations that are beneficial to America from a geopolitical standpoint. The problem with such an argument is that it overlooks the fact that there are clearly murderous regimes that exist in the world, and that it is necessary to assist those in aid for purely humanitarian reasons. America can provide safety to those in need; moreover, because of American power and its democratic tradition, it is obliged to act. That is to say, there not only exists an obligation to help those in need, but also a right to help them, if our current concepts of universal human rights are to have any meaning. Intervention would thus be consistent with universal and non-state specific accounts of human rights, as American might is used to realize a vision that is truly global in scope, a vision that thus transcends national borders. Such military interventions are essentially instances of America’s participation in realizing a global ethical position.
With its prospective humanitarian interventions, the U.S. shall remain a democratic model for the oppressed world wide, not by remaining isolated within its own borders and trumpeting democratic righteousness, but by joining the world community in realizing ethical visions that have been established on an international level. Democracy and human rights should not be an exception for privileged states that have been historically fortunate to possess such forms of government, but rather, following the universal conceptions of human rights, should become truly global phenomena.
Gibney, M. Five Uneasy Pieces: American Ethics in a Globalized World. Oxford, UK: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005.
Kahn, P.W. Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.
Muldoon, J. What Happened to Humanitarian Intervention? The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Vol. 52, No.2, March/April 1995, pp. 60-62.
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