The sovereignty versus intervention dilemma: The challenge of conflict prevention

Scientific Essay, 2006
20 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Conflict Prevention on the agenda

3. Preventive Policy
3.1. ICISS - Root Cause Prevention efforts
3.2. ICISS - Direct Prevention efforts
3.3. The legal ground of Preventive Policy

4. Difficulties of Conflict Prevention Policy
4.1. Target states
4.2. International Community

5. Political response
5.1. Coordination
5.2. Encouragement
5.3. The role of Humanitarian Assistance in Conflict Prevention

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography


Primary literature

Secondary literature

appendix 1: Core principles ICISS report

appendix 2: Checklist for identifying conflict potential

appendix 3: attempts for conflict prevention policy

appendix 4: World Bank principles

“… if humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica – to gross and systematic violations of human rights that offend every precept of our common humanity?” (Kofi Annan, Millennium Report 2000)

1. Introduction

In some regions of the world, a fundamental development crisis has increased the conflicting situation between society and the struggle for equal distribution. Deformed and failed processes of modernization and transformation manifest and cause a politicised society. Ethnic struggles, failing states and social processes of chaos lead to warlike conflicts and political structures have to be installed while the economy and the society are influenced by force. Focussing on the states of Sub-Sahara Africa, which often only have a formal existence, a World Bank Discussion Paper describes the current status of many of these countries as a „stable situation of instability“ (Michailof i.a. 2001). This instability often leads to so called “political economies of threat and combat” (Herbst 2002), which includes a growing number of people who have an interest in the maintenance of the conflict and a high propensity for violence. An important challenge of the international community is to deal with the possibilities of a preventive policy that would minimize the chances of such political radicalization. Furthermore, the question remains of how to react if state failures finally lead to massive human rights violations and even genocide within those countries.

2. Conflict Prevention on the agenda

The end of the alignment policy after the Cold War brought a change of economic and political interests on the international level, and led to a further breakout of inter- and intrastate conflicts in certain developing countries. National borders in conflict areas started to become less relevant since former local crises seemed to put development efforts of whole regions into danger, especially concerning the effects of migration or criminalisation (von Plate 2003). In a number of Asian and African countries, local parties and warlords took control of parts of state territory, including its natural resources and production plants where the national governments had lost its influence. This development worsened the situation of the local population dramatically by adversely affecting social and human security, economic redistribution and public services, like medical supply, schools and infrastructure.

Militarization equally involves the negative influence that armed gangs, warring factions, and elements in society exercise over the state and public policy. As well, in conditions where the economy has been uncharacteristically militarised, democratic regimes are quite often forced to operate under unfavourable conditions where democratic projects become hostage to direct and indirect military interest. (Ihonvbere 2002)

The expenses of humanitarian aid in Conflict- and Post-Conflict-situations increased as part of the official development assistance and consequently, the availability of funds for sustainable development projects decreased (Kaldor & Münkler 2002). Within the international community, the issue arose to put more effort in crisis prevention, rather than waiting for a conflict to actually break out before reacting. Therefore former UN-Secretary General Boutros-Ghali addressed this point when he published his Agenda for Peace in 1992 and brought up the ‘peace and security’ issue by focussing on ‘Preventive Diplomacy’, ‘Peace-Making’, ‘Peace-Keeping’ and ‘Post-Conflict Peace-Building’. His recommendations were called on to be a “model for the work of the United Nations in a changing world” (Loges & Menzel 2004). The UN Secretary-General’s report on The Causes of Conflict and the Promotion of Durable Peace and Sustainable Development in Africa’ followed in 1998. Additionally, the OECD[1] brought out the DAC-Guidelines on Conflict, Peace and Development Cooperation in 1997 and the Council of the European Union published its Resolution on the Role of Development Cooperation in Peacebuilding Measures and the Prevention and Solution of Conflicts in 1998.

The discussion went further and led to the question if the international community should have the right to intervene in sovereign states if the national governments fail to protect its citizens from massive human rights violations. For this reason, the Canadian government installed the ‘International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty’ (ICISS) to work on the legal, moral, operational and political aspects of this question. Conflict prevention is seen by the commission not merely as a national or local affair but as a global issue, since the failure of prevention can have wide international consequences and costs. Their report published in December 2001, The Responsibility to Protect, intended to help the United Nations find a new common ground on these issues.

“… your title really describes, what I was talking about: the fact that sovereignty implies responsibilities as well as powers; and that among this responsibilities, none is more important than protecting citizens from violence and war.” (Commentary by Kofi Annan after the publication of The Responsibility to Protect by the ICISS; Chesterman 2002)

3. Preventive Policy

The report of the ICISS points out that prevention of deadly conflict is foremost the responsibility of sovereign states, and the communities and institutions within them (see also Appendix 1). “A firm national commitment to ensure fair treatment and fair opportunities for all citizens provides a solid basis for conflict prevention. This commitment includes ensuring accountability and good governance, protecting human rights, promoting social and economic development and ensuring a fair distribution of resources.” (ICISS 2001, p.19)

Mass poverty, economic stagnation, and ecological degradation are obviously cause as well as effects of political disorder. Nevertheless, politics is primary: ‚getting the politics right’ is a precondition of rising prosperity as well as of the liberty, security, and services for which all people yearn. (Sandbrook 2000)

In his report on Prevention of Armed Conflict, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated that preventive strategies must therefore work “to promote human rights, to protect minority rights and to institute political arrangements in which all groups are represented” (Annan 2001). For prevention to succeed, strong support from the international communities is often needed, and in many cases even indispensable. Such support may take many forms:

- development assistance and other efforts to help address the root cause of potential conflict
- efforts to provide support for local initiatives to advance good governance, human rights, or the rule of law
- good offices missions, mediation efforts and other efforts to promote dialogue or reconciliation (ICISS 2001, p.19).

The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) addresses a broad range of causes of internal conflicts and other man-made crises putting populations at risk. Prevention can accordingly be divided into “root cause prevention efforts” and “direct prevention efforts”.

3.1. ICISS - Root Cause Prevention efforts

According to the ICISS report, there is a growing and widespread recognition that armed con flicts cannot be understood without reference to root causes like poverty, political repression, and uneven distribution of resources. In the framework of preventive policy the report distin guishes between four different national issues – political, economic, juridical and security – where the international community could support national efforts (ISICC 2001, p.23):

illustration not visible in this excerpt

3.2. ICISS - Direct Prevention efforts

Reflecting the shorter time available in certain crises, direct prevention focuses on the same categories, but uses different instruments. These instruments in each case may take the form of straightforward assistance, positive inducements or, in more difficult cases, the negative form of threatened “punishments” (ICISS 2001, p.23-25):

illustration not visible in this excerpt

3.3. The legal ground of Preventive Policy

According to Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter any member shall refrain in their international relations from threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. In general, the use of force in general is only legitimate in the case of self-defence (Art. 51) or if a UN resolution under Chapter VII declares that a threat to international peace and security exists. Furthermore, the UN declaration emphasizes the national sovereignty of each member state. The UN Charter nevertheless provides the foundation for a comprehensive and long-term approach to conflict prevention based on an expanded concept of peace and security. The Security Council – the body charged with the primary responsibility of the maintenance of international peace and security – has therefore stressed the importance of responding to the root causes of conflict and the need to pursue long-term effective preventive strategies. This concern is firmly grounded in Article 55 of the UN Charter, which explicitly recognizes that solutions to international economic, social, health and related problems; international, cultural and educational cooperation; and universal respect for human rights are all essential for “the creation of conditions of stability and well-being which are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations.”

In addition, specific legal obligations under human rights and human protection decla rations, covenants and treaties, international humanitarian law and national law can be brought into account (see also Appendix 1).


[1] OECD - Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; DAC - Development Assistance Commitee (Committee for Development Aid of the OECD)

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The sovereignty versus intervention dilemma: The challenge of conflict prevention
Ruhr-University of Bochum  (Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict)
European Master Programme
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The expenses of humanitarian aid in Conflict- and Post-Conflict-situations increased and leads to the issue of crisis prevention. This paper discusses the question of how a preventive policy can be set up and if the international community should have the right to intervene in sovereign states even with force, if the national governments fail to protect its citizens from massive human rights violations or even take the responsibility for genocide within their countries.
European, Master, Programme
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Thorsten Volberg (Author), 2006, The sovereignty versus intervention dilemma: The challenge of conflict prevention, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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