Nonintervention or non-interventionism is a foreign policy which holds that political rulers should avoid alliances with other nations, but still retain diplomacy, and avoid all wars not related to direct self-defense. This is based on the grounds that a state should not interfere in the internal politics of another state, based upon the principles of state sovereignty and self-determination. A similar phrase is "strategic independence".[1] Historical examples of supporters of non-interventionism are US Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who both favored nonintervention in European Wars while maintaining free trade. Other proponents include United States Senator Robert Taft and United States Congressman Ron Paul.[2]

Nonintervention is distinct from isolationism, the latter featuring economic nationalism (protectionism) and restrictive immigration. Proponents of non-interventionism distinguish their polices from isolationism through their advocacy of more open national relations, to include diplomacy and free trade.



The concept of nonintervention can be viewed to have emerged from the system of sovereign nation states established by the Peace of Westphalia of 1648. The concept of state sovereignty states that within the territory of a political entity the state is the supreme power, and as such no state from without the territory can intervene, militarily or otherwise, with the internal politics of that state. The full theoretical underpinning of the norm of non-intervention is best discussed through analyzing the principles of sovereignty and the right of political communities to self-determination.


The norm of non-intervention has dominated the majority of international relations, and can be seen to have been one of the principal motivations for the U.S.'s initial non-intervention into World Wars I and II, and the non-intervention of the 'liberal' powers in the Spanish Civil War (see Non-Intervention Committee), despite the intervention of Germany and Italy. The norm was then firmly established into international law as one of central tenets of the UN Charter, which established non-intervention as one of the key principles which would underpin the emergent post-WWII peace. This however was somewhat optimistic as the advent of the Cold War led to massive interventions in the domestic politics of a vast number of developing countries among varying pretexts of 'containment' and 'global socialist revolution'. Through the adoption of such pretexts and the establishment that such interventions were to prevent a threat to 'international peace and security' allowed intervention under Chapter VII of the UN Charter (not to mention the impotence of the UN during the Cold War due to both the U.S. and USSR holding veto power in the United Nations Security Council).

Nonintervention by country

New Zealand

In recent years New Zealand has become largely non-interventionist. No military support, apart from medical, was given for the first Gulf war although SAS troops were provided for the war in Afghanistan. Engineers were provided in Iraq after conventional hostilities in the war had ceased. In the Pacific Islands, New Zealand has been involved in humanitarian interventions in the Solomon Islands and East Timor. However, those interventions were non-coercive interventions at the request of the nation being intervened upon.



Switzerland has long been known for its policy of defensively armed neutrality.

United States

In the United States, this foreign policy has been advocated at various times in the country's history, notably during the first century of U.S. history. George Washington, the first U.S. President, advised the country to avoid "foreign entanglements." Thomas Jefferson favored "peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none." John Quincy Adams wrote that the U.S. "goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy."

The policy of non-intervention has been a serious issue for every major U.S. war. During World War I, the inter-war years, World War II, and the Korean War, the main proponents of non-interventionism were the Old Right. During the Vietnam War and the Iraq War, the New Left became the chief proponents of non-interventionism. Today in the U.S., both Neoconservatives and New Democrats favor military interventionism in foreign policy, for various reasons. Constitutionalists, Paleoconservatives, and libertarians are non-interventionists.

Decline of non-intervention

In the post-cold war era, it can however be seen that new emergent norms of humanitarian intervention are superseding the norm of non-intervention. This is based upon the argument that while sovereignty gives rights to states, it also comes with a responsibility to protect its citizens, an argument based upon social contract theory. Under this ideal, states can be justified in intervening within other states if that state is failing to protect (or if it is actively involved in harming) its citizens. This has justified UN sanctioned interventions in Northern Iraq in 1991 to protect the Kurds and in Somalia in the absence of state power. This argument was also used (with strong opposition from Russia and China) to justify NATO intervention in Kosovo and more recently in Libya.

This new norm of humanitarian intervention is far from fully formed, as in all of the UN sanctioned cases the arguments were further couched in Chapter VII threats to international peace and security. This new emergent norm appears to only justify the action of states if they want to act, and does not create a duty of states to intervene.

See also


  1. ^ Carpenter, Ted Galen. The Libertarian Reader. pp. 336–344. ISBN 0-684-83200-3.  Nonintervention is usually defined as either the determination by a nation to refrain from interfering in the affairs of other nations or those of its own political subdivisions; or as the refusal or failure to intervene in same. Non-interventionism is not to be confused with isolationism, a political policy which sometimes carries with it laws that mandate a breaking of ties between the inhabitants of one political subdivision and another.
  2. ^ Conquest, Robert. Stalin: Breaker of Nations. Great Britain: George Weidenfeld & Nicholson Limited, 1991. Page 122.
  • Wheeler, N.J. (2003) "The Humanitarian Responsibilities of Sovereignty: Explaining the Development of a New Norm of Military Intervention for Humanitarian Purposes in International Society" in Welsh, J.M. Humanitarian Intervention and International Relations Oxford: Oxford Scholarship Online, pp. 29–50.
  • Walzer, M.J. (2000) Just and Unjust Wars New York: Basic Books, pp. 86–108.

Further reading

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • non-interventionism — …   Useful english dictionary

  • United States non-interventionism — United States This article is part of the series: Politics and government of the United States …   Wikipedia

  • Positive non-interventionism — was the economic policy of Hong Kong during British rule. It was first officially implemented in 1971 by John James Cowperthwaite, who observed that the economy was doing well in the absence of government intervention. The policy was continued by …   Wikipedia

  • Interventionism (politics) — Interventionism is a term for a policy of non defensive (proactive) activity undertaken by a nation state, or other geo political jurisdiction of a lesser or greater nature, to manipulate an economy or society. The most common applications of the …   Wikipedia

  • Non-intervention — is the norm in international relations that one state cannot interfere in the internal politics of another state, based upon the principles of state sovereignty and self determinationOverviewThe concept of non intervention can be seen to have… …   Wikipedia

  • Non-aggression principle — Part of a series on Libertarianism …   Wikipedia

  • Non-voting — Part of a series on Libertarianism …   Wikipedia

  • Non-politics — Part of a series on Libertarianism …   Wikipedia

  • non-intervention — noun the policy of not becoming involved in the affairs of others. Derivatives non interventionism noun non interventionist adjective &noun …   English new terms dictionary

  • Ludwig von Mises — Ludwig Heinrich Edler von Mises Austrian School Born 29 September 1881(1881 09 29) Lemberg …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.