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-determination


The concept of non-intervention can be seen 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 analysing 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 & 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. & USSR holding veto power in the United Nations Security Council).

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.

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.

ee also

*"A Few Words on Non-Intervention" by John Stuart Mill
*Humanitarian intervention
*International law
*International relations
*International relations theory
*International security
*Nation state
*Self determination
*Non-Intervention Committee (Spanish Civil War


*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 Scholorhsip Online, pp. 29-50.
*Walzer, M.J. (2000) "Just and Unjust Wars" New York: Basic Books, pp. 86-108.

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