Brandeis University, Philosophy Department
Fall 2011
Brandeis University Web Stite


International Global Studies
Philosophy and Legal Studies
Peace and Conflict Studies

Professor Andreas Teuber
Andreas Teuber


Is Intervention in the "Internal Affairs"
of a State Engaged in Systematic Human
Rights Abuse Justifiable?

Imagine that you decide to take a nap and fall asleep one afternoon and wake up in Washington, D. C. in the Holocaust Museum. Deciding you need a cup of coffee, you head for the Museum Cafe and just as you enter you notice someone who looks a lot like former President Clinton.

Holocaust Museum map

Imagine that you inch a little closer and realize it is Bill Clinton and you say to yourself, "oh my, that's Bill Clinton."

Imagine, too, that he is sitting with two others, a man and a woman.

You do not immediately recognize them but before you can figure out who these two might be, you notice that President Clinton is waving in your direction. You think surely he must be waving to someone else, so you look over your shoulder. When you see no one and turn back, you see Clinton pointing directly at you as if to say "yes, you" and you find yourself pointing to yourself as if to say "you mean me?" And Clinton waves again and makes gestures to suggest he wants you to come over and join him at his table.

You approach in a deferential manner and Clinton says your name, pronounces it correctly, indeed he gets it exactly right, and says "I'd like to introduce you to Madeline Albright and Sandy Berger."

You think, perhaps, you should pinch yourself because you think "this must be a dream," only you think pinching yourself in the Museum Cafe next to former President Bill Clinton will look absolutely, totally, completely ridiculous. So you decide not to.

Instead, you extend your hand and shake hands with Madeline Albright and Sandy Berger, thinking to yourself, "he knows my name. Bill Clinton knows my name. He knows my name. Bill Clinton knows my name!"

You reach out your hand to shake his, but Clinton appears to be all business and continues to talk without missing a beat: "the FBI tells us you are taking a course at Brandeis on Human Rights."

You nod and say, "well, um, ah, yes," but think to yourself, "the FBI? the FBI know this about me? the FBI?"

Clinton continues, "we believe you have been doing some reading in Human Rights about humanitarian intervention."

There is a brief silence.

Clinton continues, "that's right, no?"

"Well, yes," you say, "I suppose, yes, some. I'm a little behind."

"And our sources tell us you watched the FRONTLINE documentary 'Ghosts of Rwanda'"

"Oh, yes," you say, "Yes, I did see a bit of that!"

"And you read Samantha Power on Rwanda , too, no? as well as Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars and an essay by David Luban on 'Just War and Human Rights' and Michael Walzer's response and David Luban's reply back?"

"Well, yes, um," you say, "yes, Walzer and Luban," thinking to yourself "Luban? David Luban? Was he on the reading list?" wishing you had looked a little more closely at the Human Rights Reading .

Clinton looks at Albright and Berger and then back at you and pulls a chair closer to the table and pats the seat, the seat of the chair, as if to say "sit down."

So, you do.

Rwanda map

Then Clinton leans forward and asks in a voice just above a whisper, after looking quickly to the left and then to the right, "we'd like to know what you think, if you think we should have acted otherwise, if we," gesturing to himself, Berger and Albright, "if we should have intervened in 1994 in the case of Rwanda."

There is a brief silence.

Clinton: "What do you think?"

There is a brief silence.

"We would like to know if we had intervened with or without UN approval, either unilaterally or with a coalition of states, would we have been justified in doing so."

You wish you had had a cup of coffee before you noticed Clinton. Then you might have been a little more awake for this. You take a deep breath and say, pointing to yourself, "me, you're asking me? You want to know, you want to know whether you, Bill Clinton, the President of the United Sates in 1994 and Madeline Albright who was the US Ambassador to the UN and Sandy Berger who was your Deputy Assistant National Security Advisor, you, all three of you, would like me to tell you whether you should have intervened in Rwanda and if you had, you want to know if intervening in Rwanda would have been justified?"

"Yes," Clinton says, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms, "yes, we'd like to know. Would we have been justified?"

"Yes," Albright says, "would we have been justified?"

"Yes, would we?" Berger says. "What do you think?"

And Clinton says, "you've been reading Samantha Power's A Problem in Hell and Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars and a number of essays on human rights. You're in an ideal position to tell us."

You notice your palms are beginning to sweat.

"Now?" you say, "you want an answer now, right now? I may need a little time."

"How about October, the 25th?" Clinton says, "what do you say we meet back here on October the 25th? Same time: 2:00 PM. Same place: The Museum Cafe."

"O.K." you say, "o.k.," suddenly feeling as if you might be coming down with something.

Clinton gets up from his chair. Albright and Berger also get up. They look down at you. You notice they are looking at you. You get up. Berger shakes your hand, then Albright. Clinton pats you on the back.

"The 25th then," Clinton says, smiling and moving towards the door of the Cafe. When he reaches the doorway, he stops, turns around and points his right forefinger at you. "Tuesday," he says pointing directly at you, "Tuesday, the 25th, at 2:00 PM."

You wave.

You look at your feet and up again, and when you do, Clinton, Albright and Berger are gone.

You sit down. You realize you have work to do. Some reading too.

"There's time," you say to yourself, trying to look on the bright side of things, "there's time, no need to panic."

You look at your wrist, even though you do not wear a watch.

"It won't be so difficult," you say yourself, "all I need to do is make an argument for intervening, for intervening in 1994 in Rwanda and justify it. That shouldn't be too hard. All I need to do is make a case for or against intervening in Rwanda, think of several powerful objections, and respond to them, answering the question if the United States had intervened, either unilaterally or as a member of a coalition of states, with or without UN approval, would such an intervention have been justified?"

You remember Clinton's having given you a pat on the back and you think to yourself that shows he has confidence in you and you think if Clinton has confidence in you, why shouldn't you have, at least, a little confidence in yourself? Still, to be on the safe side, you decide to wish yourself "good luck" as you are leaving the Museum and you say, a little too loudly perhaps . . .


. . . and you wake up.






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