Friday, April 1, 2011

Intervention in Politically Induced Humanitarian Catastrophe: Permissible? Obligatory?

The goal of this series of posts is to determine when a state could be said to be morally obligated to undertake military action against another state for solely humanitarian purposes. I have in mind not so much, natural disasters, but political disasters; i.e., states that fail in their duties to their citizens in egregious abhorrent ways, due to their political systems or institutions.

As a first approach to this end, an easier argument can be made for a lesser claim. Instead of focusing straightaway on the notion of obligation, I’ll look at the weaker related notion of moral permissibility. (Ed. Note: Actually, I’ll slide a bit between the two as you’ll see! But, I’m too darn lazy to clean that bit up.)

Note that there is an asymmetry between the two concepts. Anything that is morally obligatory is necessarily also morally permissible, but it is not the case that anything that is morally permissible is also morally obligatory. One can choose not to pursue a course of action that is morally permissible, without thereby opening oneself to charges of failing in one’s duty. For instance, it is morally permissible for me to give one-hundred dollars to my financially secure neighbor, but my failure to do so does not open me for moral censure. On the other hand, if that neighbor is on the verge of death by starvation, has no other sources of aid open to him, and I am financially comfortable, I would be morally blameworthy for knowingly choosing to give him no food, or money for purchase of food.

I will first present an argument that sets out conditions that, when satisfied, show a nation is morally permitted to militarily intervene in the political life of a country for purely humanitarian purposes. In short, these conditions are as follows: when it can prevent significant harms with little or no risk to its own citizens or military personnel, those they are actually doing the rescuing, and when the harms reach a sufficient threshold of severity.

Next, expanding on conditions that are elaborated in that first argument, a case will be made that states are indeed sometimes obligated to intervene in the political life of foreign states for humanitarian purposes, but that the form of that intervention will vary with the level of risk that the state and any involved armed forces personnel must undertake. In general, absent any security concerns for that country, the more risk is involved for the military personnel; the less is there an obligation to commit ground troops, or other personnel that would necessarily be at risk of being killed by defenders.

It must first be checked whether or not the country can intervene in other ways, using advanced technology, or other means, that put no personnel at such risk. If these methods would accomplish the humanitarian mission, they must be attempted first. Indeed, if these methods will not work the next best option will probably involve insertion of personnel.

A case can be made for assassinations, and other covert actions, just so long as the personnel involved know, going into positions or offices that undertake such things, that they may be required to carry out such missions. But, in cases of egregious moral outrages upon citizenry of the offending nation, if there is good reason to believe these methods will not succeed, a country may be obligated to take the last option, military action of a more conventional kind. The upshot of the completed argument is that military action involving conventional forces could be morally required but only in certain special circumstances were moral outrages are egregious and risk to the personnel involved in stopping the atrocities is low. I start by presenting the argument concerning moral permissibility of intervention.

Argument A (For Permission)


1. A state is morally permitted to use force to prevent egregiously evil internal behavior of another state if one of the following conditions also holds:

(A). the actions of the offending state place the first state at significant risk of significant harm.

i. “Significant risk” here means to indicate a situation in which it is more likely than not that the offending state will either itself attack the first state militarily, or aid another state, non-state organization, or individual in carrying out some such attack in the relative near term. The case must be made that this is more than a possibility. It must be deemed probable in the near term (a decade or so?).

ii. “Significant harm” here refers either to use of conventional military force, or use of conventional, biological, or nuclear weaponry in non-conventional ways which are likely to cause significant loss of life, or terror attacks of a large scale, etc.


If (A) is satisfied, it is not morally necessary for the first state to seek ratification of its action by international bodies, just in case a fully informed reasonable judge [I have in mind here not a jurist, but something like Mill’s competent judge. Someone who is able to take an objective look at the situation, and determine what level of risk truly exists. He must do this with the best evidence at hand, of course. It must be a good faith effort with the best available evidence.] would determine that the process will be protracted and/or unlikely to garner the needed support. For, to expect otherwise, in those circumstances would be to expect the state to leave itself vulnerable to attack for an extended period of time, knowing that attack is likely. Leaving itself open to attack also does not leave things unchanged. Over that time, the threat probability will increase. We do not require that individuals do this. We cannot expect states to do this.

In the event that (A) is not satisfied, the state is nevertheless morally permitted to act, on humanitarian grounds provided:

(B). the acting state will not, by acting, fail in one of its responsibilities, including the following, (among others perhaps). These hurdles should be cleared serially. (i. needs clearing before ii. ii before iii, etc.):

i. Its responsibility to its own citizens to abstain from acts that place them at too great a risk of harms caused by retaliation. (If the action reduces the overall level of risk, it’s justifiable. If it increases that risk, and the state has good reason to believe it will be unable to protect its population from that increased level of risk, it is not justifiable. If the level of risk is unchanged, the humanitarian intervention is justifiable.)


ii. Its responsibility to its armed forces personnel to commit them to action only when there is a likelihood of success without significant loss of life, and the mission is in the spirit of their sworn oaths, and in line with their moral duty more broadly construed. (This condition would seem to be a condition on all utilization of military personnel, excepting perhaps, in the case of the first clause, defense of invasion.) This condition would disallow intervention if, for instance, there were a likelihood of success but only concomitant with a large amount military casualties. It also excludes actions that are unlikely to succeed, even if casualties would be very low or non-existent. It would also exclude missions that are not part of the sworn duty of military personnel or missions that run up against their moral obligations as human beings.

iii. Its responsibility to ensure the harms produced to the humanitarian victims and innocents within the target state’s boundaries in the course of the action do not outweigh the magnitude of the harms prevented. (It won’t do to kill millions of the offending state’s citizens in order to prevent non-lethal measures of political repression, for example.)

iv. Its obligation to respect the wishes of those inside the offending state. If they give fully informed free consent to the treatment, the state should not interfere. If, for any significant portion of the populace, it cannot reasonably be claimed that they give fully informed and free consent, then the state contemplating action is morally permitted to intervene.

v. Its obligations to morally responsible (as opposed to irresponsible) third states, not directly involved, to help maintain a stable and safe geo-political environment, if continued efforts in that direction are reasonable, given the security of the intervening state and circumstances of those third nations in regard to the offending nation. If the acting nation would open those third nations to increased risk of retaliation, and the acting nation would be unwilling or unable to forestall these retaliatory actions, or if the acting nation has not acquired fully informed consent of those third nations (including in that information a frank assessment of the risks to those nations), then the nation may not act. If third nations are allied with the offending nation in some way that directly enables it to carry out its internal offenses, they need not be given this consideration, for they are morally irresponsible nations. [This condition raises an interesting question. What does it entail about economic ties between nations? Would trade with such a nation constitute an ‘alliance’ such as this condition mentions? It might be argued that trade and other such intercourse does not constitute the ‘direct’ aid that this condition talks about. One wonders though, when considering reliance on labor forces in such countries.]

The sort of case where (A) is not satisfied, and the serially necessary conditions in (B) are satisfied, would be, on an international scale, a case that is analogous to Peter Singer’s famous drowning child example. [As presented in “Famine Affluence and Morality” Philosophy and Public Affairs, Volume 1, No. 3, 1972, and reprinted in many anthologies.]

In that example, a well dressed man (let’s call him Dapper Dan) is walking by a shallow pond where a very young child is floundering, attempting to escape, and in danger of drowning. Doing a quick calculation of possible harms and benefits both for the passerby and the child, one can see that Dan should wade out in the waters, and pluck the kid from danger. What does Dapper Dan risk by doing so? Unless he has a strange allergy to pond water, he risks inconvenience. What benefit does he give the kid? Otherwise put, what harm does he prevent? The answer is obvious; he saves the child’s life, prevents his death. Anytime a bystander is in such a situation, Singer contends that he is obligated so to act. In short, on a small scale he satisfies conditions that are analogous to the conditions listed in (B):

In regard to (i) and (ii) there is no way that he is putting himself at risk by rescuing the child (unless, as I’ve mentioned before, some very strange circumstances obtain, as for instance a severe allergy to pond water). In regard to (iii) Dapper Dan is not opening the child to harm that would outweigh the harm to that child if he were to abstain from acting. In regard to (iv) it seems reasonable to believe the child wishes to live, wishes to be rescued. Lastly, there are no third persons that seem to be endangered by the rescue, so (v) is satisfied.

The case with two states can be similar. I want to give a concrete example as closely analogous to the pond example as possible. So, let us suppose that a country (call it “A”) is militarily and economically isolationist, and poses no threat to other states. What is more, it allows neither immigration, nor emigration. However, it requires that all females lead subservient lives as property of males. Women are given no real legal representation, but a sort of proxy, and only via their male guardians. Court cases are presented as affronts to the males’ rights, not the females’. Women cannot own property, own or run a business, or otherwise make their own way in the world unless they have a male proxy, who is considered the true owner, or proprietor. If a woman has no male to play this role, she cannot do these things. Any and all property she may have reverts to the state, to be redistributed to a male of its choosing (along with her). If there are no male family members, the state will assign the female to a male, usually a geographically proximate male, but not necessarily. If a woman is widowed, her husband’s brother takes the widow and children. If he cannot handle this, the group is broken up, and distributed to other men in his family (uncles, grandfathers, etc). Women cannot pursue formal education at any age. They have no legal rights in regard to divorce. Men can divorce, needing no justification, simply by saying “you must leave.” Women have little or no recourse when husbands and fathers mistreat them. Men, on the other hand, are allowed to ‘Don Juan around’, (have mistresses, etc.). As women age, divorces become more common, and can have disastrous consequences for them, completely upsetting their lives.

In addition the government acquiesces in a centuries-old practice of radical genital mutilation. These are carried out by a sort of professional group. They have a vested interest in the practice. The procedure occurs between 7 and 10 years of age. The practice is quite established, going back hundreds of years. Most adult females accept this, being brought up in the traditional ways. When children are required to submit to the genital mutilation, consent is not elicited, or required. However, they quite naturally fear the procedure. Terror stricken children are constrained by adults and the procedure is done. It is quite painful, and no anesthetic is used. Furthermore, the procedure, unlike male circumcision, is radical. The labia and clitoris are removed. This has lifelong negative consequences for women, including more or less constant pain, intense pain during sex, and intense pain during delivery, and substantially heightened risk of serious infection. A synergism between this and Don Juanism of the male population introduces increased health risks to the females, as compared to female populations in neighboring nations that do not follow these cultural practices. Wives run significant risk of acquiring STDs from wandering husbands. Children run the risk of exposure from previously exposed mothers during their births.

To make the case tricky, let us suppose that there is no significant indigenous movement to change all this.

Now, looking at the conditions listed in part (B) of the argument, what can we say about the government of another country (C) that fits the following description?

It is far ahead of country (A) in military prowess. Technologically, it is able to do things that allow it to strike with little or no civilian casualties. Let us suppose it also has a highly developed special operations capability. It has an all volunteer military force. It is presently under no threat from (A). There is no realistic possibility that (A) will come to be a threat to (C). The country is aware of the state of affairs in (A). It has attempted diplomatic and economic incentives toward change, to no avail. Due to (A)’s isolation, offers are simply rebuffed. Country (C) is much like ours, with values much like ours. Its position on the cultural practices of (A) is that they are morally wrong. Country (A) has argued in the past that any attempt by (C) to change the cultural practices amounts to cultural imperialism and a denial of the very values (C) claims to represent, because it would prevent (A) from determining its own cultural expression, its own way of life. Intervention would deny that country’s ability to freely choose how it will live, when it is very clear that it will not harm any other country by living the way it does (due to its self imposed isolation from other countries). Country (C) is not impressed with this argument, and counters that (A)’s defense of its practices makes use of, admits validity for, the very values that (C) says it is serving in considering intervention. (C) points out that (A) treats itself as some sort of analog of a person, with rights that cannot be contravened unless exercise of those rights harm other nation-state persons. It makes use of this Westphalian/libertarian premise while conveniently ignoring the fact that its metaphorical ‘person’ must contravene the rights of bona fide persons, literal persons, within its borders in order to ‘express itself’ and ‘freely choose its way of life’. These persons do not freely choose to submit, and are never given the opportunity to do so. Country (A) cannot deny the universality of such values (as it does with the charge of cultural imperialism), while at the same time using them to justify its behavior. So, (C) argues. But (A) has an answer. In brief, it asserts that collective rights are primary in its culture, and individual rights play a secondary role. In arguing with the individual-rights obsessed government of (C) (A) refers to its civilians, citing the fact that there is no widespread indigenous resistance, only because it knows this is the only way to convince that government to leave well enough alone. It has to argue with (C) in terms (C) can understand if it has a prayer of convincing (C). (A) does not seem to hold to the cultural incommensurability thesis [The thesis that individuals from different cultures are unable to comprehend the values of other cultures, because the values they have imbibed at home have thoroughly color their point of view. when arguing with (C).]

State (C), under this description is somewhat analogous to the passerby at Singer’s pond. This similarity becomes more pronounced the more technologically and militarily advanced (C) is.

If it were possible for (C) to successfully undertake the intervention without invasion, this would strengthen that analogy even further. It would seem incumbent upon decision makers in state (C) to opt for long distance solutions first, if they would succeed without unduly endangering the citizens of country (A). If this were not feasible, a next option would be insertion of Special Forces, due to their ability to discriminate to a greater degree than can even the most sophisticated weaponry (assuming of course that this would do any good toward improving the situation. Of course, it looks highly unlikely that this would improve things. Who would the special forces take out? How would this be determined, and even if success in taking them out is to be had, would it have any appreciable effect on the culture? Probably not.)

So, given that this option would likely not be able to produce the desired result, (C) would have to consider conventional military action. If invasion is tactically unnecessary it is not morally justifiable in regard to the acting state’s responsibilities either toward the civilians in (A) or toward its own armed forces (per ii). On the other hand, if it looks to be necessary in order to effect cultural change, then it would be morally justifiable, provided, of course that the whole project of effecting cultural change is itself morally justifiable, and provided that (C) is not violating its duties to its own armed forces.

But, one may object that once you move beyond the first edu/prop option, even the second option, sending in Special Operations Forces necessarily puts those men in danger. Is (C) obligated to put those men in danger for this humanitarian reason, when it is the case that (C) itself is in no danger from (A)? As (B,ii) makes clear, the men that make up Special Forces units and conventional military units have taken oaths to defend their own country, its constitution, its people, but have not undertaken any promises to humanity as a whole, and none to individuals in other countries. To expect them to undertake humanitarian missions is to not only ask but require that they risk their lives for such missions, absent any sort of previous agreement on their part, to take on such tasks as part of their sworn duty. And, to say that there is a moral obligation to do all this is to say precisely this very thing. So, the contrarian argument concludes, this country cannot be required send forces in no matter how dire the humanitarian crisis, even if there is a case for the moral permissibility of such an action.

How might we respond to this, if our moral intuition in this case is that country (C) should nevertheless intervene? In other words, how do I account for (B ii)’s specific wording? We can continue working with the pond analogy, in order to answer this question.

Suppose that Dapper Dan is a police officer off duty and in a foreign country. He has an explicit oath to protect and defend citizens of his hometown. Suppose he chooses not to rescue the child, and when queried as to why, he defends himself by saying that he has never sworn to protect and defend foreign folks, just folks in his neck of the woods. Would this defense hold water? No, because he has moral duties in addition to strictly legal duties. Once again, he is in no personal danger, and he’s the only person in a position to prevent the child’s death. So, we feel he should intervene. It’s not his sworn duty to do so, so that obligation must come from another source. It comes from a background set of duties he has by virtue of being a human being.

Objection: The forces in country (C) are not in a situation like Dapper Dan’s. They are not actually inside country (A) first of all, and secondly, they would be in personal danger if inserted. Dapper Dan is never in any danger. The parallel is flawed. Sure, Dapper Dan would have to act on one of those background humanitarian duties in such a situation, but if he was in danger from doing so, he’d be just like the person with a severe pond-water allergy. In that case, he would not have to act. So, you will have to do a better job of making this case.

Counter: That’s well taken, so let’s modify again: Dapper Dan the off-duty peace officer is in a foreign country, visiting a remote village that has no police force. He happens upon this scene: A man has taken his wife hostage in the village square, is brandishing a knife, and is threatening to kill her. He hasn’t yet moved to do so but is holding her. Others are trying to talk him down, but he is becoming further enraged. It seems to Dan’s trained eyes that the man is going to kill his wife any moment. None of the others are acting. Dan sees that they are either elderly or children, and would be incapable of intervening even if they tried. This accounts for their reticence to intervene. Dan realizes he is the only person on the scene that is competent to save the woman’s life. He is behind the man, and hasn’t been seen by him. He surmises that he can subdue him before he hurts the woman. Should he? If he makes the attempt, he puts himself at risk of death. Keep in mind; he is trained for such circumstances. In this scenario, does he have to act on a background obligation, doing something that is beyond that which he has explicitly sworn to do? Intuitively, this case seems to support an answer in the affirmative, even though Dan puts himself at risk of death.

The situation elicits recognition of an obligation that is distinct from any explicitly sworn obligation. This second obligation seems to be generated from a combination of Dan being where he is with his set of professional competencies, and his having (as do all of us) a more general humanitarian obligation (reflected in Singer’s principle). His professional obligation, on the other hand, is that of a policeman for his particular municipality. So, concentrating only upon that obligation, we could take a legalistic stance, saying he has no obligation to intervene. On the less positivistic reading of the situation, which allows for what we have termed ‘background obligations’, we can say he does have an obligation to intervene, even though he is in danger if he does.

[This is not to say that he would be obligated regardless of the nature of that threat. Suppose Dan knows that the knife wielder is a martial artist, head and shoulders above Dapper Dan’s abilities. Alternatively, suppose that the man is wielding a machine gun. In those cases, the relative superiority of Dan that obtains in our first scenario does not obtain. The risk to Dan is too high, either due to the man’s superior fighting skills, or due to superior technology that nullifies Dan’s superiority. In that kind of scenario Dan need not act. In the original case though, the knife wielder is not overly skilled in combat, he’s an ‘average Joe’, and Dan enjoys a substantial superiority to him in combat skills. So, he is at little risk in taking on the man. He can handle the situation. In the other two situations, he clearly would not be able to handle things. He would likely die, or likely set in motion a train of events that would eventuate in the woman’s death. A last quick case: suppose the martial arts master or the machine gun wielder was to do his act back in Dan’s hometown, in his jurisdiction? Suppose Dan is the only policeman on the scene, and waiting for backup is not an option. Is he obligated to act even if he knows he or the woman is likely to die?]

Now, analogously, if the technology at the disposal of state C, and the level of competency of the special forces personnel results in the personnel being at small risk in being inserted and undertaking a mission to rescue the folks in A, it is arguable that there is an obligation to insert those forces.

But, there are significant disanalogies here.

1. (A) has a military establishment at its disposal. Any insertion of forces will bring them to bear. Even with relatively primitive equipment, such forces can inflict significant casualties.

2. What is more, it is unrealistic to assume that insertion of Special Forces alone will end (A)’s treatment of women. On the one hand, our man in the village square has good reason to believe that once he intervenes, there is a good chance that the woman will be out of harms way. The other villagers, the local police and judicial system will take care of the homicidal husband. Because these things are true, our man knows his chances of success are good. On the other hand, (C) has no reason to believe it can behave in an analogous fashion with like success in (A).

3. Our man also makes the decision to intervene only for himself. He is not like Special Forces folks. They move when ordered by civilians, people that do not directly take on the risk of losing their own lives in ordering interventions. The SF personnel are obligated to take on risk to life at the behest of civilian control.

Considering each of these objections, we can begin to see what sorts of considerations must be given by decision makers in such situations, if they are concerned about behaving morally, not only toward the outside world, but toward their own military. Military advisors and civilian control must have reasonable assurance that certain conditions do obtain, or can be created, before they can make a good case to order military personnel to risk their lives for humanitarian reasons.

In short, a civilian command can be morally permitted to order military action when the recipients of beneficence are likely to be truly liberated from the oppression, and when the costs to the benefactor’s military does not outstrip the amount of sacrifice that can reasonably be required of them, given that they have no explicit oath to engage in such endeavors.

In the real world, success will depend not only on the success of a single set of military exercises or a single wave of insertions, missile attacks, etc., but on other factors as well. We have seen too often, that limited engagements, with humanitarian intent have done little to change such situations. Often locals take advantage of the disruption to further their grip on the oppressed.

So, in C, fundamental to the civilian side assessment of the moral advisability of action is an honest assessment of how likely it is that the country can affect a change on the ground in (A), a change in the fundamental attitudes in (A) that give rise to the inhumane treatment in the first place.

There seem to be two ways of affecting this change: 1. an extensive educational or propaganda campaign or; 2. a use of military force and/or other means in such a way as to make them reconsider their cultural mores in a fundamental way, while concomitantly extirpating their fighting will with regard to continued defense of those ways.

As to the educational/propaganda option, it seems that such projects stand a good chance of quick success if the indigenous government wholeheartedly cooperates in the project, or (in the event it doesn’t) it can be cleared out of the way and replaced with a sympathetic indigenous government.

If, as would be likely, the government does not cooperate, or the project of clearing and replacing it is likely to be daunting, such educational propaganda efforts are significantly less likely to take, and if they do take at all, it will only be after many years. This may be something we are comfortable with if the offending state is not engaging in egregious treatment of its citizens. However if it is behaving barbarously toward its citizens, we will be less comfortable settling on these means only.

Typically then, any culture-change project which involves insertion of personnel, absent a mission that includes thoroughgoing measures to that end (like COIN) is below the moral threshold needed in order for leaders to be able to say that they have committed troops in a responsible manner. The troops themselves will be at risk of dying for a project that will not meet its goal, and the ‘rescuees’ will likely be left open to retaliation once the troops leave. It is not responsible to allow this eventuality if there is good reason to believe they will ensue. In that case, there should be no intervention beyond the ideological.

So, unless government (C) is willing to do these things, insertion of special (or other) forces looks to be a non-option if undertaken as a preliminary to or a concomitant to such an educational project. We seem forced to the position that the only real chance of success (C) has is to move beyond isolated missile strikes and special operations to a strong conventional invasion, with a follow up reform program. Once again, the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to be illustrations of this mode of reasoning. While the argument so far is dealing with delineating circumstances within which it is morally permissible to intervene, we see here that we are obligated to undertake any such intervention in a particular way, (briefly described here as “thoroughgoing”) due to the obligations we have to personnel and to the civilians in the foreign land.

But, what about using targeted killings, along with stern warnings to the people of (A) that any replacements who behave in the ways of the deceased will be similarly removed? Won’t this work, and with considerably less collateral damage than would the thoroughgoing intervention or a show of overwhelming force? Won’t some such policy affect change in the fundamental attitudes in (A)?

This will depend on the nature of the country or culture. Is the government precariously perched? Is its control solid? Does the populace generally favor the government? Is there an undercurrent of resentment toward the government?

If these are answered in the affirmative, this may work. If they are answered in the negative, it probably won’t, and the best alternative for causing a fundamental change in attitudes or values would be concerted attempts at what we might call “will busting.”

This approach need not entail high casualty level conventional attack, and indeed, should not, if it is not necessary. We have examples of such high casualty attacks on civilians in WWII. The historical precedent of Japan argues for the effectiveness of the ‘will busting’ approach. It effected significant cultural change. But we must note that the ‘will busting’ was coupled with the ‘helping hand’ of the MacArthur occupation and rebuilding efforts of the U.S. in the post war era.

We must ask ourselves if the Japanese would have abandoned imperialist values, and racist outlook if we had not overwhelmed the mainland, and their civilian areas. Such overwhelming catastrophe forces fundamental re-thinking. Obviously, something similar happened in Germany. On a significantly lessened level of intensity, and indeed, one that did not involve mass civilian casualties, but did involve destruction of property, we can cite Sherman’s march through the South as an effective “will buster,” once again, followed up with mercy, aid, and reconciliation. If the march did not force a fundamental re-thinking, at the very least, it did destroy the will to fight.

Analogically, recovered alcoholics and drug addicts often testify that it was necessary for them to hit the depths of depravity and despair before they would authentically and deeply choose to change their values and behavior. It seems this fact also holds for cultures. Whether or not it is morally permissible for outside cultures to bring about such despair in the interests of reform, and welfare of citizens within these cultures, will depend on the depths of the depravity to which the culture has descended, the level of threat it poses to civilized cultures, and the amount of risk undertaken by intervening cultures.

Now, as to whether intervention is permissible in a case like our hypothetical, when the offending country is no threat to the outside world, the case has been made that it is permissible provided that the level of atrocity is sufficiently egregious, and that the various conditions we have been discussing vis-a-vis prospects of success, and intervening nation’s responsibility to its own intervening personnel are met.

I’ll wrap this section up with another home-spun analogy. Imagine a collection of small towns, in the old West. Imagine they have formed no local overarching township or government, and don’t intend to. The towns do a bit of bartering with one another, but pretty much keep to themselves. What is more, they have promised to leave each other well enough alone. One day a haggard thin woman stumbles into town A, and tells a tale of slavery and abuse in town B. It seems that one family has seized control of the town, and has enslaved the women of the rest of the town. They are able to maintain control through a combination of complacence, fear and intimidation. Many men outside the controlling family are willingly going along with the practice. This has been going on for some time, say 15 years. The townsfolk of A are appalled and send a delegate to confirm. He finds the woman spoke the truth. He returns, and town A discusses things and now feels it needs to intervene. A sends the delegate back. He argues that A is morally permitted to intervene, and has the wherewithal to do so. A has greatly superior weaponry and very well trained police. By comparison, B is primitive and slipshod. B pleads its own weakness, and says that it has no intention of spreading its practices, and moreover, even though it will defend itself if attacked, it will, if successful retain its isolationist practices, in keeping with the standing agreement between the various towns. On that basis, it argues that A is not in the right in contemplating its actions. It should not invade (B).

Exit question in town (A): Is town (B) correct in saying that we are not morally permitted to intervene? If so, how can we say this in the face of the brutality we see there? If we are permitted to intervene, how exactly would we do so?

Next time: From permission to obligation?