What if anything should the state do to assist the members of other communities?

The question clearly states the main objective of the state is to keep the citizens content in whatever way it can. Now there is always more the state can do to help it’s citizens, so why should the state concern itself in the interests of other communities. On first examination this question appears to be more analytical than moral, but on closer inspection the main plot of the question is ‘Can we help those around us and would we want to’? Through this essay I intend to explore the options and reasons there are to help other communities. Now this answer can not just be derived without considering the many different sub questions inside the main question, the questions are, what is the state? What are their responsibilities to their citizens? What (if any)are their obligations to other states? I also believe it is vital to include the three main schools of thought on each of these issues. Only after answering these questions will I be able to form an informed opinion.

So to answer the first sub question (What is the State)

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‘The state can most simply be defined as a political association that establishes sovereign jurisdiction within defined territorial borders and exercises authority through a set of permanent institutions.’ ‘The state can most simply be defined as a political association that establishes sovereign jurisdiction within defined territorial borders and exercises authority through a set of permanent institutions.’ Heywood (2000:39)

There are a number of views on the definition of a State, some properties however, are deemed as true throughout every view. A key feature of the state is, sovereignty. Without sovereignty the state holds no authority. The notion of sovereign statehood were first formalised in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. This gave states absolute and unlimited power within the state’s territorial boundaries, it is free from any higher legal authority. State institutions are ‘public’, which means they are responsible for making and enforcing decisions for the people. Decisions of the state are usually (but not under all circumstances) accepted as binding, as they are made for the common good.

The essential belief of Realist thinkers, is that the state is a primary actor with sovereignty being a distinctive feature. This is shown in Max Webers definition of the state as ‘the main monopoly of the illegitimate use of physical force within a given territory’. Other characteristics of a Realist state are, self help and survival. This means that a Realist states chief objective is the survival of the state and they will be severely ruthless in maintaining their survival, they will rely only on themselves to guarantee their survival, hence, self help. Critique of Realist theories comes in the form of their main opposition, the Liberalist or the Idealist.

The Liberalists first concern is that of the individual. The establishment of the state is essential in sustaining the liberty of the individual either from harm by other individuals or by states. This makes the state the servant of common will, rather than the master. Classical liberalists believe in a ‘minimal’ state in which the states responsibility is limited to domestic order and personal security. Many thinkers within Liberalism have come to believe that providing order and justice on the inside (within the state)may not be possible without reform of the outside (outside the state).

The English School or ‘The Third Way’, is, as the latter says – a third way, this is because it has been seen as taking elements of both socialism and capitalism. Key characteristics of ‘The Third Way’ are opportunities, communities and responsibilities. Hedley Bull(1977:13) defines the English School as the following: ‘a society of states (or international society) exists when a group of states, conscious of certain common interests and common values, form a society in the sense that they conceive themselves to be bound by a common set of rules in their relation to one another, and share in the working of common institutions.’ Although the English school are working towards this goal they still recognise state sovereignty, self-determination, non-intervention and right of self-defence. The society would just be a diplomatic means in which to facilitate and smooth their relations.

With such a variety of theories of what a state is? how it should be run? and its authority and meaning?, it becomes difficult to distinguish what the obligations of the state are. There is no fixed concept of a states obligation, but there is such thing as political obligation, which belongs to the citizens of the state. The definition of political obligation according to Andrew Heywood(2000:140) is ‘the duty of the citizen to acknowledge the authority of the state and to obey its laws’ . It is important that the state recognize their obligations to their citizens. To provide their citizens with, law and order for the good of the people and protect them through providing security from outside forces.

Through the main schools of thought it is visible that states have a number of interests, but the interests that overlap would definitely include survival. None of them perceive the end of state sovereignty, even in an international society. The survival of the state would include maintaining territorial borders, re-enforcing law and order, whilst providing security and comfort for their citizens. From the above it is evident that the main concern of the state is as distinguished in the question, to its citizens.

Therefore the state provides them with what they see as basic needs, this is where there will be a difference between states. Many states in the world are at very different stages of development and therefore the needs of their citizens differ. If we look at those richer and more civilised states the needs of the citizens they are no longer at a basic level, and with new technologies and the use of media within an ever growing globalisation has meant we are starting to understand the differences between our lifestyles.

In most western societies today the basic needs of the citizen have been met. The question of the states obligation to the citizens, as we are discussing, should naturally include the debate on whether moral obligations should be included as well. Twoof the main schools of thought have very contrasting opinions on this subject. Idealists believe that moral codes that we see within Liberal societies could be implemented between states. Liberalists believe in a cosmopolitan morality, and believe certain morals could be applied universally. Realists take it that anarchy will obstruct a global community. Realists disagree with Liberalists that there can be a global community, as said before they believe that states should look after only their own citizens.

This takes us onto the second part of the question, should states assist those states they see as less developed? Should a state intervene to help the members of other communities? These questions have been the subject for heavy debate in the last twenty years and have caused a lot of controversy. Since the holocaust there have been many developments in human rights and moral considerations have become more important. ‘Globalisation has generated many of the ills of contemporary life but it has also created that growing sense of cosmopolitan awareness”. Hedley Bull (1984b:12). These new ideals do, however, conflict with sovereignty and the agreement of force in only self-defence situations. The three main schools of thought are very important here again as we can see they have some very different opinions on the intervention and assistance of other states.

The English School have strong arguments for not intervening. This is shown in Bull and Vincents writings in the seventies and eighties, their main point was that the most important thing for the society of states is to uphold order and avoid conflict. Order depends on states recognising boundaries of other states, which is included in the understanding of state sovereignty. It is advised that states do not act to push their idea of human rights on others. Due to the rise of the universal human rights culture, new ideas need to be developed in order to work within new moral expectations. A modern thinker within the English School, Nick Wheeler believes that the society of states should find a new setting within the legal system that will grant intervention in clear recognised boundaries. He argues that it is crucial that the rules for permitting humanitarian intervention be very carefully drafted to prevent an outcome of weakening state sovereignty in the name of human rights, making it possible for superpowers to use force.

Realists believe that the first responsibility of the state is to promote the interests of its own citizens as is stated in the main question. The question of whether it can ever be right to intervene to protect the citizens of another state from violence caused by their own government is very important. Realists believe they are not entitled to risk the lives of their own for the sake of distant strangers. According to Realists national interests should always come first, this means that states will intervene when it suits them and they will benefit from doing so. Realist states will not create a new principles of humanitarian intervention that will create an obligations to intervene to prevent human suffering, where they will not gain. They seek to be discrete in their choices of when to intervene, they will only use humanitarian intervention when it suits them. This will cause them to be accused of having ‘double standards’ by not being consistent in intervening whenever serious human rights violations occur.

Wolterstorff (1997:163). ‘The liberal regards the normal adult members of society as free and equal: equally free in that each has it in his or her power to act as moral agent; equal in that each has the inherent right to appropriate qualifications, to pursue what he or she regards as good and obligatory; and equal also in that none bears a right by ‘nature’ which the others do not also bear.’

As was said previously the liberalists believe that it may not be possible to provide order and justice internally without doing so externally as well. The liberalist do not feel that war is necessary in the modern world. They disagree with the Realist argument of the ‘balance of power’ and believe this will lead to state insecurity amongst others. In place of this they promote the use of ‘collective security’. Liberals promote the idea of a universal human rights culture and an international criminal laws.

They believe they have responsibilities to try to reduce human suffering across the world. Whilst talking about Liberalism it is vital that we discuss Cosmopolitan democracy. Cosmopolitanism is a belief in a ‘world state’. the term is often used in the context of peace and harmony among nations, established upon understanding toleration and interdependence.Andrew Heywood (2002:113). The cosmopolitans hope for economic interdependence and that would therefore make war virtually impossible. Cosmopolitan ideas of an international system in which all individuals will be equal have become very popular in recent years.

So if states were to assist, what assistance would they be able to offer and under what circumstances can they offer it? Most commonly thought of would be, humanitarian intervention, traditionally defined as Andrew Heywood(2002:134) ‘military intervention that is carried out in pursuit of humanitarian rather than strategic objectives’. The legality of humanitarian intervention is heavily debated between the restrictionists and counter-restrictionists, the latter arguing its legitimacy. This makes it very difficult for any state to use humanitarian intervention, and those that choose to so, would be accused of doing so for selfish reasons.

This leaves us with non – forcible humanitarian intervention, which can be seen as peaceful activities such as, humanitarian aid – in the form of food, water and medicine and the diplomacy of third party mediation. This is a very neutral method of intervention but can be seen as a very weak method, as it may not always work, or be relevant to all situations. As said above because of the many problems within intervention its very difficult to judge when it is fair to intervene. Many questions are brought up such as, do the people want our assistance, will the people definitely benefit from our intervention and how bad should we let it get before we intervene? Key thinkers of today are already trying to answer these questions. Nick Wheeler, as said above is very keen that some kind of strict guide-lines be drawn up to tackle these problems.

To conclude this argument, it is important to summarise the main ideas covered.It is believed that a state holds the ultimate sovereignty of their territorial borders. Their key obligation is to the survival of both the state and its citizens, through security. Each school of thought agrees with this to some extent. Realist do not believe it is there place to provide security to other states or their citizens. they do not believe it is right to put the lives of their own citizens at risk for those of another state.they believe that by intervening the will implement new principles that would leave them obligated to do so in all future cases.

The liberalists on the other hand, key belief is that of individualism and liberty. they believe that the morality within liberal states should be implemented universally between other states. The English School main characteristic it that of an international society and therefore believe that common laws and obligation should be universal. Modern thinkers within the English School are pushing the idea, and hope that a international guide-lines (strict guide-lines) should be introduced.

What has caused this growing concern in humanitarian and morality has been the recent development of globalisation. Internationally, the knowledge of other states around the world can be found each morning in the paper and as you turn on the TV at the end of the day. Alongside this growing interest in these situations has also been the growing debate of what leaders of states should be doing to stop it, or even if the should stop it. the biggest problem involved in intervention is the legitimacy, due to Article 2 Part 7 of the UN Charter that states that, ‘the use of force should only be used in situations of self-defence’. It is also belief that the use of intervention runs the risk of ‘superstates’ using it as an excuse to attack in the name of humanitarian intervention, for reason of self-interest.

To answer the original question of whether states should assist other communities, is a very hard task to take. Morally as an individual i think it is quite simple for me to believe we should intervene and assist where it is possible, but for a state to do so is a much harder decision. It is very difficult for a State to justify putting the lives of their own nation, to save those of another. Until there is some form of an internationally agreed guide-line on the situation in which to do so, I believe we should keep to the agreement of no force unless in self-defence.


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? (1984b), Justice in International Relations (Ontario: Hagey lectures, University of Warterloo).

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??? (1998), Key Concepts in Politics (London:Palgrave).

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? (2000), Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

? and Booth, K. (1992), The Security Dilemma’, in J. Baylis and N.J. Rengger (eds.), Dilemmas of World Politics: International Issues in a Changing World (Oxford: Oxford University Press)


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