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On the concept of humanitarian intervention, with particular reference to New Labour theorising about an ethical dimension to foreign policy

Hunter, Lynne St. Clair


Lynne St. Clair Hunter


Noël O'Sullivan


This dissertation explores the moral and political assumptions contained within the concept of humanitarian intervention in the three areas of political science, political philosophy and politics itself.

It is argued that far from shedding light on the concept, many attempts at definition have been built on assumptions regarding the moral and the political, which cloud the issue rather than clarify it. The political aspect of humanitarian intervention in particular has often been disregarded usually due to a tendency to approach the concept from an almost entirely moral standpoint. In consequence, the tensions between the moral and the political aspects in humanitarian intervention have been overlooked. The thesis explores the problems presented by definitions which ignore this.

The thesis begins with a short history of the concept, which is traced back to the late 19th century. Although ideas pertaining to the concept may certainly be traced back beyond this, the thesis is only concerned with the term itself, which has no linguistic existence in the English language earlier than the 1820s.

The thesis then proceeds to examine definitions of the concept in the literature of political science, political philosophy, and politics. The final part of the thesis applies the discussions from the preceding chapters to New Labour’s attempts to situate humanitarian intervention within its broader ideal of an ethical dimension to foreign policy. This results in a further confusion of the moral and the political.

The dissertation concludes by claiming that any discussion of the concept of humanitarian intervention raises questions not only about the part played in it by the political, but also about the academic study of politics from its beginnings as a distinct university discipline until the present day.


Hunter, L. S. C. (2010). On the concept of humanitarian intervention, with particular reference to New Labour theorising about an ethical dimension to foreign policy. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Sep 27, 2011
Publicly Available Date Feb 22, 2023
Keywords Politics
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Politics, The University of Hull
Award Date Aug 1, 2010


Thesis (931 Kb)

Copyright Statement
© 2010 Hunter, Lynne St. Clair. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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