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Assisting Rebels Abroad: The Ethics of Violence at the Limits of the Defensive Paradigm

Finlay, Christopher J

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In this article, I analyse the theory and practice of interventions in foreign civil wars to assist rebels fighting against violently oppressive government. I argue that the indirect nature of this kind of intervention gives rise to political complications that are either absent from or less obvious in humanitarian interventions aimed chiefly at defending human rights from imminent threats. An adequate theory must therefore accommodate three additional components. First, it requires a theory of indirect warfare accounting for how the ends of the interveners’ added violence relate to those of the rebels’ violence. Second, it requires a theory of indirect political leadership, paying careful attention both to the political status of the rebel leaders vis‐à‐vis the people on whose behalf they fight and to the relationship between those leaders and the interveners. Third, the peculiarities of indirect military intervention mean that the violence it introduces isn’t easily explained purely in terms of defensive goals. An adequate account needs additionally to pay attention to the role of violence in shaping new political movements and institutions. The value of such goals is less easily quantified than those of humanitarian intervention, making it harder to set upper limits on permissible ‘proportionate’ harm.


Finlay, C. J. (2022). Assisting Rebels Abroad: The Ethics of Violence at the Limits of the Defensive Paradigm. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 39(1), 38-55.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 22, 2020
Online Publication Date Nov 17, 2020
Publication Date 2022-02
Deposit Date Jun 23, 2020
Publicly Available Date Nov 19, 2020
Journal Journal of Applied Philosophy
Print ISSN 0264-3758
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 39
Issue 1
Pages 38-55


Published Journal Article (Advance online version) (142 Kb)

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Copyright Statement
Advance online version © 2020 The Authors. Journal of Applied Philosophy published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Society for Applied Philosophy. <br /> This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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