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Non-interventionism or non-intervention is a foreign policy that holds that political rulers should avoid alliances with other nations but still retain diplomacy and avoid all wars unless related to direct self-defense. An original more formal definition is that non-interventionism is a policy characterized by the absence of interference by a state or states in the external affairs of another state without its consent, or in its internal affairs with or without its consent.[1]

This is based on the grounds that a state should not interfere in the internal politics of another state as well as the principles of state sovereignty and self-determination. A similar phrase is "strategic independence."[2]

Historical examples of supporters of non-interventionism are US Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who both favored non-intervention in European wars. Other proponents include United States Senator Robert A. Taft and United States Representative Ron Paul.[3]

Non-interventionism is distinct from and often confused with isolationism. Proponents of isolationism differ from proponents of non-interventionism through their advocacy of economic nationalism (called also protectionism) and immigration reduction. Non-interventionism is a policy in government only and thus does not exclude non-governmental intervention by organizations such as Amnesty International.


The norm of non-intervention has dominated the majority of international relations, and can be seen to have been one of the principal motivations for the U.S.'s initial non-intervention into World Wars I and II, and the non-intervention of the liberal powers in the Spanish Civil War (see Non-Intervention Committee), despite the intervention of Germany and Italy. The norm was then firmly established into international law as one of central tenets of the UN Charter, which established non-intervention as one of the key principles which would underpin the emergent post-WWII peace. This however was somewhat optimistic as the advent of the Cold War led to massive interventions in the domestic politics of a vast number of developing countries among varying pretexts of 'global socialist revolution' and 'containment' policies in response to it. Through the adoption of such pretexts and the establishment that such interventions were to prevent a threat to 'international peace and security' allowed intervention under Chapter VII of the UN Charter (not to mention the impotence of the UN during the Cold War due to both the U.S. and USSR holding veto power in the United Nations Security Council).

Nonintervention by country

New Zealand

In recent years, New Zealand has become largely non-interventionist. No military support, apart from medical, was given for the first Gulf war although SAS troops were provided for the war in Afghanistan. Engineers were provided in Iraq after conventional hostilities in the war had ceased. In the Pacific Islands, New Zealand has been involved in humanitarian interventions in the Solomon Islands and East Timor. However, those interventions were non-coercive interventions at the request of the nation being intervened upon. These activities are known as 'peace keeping'.


Sweden has remained non-interventionist since the backlash against the king following Swedish losses in the Napoleonic Wars; the coup d'etat that followed in 1812 caused Jean Baptiste Bernadotte to establish a policy of non-intervention that has remained since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815.


Switzerland has long been known for its policy of defensively armed neutrality.

United States

In December 2013, the Pew Research Center reported that their newest poll, "American's Place in the World 2013," had revealed that 52 percent of respondents in the national poll said that the United States "should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own."[4] This was the most people to answer that question this way in the history of the question, one which pollsters began asking in 1964.[5] Only about a third of respondents felt this way a decade ago.[5]

Decline of non-intervention

After the Cold War, however, new emergent norms of humanitarian intervention are superseding the norm of non-intervention. This is based upon the argument that while sovereignty gives rights to states, there is also a responsibility to protect its citizens, an argument based upon social contract theory. Under this ideal, states can be justified in intervening within other states if that state is failing to protect (or if it is actively involved in harming) its citizens. This has justified UN sanctioned interventions in Northern Iraq Operation Provide Comfort in 1991 to protect the Kurds, and, in Somalia, UNOSOM I and UNOSOM II from 1992 to 1995 in the absence of state power. However, after the US "Black Hawk Down" event in 1993 in Mogadish, the US refused to intervene in Rwanda or Haiti. Responsibility to protect was used, however, despite strong opposition from Russia and China, to justify NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999 and the 2011 military intervention in Libya.

This new norm of humanitarian intervention is far from fully formed, as in all of the UN-sanctioned cases the arguments were further couched in Chapter VII threats to international peace and security. This new emergent norm appears to justify the action of states only if they want to act, and it does not create a duty of states to intervene.

See also



  1. The doctrine of intervention (1915) by Henry G. Hodges.
  2. Carpenter, Ted Galen. The Libertarian Reader. pp. 336–344. ISBN 0-684-83200-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Non-intervention is usually defined either as the determination by a nation to refrain from interfering in the affairs of other nations or those of its own political subdivisions or as the refusal or failure to intervene in the same. Non-interventionism is not to be confused with isolationism, a political policy which sometimes carries with it laws that mandate a breaking of ties between the inhabitants of one political subdivision and another.
  3. Conquest, Robert. Stalin: Breaker of Nations. Great Britain: George Weidenfeld & Nicholson Limited, 1991. Page 122.
  4. Healy, Gene (10 December 2013). "It's not isolationist for America to mind its own business". Washington Examiner. Retrieved 13 August 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 Lindsay, James M.; Kauss, Rachael. "The Public's Mixed Message on America's Role in the World". Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Retrieved 13 August 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Wheeler, N.J. (2003) "The Humanitarian Responsibilities of Sovereignty: Explaining the Development of a New Norm of Military Intervention for Humanitarian Purposes in International Society" in Welsh, J.M. Humanitarian Intervention and International Relations Oxford: Oxford Scholarship Online, pp. 29–50.
  • Walzer, M.J. (2000) Just and Unjust Wars New York: Basic Books, pp. 86–108.

Further reading