27 February 1987 - 01 March 1987

Contradictions and Conflicts between Sovereignty and International Stability: Problems of Intervention and Management in a Fragmented World

Chair: The Hon Kingman Brewster

On the weekend 27 February-1 March the conference title was "Contradictions and conflicts between sovereignty and international stability: problems of intervention and management in a fragmented world". Behind this non-committal title lurked Afghanistan, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Suez, the Lebanon, Angola, Nicaragua and a long list of other international crises of recent decades. The task was to bring together international lawyers, political scientists and foreign affairs practitioners and analysts to see if any general observations could be drawn about this phenomenon of instability, preferably without rousing too much passion about individual episodes of intervention.

The chair was taken by the Hon. Kingman Brewster, a leading member of Ditchley on both sides of the Atlantic, former President of Yale, currently Master of University College, Oxford, and formerly US Ambassador to the Court of St James. The US and UK participants formed a very distinguished and powerful group of debaters and they were strongly reinforced by four French, two German and an Australian participant and a judge of the International Court of Justice. At first the jurists tended to dominate the discussions - rightly so, if law is to come before expediency: towards the end, political considerations tended to predominate, as the attempt was made to see what the framework of western policy should be in these matters.

A good deal of time was spent examining what the UN Charter and international law in fact allowed as regards the use of force, with the prohibition expressed in Article 2(4) of the Charter providing the focal point. There was no difficulty in condemning the Brezhnev doctrine, which asserts a right for the Soviet Union to intervene abroad in defence of "socialism". The central question was whether there could be an opposite right to intervene or, more accurately, counter-intervene in support of furtherance of "democracy". This was often described as the Reagan doctrine. The ruling of the International Court of Justice in the Nicaragua case (which has attracted little attention in the UK) and the US Governments’ withdrawal from the proceedings and rejection of the ruling figured prominently in the arguments for and against put forward by the American lawyers present. The majority view at the conference appeared to be that international law provided no justification for counter-intervention, and that the existing exceptions to the prohibition on the use of force in Article 2(4) of the Charter (self-defence, rescue of nationals, genuine invitations for help from legal governments, collective action in support of Charter purposes) should be enough to meet the legitimate needs of democratic governments. As regards help to insurgents, a good deal seemed to depend on the genuineness, size and effectiveness of the insurgency. The sense seemed to be that it would be wrong to fabricate an insurgency from outside; but if an insurgency took hold against a tyrannical regime by its own spontaneous efforts the point would arrive at which it would be right to help it. But a minority of American lawyers persisted to the last in calling for international law to be so modified or reinterpreted that intervention in support of "democracy" would become regarded as legal.

At this point, political and strategic arguments began to have weight. It was very much in the interests of the western powers and their peoples that the world should be as peaceful and stable as possible. Since the second world war there had been innumerable forcible interventions in the affairs of their neighbours by powers great, medium and small. These had not made the world a better place for democratic values or civilising prosperity. If the Charter of the United Nations did not exist, the western powers would now need to invent it in order to provide norms behind which they could try to rally world opinion against international adventurers, marauders and tyrants. The western powers stood for a world order and for regional order in the various continents and oceans. This made it highly desirable for them to uphold international law and act with restraint.

It became obvious that political assessments of the Soviet Union and its "bloc" had a determining influence on the formation of opinions about the legality of intervention. Those who spoke for a Reagan doctrine on counter-intervention seemed to see the Soviet Union exclusively as an aggressive, expanding power which would respect no restraints, observe no treaties and break every law. Others rejected this simplified, black-and-white picture. The Soviet Union was militarily powerful but politically and economically weak. It had overreached itself in various places, most notably in Afghanistan. Rather than build up a counter-intervention or intervention-for-democracy doctrine, the western powers should aim to restrain the Soviet Union by a network of forces which would on the one hand include military strength, economic prosperity and free association between sovereign states and on the other hand would include the principles of the UN Charter and international law.

One very important and illuminating question arose as regards the potential applicability to eastern Europe of a doctrine of counter-intervention in support of "democracy". Consistency demanded that, if such doctrine existed at all, it should be regarded as applying also in eastern Europe. If the time came when the Soviet capacity to grip eastern Europe diminished, and if a real and continuing insurgent movement arose against an eastern European government which owed its historical origin to Soviet intervention, would the western powers be expected to intervene in support of the insurgents? The answer given was that intervention was not obligatory but a matter of choice and discretion. It was pointed out by the anti-interventionists that the expectations aroused in eastern Europe and among the democratic electorates of the west by a doctrine of righteous intervention could bring great dangers. It would be wiser to emphasise respect for national sovereignties and to take the line that the responsibility for determining its own fate rested with the people of each sovereign state, even if this resulted in the correction of injustice being sometimes slow and often absent.

In the final, round-up debate on the Sunday afternoon, the prevailing sentiment seemed to be that armed interventions would continue to trouble the world scene, but most of them would do no good and it was in the interest of the western powers to avoid the intervention path when it led outside the limits of customary international law and the Charter of the UN. When intervention became necessary and would be lawful, it would be best if it were done with the support of allies, in the framework of regional groupings tolerant of political diversity, and in clear support of some sort of international order. But there was still some hankering after intervention in support of "democracy": it would take another conference to analyse what could be embraced by the word "democracy".

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Conference Chairman: The Hon Kingman Brewster
Master, University College, Oxford; Member, Board of Directors, Carnegie Endowment Fund for International Peace; Chairman, International Board, United World Colleges; Chairman, Advisory Council, the American Ditchley Foundation; a Governor and Member of the Council of Management of the Ditchley Foundation.


Mr Adel Darwish

Writer/researcher, Arab Research Centre, London

Dr Robert O’Neill
Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), London; Chichele Professor designate of the History of War, University of Oxford

Mr Franklin D Berman

Legal Counsellor, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Miss Gloria Franklin
Head of Policy Studies Secretariat, Ministry of Defence
Sir John Freeland KCMG
Legal Adviser, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Member, Executive Committee, David Davies Memorial Institute of International Law, Council of Management, British Institute of International and Comparative Law, Committee of Management, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.
Sir Philip Goodhart MP
(Conservative), Beckenham; Member, Parliamentary Select Committee on Sound Broadcasting
The Hon David Gore-Booth
Head of Planning Staff, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Member of the Programmes Committee of the Ditchley Foundation.
Professor Rosalyn HigginsQC
Professor of International Law at the London School of Economics (LSE), University of London; Member, UN Committee on Human Rights; Member, Board of Editors, American Journal of International Law, British Yearbook of International Law.
Dr Christopher Hill
Lecturer, Department of International Relations, London School of Economics.
Mr Christopher MallabyCMG
Deputy Secretary, Cabinet Office
Dr Alex Pravda
Director of Soviet Foreign Policy Programmes, Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House
Professor Adam Roberts
Montague Burton Professor of International Relations, and Fellow, Balliol College, University of Oxford
Sir Ian Sinclair KCMG QC
Barrister-at-Law; Member, Committee of Management, British Institute of International and Comparative Law, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.
HE Sir John Thomson GCMG
United Kingdom Permanent Representative to the United Nations, New York
Mr Cyril Townsend MP
(Conservative), Bexleyheath
Dr R J Vincent
Lecturer in International Relations and Fellow, Nuffield College, University of Oxford; Editor, Review of International Studies.

Professor Dr Torsten Stein

Max-Planck-Institut and Gesellschaft fuer Wehrkunde, Sektion Heidelberg.
Dr Peter Weilemann
Deputy Director, Social Science Research Institute, Konrad-Adenauer Foundation, Sankt Augustin.

Monsieur Jean Elleinstein

Directeur de Publication, Cosmopolitique, Forum International de Politique, Paris.
Monsieur Francois Heisbourg
Vice President, Thomson International, Paris; Director-elect, The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), London.
Professeur Philippe Moreau Defarges
Charge de Mission, Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI), Paris.
Professor Elisabeth Zoller
Professor of Law, Rutgers University Law School, Camden, USA

The Hon Stephen Schwebel

Member, International Court of Justice, The Hague

Mr Lloyd N Cutler

Partner, Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering (Attorneys), Washington, DC; Director, American Cyanamid Co, SE Bank Corporation; Member, Advisory Council of the American Ditchley Foundation.
Professor Thomas M Franck
Professor of Law, and Director, Center for International Studies, New York University
The Hon Richard N Gardner
Professor of Law and International Organization, Columbia University; Member, Board of Directors, the American Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Philip Geyelin
Member, Editorial Staff, and Syndicated Columnist, The Washington Post, Editor-in-Residence, Foreign Policy Institute, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University; Member, Board of Directors, Alliance Française, Washington, DC.
Professor Michael J Glennon
Professor of International Law, School of Law, University of California, Davis, Ca
Mr Keith Highet
Partner, Curtis, Mallet-Provost, Colt and Mosle (Attorneys), New York; Chairman, Panel of International Legal Experts of the Presidential Commission on good government of the Philippines; President, The American Society of International Law; Member, Advisory Committee on International Law, US Department of State; Vice-President and Member of Board of Directors, the American Ditchley Foundation.
Dr Thomas L Hughes
President, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC
Professor Abraham F Lowenthal
Professor of International Relations, University of Southern California; Executive Director, Inter-American Dialogue; Founding Director, Latin American Program, Woodrow Wilson Center
The Hon William H Luers
President, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Mr Charles William Maynes
Editor, International Organisation Program, Carnegie Endowment
Mr William Pfaff
Paris-based journalist contributing regular articles to Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun; Political Commentator, The New Yorker Magazine, Editorial Page Columnist, The International Herald Tribune & Los Angeles Times Syndicate
Professor Riordan Roett
Professor of Political Science and Director of Latin American Studies Program, the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Washington, DC; Political Risk Consultant, Chase Manhattan Bank; Founding Member, International Economic Analysis Inc; Member, Council on Foreign Relations.
The Hon William D Rogers
Partner, Arnold & Porter (Attorneys), Washington, DC
Mr Gary Sick
Director, US Foreign Policy Programs, Ford Foundation, New York
The Hon Abraham D Sofaer
Legal Adviser, United States Department of State, Washington, DC
Professor Sidney Weintraub
Dean Rusk Professor, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas, Austin; Member, Advisory Board, Institute of Latin American Studies and Office of Mexican Studies.