This chapter examines the other main feature of contemporary (liberal) imperialism, that of humanitarian intervention. The rise of this doctrine is traced to the end of the Cold War, and the resurgence of the cosmopolitan idea that the rights of individuals are more important than the sovereignty of nation-states, an argument also heard to justify military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq after 2001. The chapter therefore starts by outlining the case for liberal imperialism and specifically, humanitarian intervention. It then critically examines these arguments, both generally and in relation to the debates over the Iraq war of 2003, to demonstrate the problems of the case for liberal imperialism. This section suggests that, notwithstanding important differences, (some versions of) contemporary cosmopolitanism and neo-conservatism share a commitment to liberal imperialism. The basic argument made in this section, and in the chapter as a whole, is that the case for a so-called cosmopolitan imperialism is unconvincing, undemocratic and self-contradictory. Indeed, it will be argued that exposing neo-conservatism’s contradictions can be broadened to show that these same problems lie at the heart of the case for a benign liberal imperialism.
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