Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters


Political Non-Interference versus Interference

Sri Aurobindo, in this 1917 write-up, muses whether a World-State would ideally favour a principle of political non-interference among its constituent nations and States .Non-interference is characterised by absence of interference by a State or States in the external or internal affairs of another State without its consent. Would non-interference facilitate harmony? Even without a World State, the principle of non-interference or non-interventionism as a foreign policy raises doubts and prejudices. The issue gets more complicated when certain powerful nations follow dualistic foreign policies. Thus the USA which had initially favoured non-interference in the World Wars had yet earlier not been averse to interference in Cuban affairs. While it is true that US Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson favoured the principle of non-intervention in European wars, the USA had keen interest to intervene in Cuba after the Spanish rulers were usurped and took over the administration from 1898 to 1902 enabling American capital to fully dominate Cuban economy. The second occupation of Cuba by the USA which lasted from 1906 to 1909 was also known as Cuban Pacification whose goals included a prevention of fighting among Cubans and holding of free elections. Sri Aurobindo described this American interference in Cuba as ‘not on avowed grounds of national interest, but ostensibly on behalf of liberty, constitutionalism and democracy or of an opposite social and political principle, on international grounds therefore and practically in the force of this idea that the internal arrangements of a country concern, under certain conditions of disorder or insufficiency, not only itself, but its neighbours and humanity at large’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.501).

Sri Aurobindo, a keen follower of contemporary world movements described, in October, 1917 how the principle of interference was put forward by Allies in regard to Greece during World War 1. Barely 4 months back, in June, 1917, King Constantine had to abdicate his throne after the Allies had fought war from Greece territory while the King wanted to be neutral. It was only as late as June 28th, 1917 that Greece under a centralised government and free from Constantine’s false notion of neutrality, joined the War allowing the Allied forces to accelerate their offensive from Greece. By that time the War was complete in September, 1918 and Greece had lost an estimated 5000 soldiers, Sri Aurobindo had already completed 35 chapters of The Ideal of Human Unity.

In that same write-up, Sri Aurobindo mentioned about the refusal of the Allies ‘to treat with Germany or, practically, to re-admit it into the comity of nations unless it set aside its existing political system and principles and adopted the forms of modern democracy, dismissing all remnants of absolutist rule’ (Ibid). Decades later (around 1949-50), while adding footnotes to the text, he added , ‘The hardly disguised intervention of the Fascist powers in Spain to combat and beat down the democratic Government of the country is the striking example of a tendency likely to increase in the future. Since then there has been the interference in an opposite sense with the Franco regime in the same country and the pressure put upon it , however incomplete and wavering, to change its method and principle’(Ibid). However Franco was a hard nut to crack and by the time Sri Aurobindo wrote the footnote, the nature of his regime changed from repressive totalitarianism to authoritarianism with limited pluralism and gradual economic liberalisation. What Sri Aurobindo mentioned of the change of ‘method and principle’ of Franco’s style of functioning culminated before his death in 1975 when he restored monarchy that led to the Spanish transition to democracy and adoption of a new constitution.

Future trends

Sri Aurobindo was optimistic that an unified global order would not tolerate political non-interference for the greater welfare of humanity. Can the world wait and watch while a Idi Amin kills and feasts on innocent lives? As early as 1917, Sri Aurobindo wrote:
‘the principle of political non-interference is likely to be much less admitted in the future…Always in times of great and passionate struggle between conflicting political ideas, -- between oligarchy and democracy in ancient Greece, between the old regime and the ideas of the French Revolution in modern Europe, -- the principle of political non-interference has gone to the wall. But now we see another phenomenon – the opposite principle of interference slowly erecting itself into a conscious rule of international life….This idea of the common interest of the race is bound to increase as the life of humanity becomes more unified’ (Ibid).

Landmarks in interventionism

The norm of non-intervention or political non-interference was established as an international law and represented one of the central tenets of the United Nations Charter to foster post World War II peace. However the Cold War usurped this balance where interventions in developing nations were justified under such pretexts as instigating or containing socialist revolutions. Such interventions were justified in the name of protecting ‘international peace and security’ that too was guaranteed under Chapter VII of the UN charter. Moreover the veto powers of the USA and erstwhile USSR in the Security Council were used to substantiate their standpoints. Since the end of Cold War, new emergent humanitarian trends are supporting intervention to uphold human values in the greater context. Based on the social contract theory, intervention within another State is justified if the State fails to protect its own citizens. As yet this new norm is suggested to justify the action of the States only if they want to act rather than making it obligatory to act. (Non-interventionism-Wikipedia)

This new idea of intervention has actually been used in UN sanctioned Operation Provide Comfort in Northern Iraq in 1991 to protect Kurds, in Somalia from 1992-1995(UNOSOM I & II), in Kosovo by NATO in 1999 and in the 2011 Libyan intervention.


Date of Update: 23-Oct-17

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu