A summary of Kofi Annan's “Reflections on Intervention”.
In this speech, given in the United Kingdom in 1998, Kofi Annan argues that "intervention," a concept with negative connotations, is in fact the duty of the United Nations:
Our job is to intervene: to prevent conflict where we can, to put a stop to it when it has broken out, or—when neither of these things is possible—at least to contain it and prevent it from spreading. That is what the world expects of us.
In the past, "intervention" by the United Nations was seen to be appropriate only when mediating international conflicts (i.e., wars between two separate nations). Intervening in the affairs of a sovereign nation was seen as a violation of the UN Charter. But Annan points out that the language of the charter allows for national sovereignty to be "set aside... if it stands in the way of the Security Council's overriding duty to preserve international peace and security." The topic had become urgent by the time Annan gave his speech, because most international conflicts, he says, begin as civil wars. Therefore he advocates "intervention" to stop internal conflicts that can lead to wars, genocide, ethnic cleansing, refugee crises, or other incidents that concern the world as a whole. On the other hand, he adds that military intervention is the last resort and that intervention, in general, is most effective in the form of economic aid to address issues that tend to exacerbate conflict.
In this speech, Kofi Annan (former UN Secretary General) is making the argument that the international community should intervene more in what seem to be the domestic affairs of various countries.
In general, the idea has been that the UN should intervene in international affairs, but not in domestic ones. But Annan argues that domestic wars generally spill over into other countries. Thus, it makes sense to stop them before they so spill over.
Annan points out that not all intervention needs to be military. He calls for more aid to countries that might start having major problems.
Finally, Annan says that intervention must be international. Individual countries must not go off on their own and intervene in the affairs of other countries.