Repository logo

The Legal Limits of Intervention by Invitation of Government in Civil Wars

Change log


Shattock, Alexander Harry 


It has become widely accepted that if a state sends troops into another state following a government request, it will not breach the prohibition on the use of force set out in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. This is known as “intervention by invitation.” However, it is clearly open to abuse, especially when invoked as a legal justification for intervening in a civil war, allowing allies of ineffective governments to help suppress genuine popular revolts. Thus, many 20th century writers argued that intervention by invitation in civil wars was not lawful, on the basis that it would necessarily breach the principles of self-determination and non-intervention. Several 21st century writers have maintained this position.

This thesis will challenge those claims. Its focus will be on the legal limits on intervening in a civil war: the key question being what circumstances, if any, preclude a state from responding to a government invitation to intervene in a civil war. Part I will set out the key doctrinal issues and the scope of the research question, including the definition of a civil war. In contrast to previous studies of intervention by invitation, it will critique the alleged prohibition on intervention in civil wars by analysing its two constituent elements, self-determination and non-intervention, from a historical and theoretical perspective, concluding that neither principle is sufficiently clear in definition or application to support a general prohibition on intervention by invitation.

Part II will analyse recent state practice on intervention by invitation, in order to determine whether it is an evolving norm in light of new developments such as the global war on terror and the apparent decline of the effective control doctrine. It will also consider potential limits to intervention by invitation in civil wars in the absence of a general prohibition, such as loss of government status, coercion and the ways in which an invitation can be communicated, and the extent to which these limitations have been challenged or confirmed by recent state practice.





Gray, Christine


international law, intervention, war, civil wars, use of force, law, terrorism, syria, yemen, ukraine


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Funded by Gonville & Caius studentship- Tapp