Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Military Intervention

Military Intervention

By Charles (Chip) Hauss

A generation ago, the terms "military intervention" and "conflict resolution" would almost never have been uttered in the same breath. The field of conflict resolution has its roots in the peace movements that dotted the 20th century, most of whose members found the use of force abhorrent. Militaries have intervened in the domestic affairs of other countries time and time again, but rarely have they done so in an attempt to end a complex emergency or intractable conflict -- until recently.

What Is Military Intervention?

There are many forms of military intervention. Until the last decade or so, military force was used most often to achieve a state's geopolitical goals of protecting and/or enhancing its territory, population, and other critical resources.

It was rare for states or international organizations (IOs) to use force for "humanitarian" purposes in the intractable conflicts that are often euphemistically called "complex emergencies." Even less common was the use of armed forces in operations that were intended to resolve the conflict once and for all. At most, lightly armed troops were used in peacekeeping operations once a ceasefire had already been reached.

Since the close of the cold war, military intervention for humanitarian ends and conflict resolution has increased dramatically. This can include the use of troops in traditionally unconventional ways such as disaster relief, for example, when the United States sent troops to help Hondurans recover from a devastating hurricane in the 1990s. Far more common and far more controversial is the use of combat troops to help end the fighting in an intractable conflict, troops which typically stay on in a far more active peacemaking capacity than tradition "blue helmet" peacekeepers did.

Why Military Intervention Is Important -- and Controversial

There is no doubt that the use of force by the international community in such places as Kosovo and Somalia was an important part of the development of peacebuilding in the 1990s. There is also little doubt that the failure to intervene effectively in Rwanda, Chechnya, and elsewhere made intractable conflicts worse than they otherwise would have been. Finally, there is little doubt that the international community has a lot to learn about how to conduct such operations.

In short, there are four central questions here.

First, why does military intervention occur in some cases but not others?

o To begin with, intervention by outside forces is all but completely ruled out when one of the world's major powers opposes such intervention, as is the case with the Russians in Chechnya.

o At the same time, in order to intervene, the major powers -- whose military resources are almost always needed in any significant deployment -- have to agree either that there are overwhelming humanitarian needs or that intervention is necessary to protect their own interests. The United States, for example, decided against intervening on those grounds in most of the major sub-Saharan crises from 1993 on.

o Finally, the potential interveners have to conclude that their intervention is likely to succeed, especially following the debacle in Somalia in 1993.

That leads to the second question: what determines whether an intervention will succeed or fail? Success, of course, is relative. Most interventions, however, have at least one common goal -- ending the short-term crisis. Interventions in such different places as Kosovo and East Timor have helped end humanitarian disasters in which the stronger side in a dispute viciously abused the human rights (and worse) of their weaker adversaries.

Third, there is the very open question about whether an intervention can be turned into an operation that can later lead to stable peace. That is especially problematic when the intervention involves outsiders coming in to promote the interests of the weaker side of an asymmetrical conflict.

Implicit in the first three questions is a fourth, about the relationship between states whose military forces intervene and the NGOs who have long provided relief and other aid to civilians caught up in the fighting. As put forth most forcefully by the journalist David Rieff, many of those NGOs have abandoned their traditional and, in his eyes, vital political neutrality in order to get the funds and the influence that cooperation with states provide, thereby diluting their own long-term impact.[1]

What Average Citizens Can Do

This is one of those aspects of intractable conflict that average citizens can contribute little to, at least directly. That said, there does need to be a debate about what intervention policy should be in the countries that provide the most foreign aid and that also provide the most troops for military intervention. Unfortunately, very few people currently pay much attention to foreign policy in general, let alone the politics of the third world, where many intractable conflicts occur these days.

The debate, of course, needs to be about far more than just military intervention. The world has seen two major upheavals in barely a decade -- the end of the cold war and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Each should be leading us to question previously unquestioned assumptions about foreign policy, including the role of the military and the relationship between states and NGOs.

What States Can Do

On one level, this is obvious. There can be no military intervention unless states commit their troops. On another level, what states can do and should do is anything but obvious. One does not have to go as far as Rieff with his wholesale condemnation of contemporary humanitarian action to realize that we have entered a new period in international relations in which national sovereignty matters less than it used to and it is harder to define what a state's national interests or humanitarian obligations are. One of the consequences of the rapid and sweeping change is that the handful of major powers have all had a hard time determining what their role should be in dealing with intractable conflicts. In some cases -- as in Rwanda -- their uncertainty has had tragic consequences.

What the International Community Can Do

The very use of the term "international community" is a sign of how much things have changed in a few short years. The term could not have been used during the cold war when the superpower rivalry meant that no real community could exist that included "East" and "West." And, as Rieff properly points out, there really is no such thing as the international community today other than the United Nations and other relatively weak institutions.

Nonetheless, it is probably the case that the greatest potential for using military force as part of the resolution of intractable conflict lies at the international level. As the debates about the War on Terrorism or the possible acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq and North Korea attests, when a single state like the United States intervenes, it invariably is accused of pursuing its own parochial or selfish interests.

On the other hand, if the intervention is authorized by the United Nationsand involves a multinational force, it invariably has more legitimacy. What's more, it is harder to be critical of the links between the NGOs and the United Nations and other international organizations, since they have long worked hand-in-hand on development and other projects.

It is in this context that support for permanent international forces has grown. The most important of these are the calls for the creation of a permanent United Nations peacekeeping force. This is particularly important because once a humanitarian crisis breaks out, the United Nations then has to solicit troops from member states, which can delay their deployment by months. Once they are deployed, it is hard to coordinate the action of troops who have never worked with each other before.

It is unlikely that such a force will be created anytime soon. There simply is too much opposition from the major powers, especially the United States. However, by the end of 2003, the European Union will have a rapid-reaction force of about 60,000 troops which will be prepared to deploy anywhere within 2,500 miles of Brussels and remain in place for as long as a year without any troop rotation.


[1] David Rieff, A Bed for the Night. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002).


Use the following to cite this article:

Hauss, Charles (Chip). "Military Intervention." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: August 2003 .


Sources of Additional, In-depth Information on this Topic

Additional Explanations of the Underlying Concepts:

Online (Web) Sources

Calhoun, Laurie. "Killing, Letting Die, and the Alleged Necessity of Military Intervention." Peace and Conflict Studies, Vol. 8, No. 2 , November 1, 2001

Available at: http://www.gmu.edu/academic/pcs/Cal82PCS.htm.

This chapter uses the two dominant paradigms for writing about war--just war theory and utilitarianism--to consider some key questions about "humanitarian" or military intervention. The author discusses questions such as: "Are purely military forms of "humanitarian intervention" sometimes morally required? Can such military missions be reconciled with the widely held belief in the moral distinction between killing and letting die?"

Krisch, Nico. "Legality, Morality, and the Dilemma of Humanitarian Intervention after Kosovo -- REVIEW ESSAY." European Journal of International Law, 1900.

Available at: http://www.ejil.org/journal/Vol13/No1/br1.pdf.

The essay reviews five recent works on humanitarian intervention which shed light on central questions of the debate: Simon Chesterman's 'Just War or Just Peace,' Christine Gray's 'International Law and the Use of Force,'Nikolaos Tsagourias's 'Jurisprudence of International Law,' Nicholas Wheeler's 'Saving Strangers,' and finally 'The Kosovo War and International Law.' The authors, mainly international lawyers but also scholars of international relations, philosophy and sociology, mainly agree that in positive international law, even after Kosovo, no right to unilateral humanitarian intervention has emerged.

Offline (Print) Sources

Rieff, David. A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis . New York: Simon and Schuster, October 1, 2002.

A damning attack on humanitarian action--including aspects of military intervention--by one of America's best and most controversial war correspondents.

Wheeler, Nicholas J. "A Solidarist Moment in International Society? The Case of Safe Havens and No-Fly Zones in Iraq." In Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

This chapter examines the legitimization given for intervention on behalf of Shiites and Kurds after the Gulf War and whether it was effective.

Toscano, R. "An Answer to War: Conflicts and Intervention in Contemporary International Relations ." In The Handbook of Interethnic Coexistence. Edited by Weiner, Eugene, ed. New York: Continuum Publishing, 1998.

The author begins by noting that conflict theorists must shift their attention away from theoretical frameworks such as game theory, weapons systems and the "theology of deterrence, and instead focus on the mechanisms that can cause, prevent or stop conflicts. He suggests that theorists should recognize the polycentric, puralistic nature of many contemporary conflicts. Click here for more info.

Smith, Gordon and John Hay. "Canada and the Crisis in Eastern Zaire." In Herding Cats: Multiparty Mediation in a Complex World. Edited by Crocker, Chester A., Fen Osler Hampson and Pamela Aall, eds. Washington DC: USIP Press, 1999.

"The object in this chapter is to explain how Canada, of all countries, came therefore to take the lead in attempting an armed intervention in eastern Zaire. It will describe the challenges of middle-power management of a multistate coalition, the confusion of facts on the ground in a complex emergency, and the lessons that might flow from the ambiguous conclusion of this unusual episode."

Regan, Patrick. "Conditions of Successful Third-Party Intervention in Intrastate Conflicts." Journal of Conflict Resolution 40:2, June 1996.

This article uses data on all third-party interventions into intrastate conflicts since 1944 to assess historical patterns of intervention strategies and assess their relative success. Based on this assessment, the author develops some guidelines for future interventions. The author concludes that it is the characteristics of the intervention strategy rather than he characteristics of the conflict that determine the success of intervention.

Downs, George W. and Stephen John Stedman. "Evaluating Issues in Peace Implementation." In Ending Civil Wars: The Implementation of Peace Agreements. Edited by Cousens, Elizabeth M., Donald S. Rothchild and Stephen John Stedman, eds. Boulder, CO: Lynne Reiner Publishers, January 1, 2002.

This introductory chapter to the book, Ending Civil Wars, establishes some of the key variables that affect the success of peace agreements. Downs and Stedman argue push for a more limited role for the Security Council and the UN. The core of their argument revolves around the high level of complexity of each case and the importance of major or regional powers in ensuring the viability of the peace agreements.

Wheeler, Nicholas J. "From Famine Reliefe to 'Humanitarian War': The US and UN Intervention in Somalia." In Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

This chapter examines international motivations behind the intervention, the content of UN resolutions and their lessons, as well as whether the intervention was legitimate.

Wheeler, Nicholas J. "Global Bystander to Genocide: International Society and the Rwandan Genocide of 1994." In Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

This chapter examines whether earlier intervention would have been beneficial, why the UN pulled out, the significance of labeling it genocide.

Wheeler, Nicholas J. "Good or Bad Precedent? Tanzania's Intervention in Uganda." In Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

This chapter examines the case for Tanzania's intervention being considered a humanitarian one as well as the international response to it.

Aall, Pamela, Lt. Col. Daniel Miltenberger and Thomas G. Weiss. Guide to IGOs, NGOs, and the Military in Peace and Relief Operations. Herndon, VA: USIP Press, November 1, 2000.

This book explains the roles, organizational cultures, and structures of inter-governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and militaries. It argues that the increased understanding of the three basic types of international peace building actors offered in the book will assist people in one sort of organization to understand and work with people in other sorts of organizations during peace operations. Click here for more info.

Wheeler, Nicholas J. "India as Rescuer? Order versus Justic in the Bangladesh War of 1971." In Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

The chapter makes the case that India's intervention in Bangladesh meets minimum standards for humanitarian intervention. It goes on to examine why much of the world rejected this view.

Crocker, Chester A. "Intervention: Toward Best Practices and a Holistic View." In Turbulent Peace: The Challenges of Managing International Conflict. Edited by Aall, Pamela, Fen Osler Hampson and Chester A. Crocker, eds. Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, September 2001.

This chapter is grounded in the idea that most contemporary conflicts will require some form of intervention from outside, third-party forces in order to control and settle them. THerefre, the chapter covers a variety of conflict types and situations in which third parties intervened. The aim is to try and flesh out a set of "best practices" for: different third party intervenors; for the use of certain technologies; for intervention in various types of societies; and for intervention at certain points of the conflict cycle.

Freedman, Lawrence. "Interventionist Strategies and the Changing Use of Force." In Turbulent Peace: The Challenges of Managing International Conflict. Edited by Hampson, Fen Osler, Chester A. Crocker and Pamela Aall, eds. Herndon, VA: USIP Press, July 1, 2001.

This chapter discusses the manner in which new technology influences the West's approach to intervention and the use of force. Much of the article focuses on the notion of a "revolution in military affairs". This is generally the idea that new technology allows precise targeting of the enemies' military establishment and the limitation of unecessary casualties and destruction.

Yost, David S. NATO Transformed: The Alliance's New Roles in International Security. Herndon, VA: United States Institute of Peace Press, November 1999.

NATO Transformed provides a comprehensive survey and analysis of the current debate on the alliance's enlargement and its new cooperative security institutions, including the Partnership for Peace and the special consultative forums with Russia and Ukraine, and the demands of crisis management and peacekeeping operations beyond NATO territory.

Kaufman, Chaim. "Possible and Impossible Solutions to Ethnic Civil Wars." International Security 20:4, 1996.

This paper develops a theory on how ethnic wars end and then goes on to present a strategy for international military intervention to stop ethnic conflicts and prevent future violence. The final part of the paper considers the moral and political stakes in humanitarian intervention in ethnic conflicts.

Luttwak, Edward. "The Curse of Inconclusive Intervention." In Turbulent Peace: The Challenges of Managing International Conflict. Edited by Hampson, Fen Osler, Chester A. Crocker and Pamela Aall, eds. Herndon, VA: USIP Press, July 1, 2001.

With this chapter, the author argues that wars should not be interrupted by outsiders because left alone, they will eventually burn themselves out. The logic is that outside forces introduce new motivations and resources, while if left to their own, the original parties would eventually fight themselves to a point where the war is no longer worth it and peace would ensue.

Hoffman, Stanley. "The Debate About Intervention." In Turbulent Peace: The Challenges of Managing International Conflict. Edited by Hampson, Fen Osler, Chester A. Crocker and Pamela Aall, eds. Herndon, VA: USIP Press, July 1, 2001.

This chapter explores the arguments for and against, as well as the political and ethical issues raised by, humanitarian intervention. One considering points from both sides of the debate, the author presents his argument in favor of foreign military intervention into internal conflicts.

Carment, David and Patrick James. "Two-Level Games and Third-Party Intervention: Evidence from Ethnic Conflict in the Balkans and South Asia." Canadian Journal of Political Science 29:3, 1900.

This article uses game theory to examine the impact of ethnicity on third-party intervention. Evidence from the Balkans war and Indo-Sri Lankan conflict show how heads of state must coordinate actions at two different levels of bargaining, which correspond to domestic politics and international negotiation.

Reifschneider, Jennifer, Paul R. Hensel and Paul F. Diehl. "United Nations Intervention and Recurring Conflict." International Organization 50:4, 1996.

This article examines the dramatic post-Cold War increase in the number and forms of United Nations intervention into ongoing conflicts. The research presented in this paper attempts to analyze the longer-term impacts of UN intervention on the relationships between the antagonists and the potential for renewed violence in the future.

Haass, Richard N. "Using Force: Lessons and Choices for U.S. Foreign Policy." In Turbulent Peace: The Challenges of Managing International Conflict. Edited by Crocker, Chester A., Fen Osler Hampson and Pamela Aall, eds. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, September 2001.

This chapter discusses the options the United States has to choose from when deciding whether to exercise its military strength ofr the purpose of intervention. The author discusses the various forms that military intervention can take, outlining the characteristics of the following options: classic scenarios, preventive interventions, internal interventions, nation-building, safe havens, and peacemaking and coercive interventions. The option to conduct interventions unilaterally or multilaterally is also covered.

Wheeler, Nicholas J. "Vietnam's Intervention in Cambodia: The Triumph of Realism over Common Humanity?." In Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

This chapter examines the intervention exploring why Vietnam did not seek to couch it in humanitarian terms but some in the international community tried to frame it this way nonetheless.

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