PLCY 699K: Military Intervention, Civil Conflict, and Terrorism

Publication Date: 
January 2018


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The primary purpose of this seminar is to examine military intervention (and non-intervention) into civil wars/sub-state conflicts from the 1990s to the present. These civil wars have been high on the policy agenda of Western states, yet these interventions were usually not motivated by obvious classical vital interests. Many of these interventions required the employment of significant military power.

The interventions were controversial and required considerable attention from policy makers. They were, in short, not “cheap.” As a result, this course examines the reasons why interventions occur and the challenges faced in stabilization and reconstruction. A fundamental part of addressing the latter issue comes from engaging with research into the origins, dynamics, and termination of civil wars. We will examine why insurgents and rebels resort to violence, how they organize themselves, what means and tactics they use to fight and negotiate, how they recruit and maintain a support base, and how the sets of strategies they use may shift throughout the conflict, particularly in response to the strategies employed by counterinsurgents.

In the first part of the course, we will examine theoretical and policy research into the origins of intervention and the internal conflict dynamics that make these interventions so challenging. In the second part of the course we will employ this foundation to examine a number of interventions and non-interventions. The interventions to be examined are the 1993 effort to ameliorate famine in Somalia; the 1995 effort to end the conflict in Bosnia Herzegovina, the 1999 NATO war to end Serbia’s control of Kosovo, and the 2003 intervention into Iraq. By way of comparison, we will examine the weak efforts made to slow or stop the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the non-intervention into Syria.

The seminar approaches these interventions with a range of questions:
1. What were the broad policy arguments in favor of or opposed to these interventions?
2. What is known, or believed, about the basic nature of these civil wars: their causes, dynamics, and implications?
3. What military strategies have outside powers tried to employ to achieve specific results in these civil wars, and which ones have proven most effective?
4. What strategies have been recommended for the post-conflict reconstruction of these states?
5. In each case, do we judge the intervention a success or failure, and how do we explain the success or failure?