Is the post-9/11 moment on military intervention now over?

by | Jul 21, 2010

Just by way of kite-flying, here’s a hypothesis I tried out this morning at a seminar that Chatham House hosted for the US National Intelligence Council:

“Over the next 10 years, neither the UK, nor any other EU governnment, nor any Democrat Administration in the US will embark on any major military intervention for reasons of counter-terrorism or humanitarian peacemaking.” *

(* Where ‘major’ means a large scale deployment of land forces – say of at least brigade strength. Drone strikes, air strikes, covert special forces deployments, non-military actions etc. don’t count.)

The reasoning underpinning this hypothesis basically goes like this:

– Following Iraq and now Afghanistan, UK, EU and US publics are war-weary, and have more or less concluded that their governments have no real strategy for winning such conflicts. The political space for another Afghanistan-style deployment is simply not there.

– So while policymakers argue for NATO’s continued presence in Afghanistan on the basis that “we can’t allow terrorists safe havens”, the fact is that other safe havens – Somalia, Yemen, the federally administered tribal areas in Pakistan – are being handled instead through a policy of containment (drone strikes, special forces – but no major land deployments by western governments).

– On the humantarian intervention side, meanwhile, the Responsibility to Protect was stillborn, as Darfur showed. By and large, the US and EU are willing to support UN and AU peace enforcement missions with kit and a few specialised soldiers (e.g. to beef up command and control capacities), but again, not with large scale troop deployments.

– The hypothesis implicitly admits the possibility of US or EU troops being deployed for peacekeeping (as opposed to peace enforcement) missions, where key interests are at stake; or of US troops fighting in order to support security guarantees to key geopolitical allies (e.g. to counter a salafist takeover in Saudi Arabia, or in a scenario of war on the Korean Peninsula).

– But as far as new large scale US or EU land deployments designed to counter terrorist safe havens or widespread atrocities go, the only circumstances in which this hypothesis sees that happening in the next decade are under a Republican President – and even then without UK or EU support. The post-9/11 ‘moment’ on military intervention, in other words, is now over.

That’s the hypothesis I put forward. I’m not sure I agree with it myself, but it’s at least plausible.


  • Alex Evans

    Alex Evans is founder of the Collective Psychology Project, which explores how we can use psychology to reduce political tribalism and polarisation, a senior fellow at New York University, and author of The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren’t Enough? (Penguin, 2017). He is a former Campaign Director of the 50 million member global citizen’s movement Avaaz, special adviser to two UK Cabinet Ministers, climate expert in the UN Secretary-General’s office, and was Research Director for the Business Commission on Sustainable Development. He was part of Ethiopia’s delegation to the Paris climate summit and has consulted for Oxfam, WWF UK, the UK Cabinet Office and US State Department. Alex lives with his wife and two children in Yorkshire.

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