13 June 2019 - 15 June 2019

Intervention in other states: do we still believe we can intervene for good?

Chair: Professor The Honourable Gareth Evans AC QC FASSA FAIIA

The perceived failures of long wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan and continued chaos in Libya continue to cast a long shadow over the confidence of democratic powers to intervene in other states in a decisive way to achieve positive outcomes. The defeat of ISIS in Syria has come with the acceptance of the continued survival of the Assad regime. The important role of the Kurds may also have long term implications. Intervention in difficult places is now pursued either covertly for counter terrorism purposes; through ambiguous warfare; or through local allies and proxies.

Is this change in tactics also a change in objectives? With unanimity in the UN Security Council unlikely on many issues, what sources of international legitimacy for action are available and what are required? Should we be trying to regain confidence to intervene decisively in other countries at all in support of our strategic interests and human rights, or is that time passed and in fact best left behind? How can we develop a doctrine for intervention in concert with China as a rising superpower, or is that impossible?

If we are going to intervene in one way or another – defining ‘intervention’ for present purposes as any kind of action taken against a state or its leaders without its or their consent -- then how can we best understand the situation and do no harm? What are the different types of action available to us? Where does a human rights agenda fit? And what are the different types of tools and their pros and cons?

In particular, we would look at four very different kinds of situation giving rise to calls for intervention:

  • Where there has been a manifest breach of the UN Charter or other clear rules of international law (e.g. Iraq 1991; Afghanistan 2001; Syria chemical weapons use);
  • Where there is a fear that a state is acquiring with aggressive intent, or may be about to use, nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction (e.g. Iraq 2003, DPRK now);
  • Where a state has perpetrated, or failed to stop, mass atrocity crimes or other major human rights violations (e.g. Libya 2011; Syria since 2011; Yemen, Myanmar and Venezuela now);
  • Where a state has failed to act effectively or at all in response to a natural disaster, or in restoring order and ameliorating misery in a post-conflict or crisis situation (e.g. Myanmar Cyclone Nargis 2008).

And at least four very different types of intervention:

  • Use or threat of military force, either on the ground or from the air;
  • Use  or threat of sanctions, arms embargoes, threats of International Criminal Court prosecution, diplomatic isolation or other non-military forms of coercion or pressure;
  • Financial or other support for dissident voices;
  • Use of cyber, information tools and technology to change or influence behaviour (What can we, as democratic and rule of law powers, legitimately learn from the actions pursued by authoritarian powers?)