We are delighted to invite you to the inaugural Military Intervention Conference, hosted by the Center for Strategic Studies (CSS) within the Fletcher School at Tufts University on October 4-5, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts.

The Military Intervention conference will bring together US and international academics and policy experts researching across all facets of international intervention – including US military missions, covert and drone strikes, international humanitarian interventions, other western and non-western interventions, historical trajectories of intervention, post-conflict involvement, UN interventions, civil wars and intervention, and the costs of military intervention.

By gathering top academic and policy experts, we will discuss the short-term and long-term costs of the usage of force and provide specific cases of intervention across the eras. The empirical, theoretical and policy findings from this event also apply to drones and covert special operations missions undertaken since 2001, which remains a highly underexplored topic in both academic and policy circles.

Ultimately, this conference will serve as a platform for dialogue on the nature and consequences of the usage of force abroad. The overarching aim is to form bridges across academic and policy arenas in matters of foreign policy and security, broadly defined.


Panel Summaries

Opening Plenary with Ambassador Pickering

The Military Intervention Conference opened on October 4 with introductory remarks from the president of Tufts University, Anthony Monaco, and the dean of The Fletcher School, Rachel Kyte. Both praised the Center for Strategic Studies and the Military Intervention Project (MIP), highlighting a greater need for data in informing policy, especially in a political climate characterized by carelessness with facts.

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The keynote conversation between Ambassador Thomas Pickering and CSS Director Monica Toft highlighted the challenges military interventions can pose for diplomacy. Pickering reflected on his long career served on nearly every continent and how the U.S. Foreign Service has changed. Throughout the keynote, the ambassador emphasized that Foreign Service officers are strategists and implementers of U.S. foreign policy who must always prioritize the national interest.

Much of the conversation covered the intersection between military intervention and diplomacy. Pickering noted that when the United States enters a conflict, the military spends a small portion of its efforts on preparing to operate in a specific political context, and much more on warfighting with little thought given to the termination of conflict and its effects. Instead, the ambassador proposed that a significant amount of effort should be spent trying to avoid the use of military force. Should it come to this final option, much more thought needs to be given to how diplomacy can shape the conflict. The goals of a military intervention should be to apply appropriate pressure to enable diplomatic efforts to take shape. When asked to give an example of an intervention with a positive outcome, the ambassador pointed to the effective cooperation in the UN Security Council and U.S. alliances in reaction to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Pickering pointed to the second American incursion into Iraq in 2003 as an example of an intervention with a negative outcome, nonetheless stressing that he has nothing but respect for those who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

With many of the State Department Pickering Fellows from Fletcher in attendance, Toft asked the ambassador to give advice to students planning on joining the Foreign Service. Pickering acknowledged that now is a hard time to join the service, and that while younger people may find themselves being promoted more quickly out of organizational necessity, he cautioned that there is no substitute for knowledge gained from experience.

The ambassador ended the talk by answering questions from students and conference panelists on topics ranging from issue linkages in international negotiations to the role of the United States in post-conflict reconstruction. The keynote conversation with Ambassador Pickering was an impressive start to the conference and set up a thought-provoking framework for the panels the following day.

By Jackie Faselt

Panel 1: Types and Patterns of Intervention

On Saturday October 5, The Fletcher School’s Center for Strategic Studies (CSS) post-doctoral fellow Karim Elkady led a panel examining types and patterns of military intervention. The panel included Benjamin Denison, Post-Doctoral Fellow at the CSS; Jeffrey Friedman, Assistant Professor at Dartmouth; and Lise Morjé Howard, Associate Professor at Georgetown. The panel discussed intervention patterns and outcomes as determined by intervention type. It also analyzed the impact of intervention choices on both the target state and intervener goals.

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The discussion on peacekeeping, led by Professor Howard, emphasized effectiveness and its distinction from other traditional forms of intervention. According to Howard, literature surrounding the efficacy of peace-keeping missions are divided between qualitative and quantitative research. Qualitative research mostly focus on negative unintentional consequences of peacekeeping missions, such as sexual abuse, spread of diseases, and economic disruption. Quantitative research on peacekeeping surveys all effects of peacekeeping operations, thus yielding more positive conclusions. Close to 30 published quantitative studies have demonstrated correlations between peacekeeping and fewer military and civilian deaths, geographic contraction of conflict, shorter civil wars, less gender-based war violence, and better post-conflict institutions and growth of civil societies.

Professor Howard stated that peacekeeping is a fundamentally different paradigm than counterinsurgency with a focus on consensus-building and impartiality rather than persuasion and coercion. She also identified three major ways that peacekeepers exercise power: persuasion, inducing, and coercion. Peacekeepers often persuade verbally through nonmaterial means such as mediating disputes.

By contrast, to induce behavior, peacekeepers employ material measures in a “carrot and stick” manner, utilizing humanitarian assistance as well as market restrictions. Without the capacity and the legitimacy to coerce, peacekeepers may benefit from co-deployed small military forces as defacto means of coercion. Amidst her recognition of the merits of peacekeeping missions, Howard also identified one shortcoming of U.S. peacekeeping operations——the “habit” of the creation of impractical ethnocracies instead of democracies. Howard implied that though creating ethnocracies is arguably a historical tendency, the U.S. needs to remodel its behavior.

Professor Friedman examined the decision-making habits of leaders who initiate interventions. He posited two main theories. First was the construal-level theory, that policymakers divide goals into short-term and long-term ones, thereby creating a divide between desired and feasible outcomes. Decision-makers may look to maximize the relative likelihood of success given a particular policy, but without consideration for the objective likelihood of success, a maximized chance may still be a small one. Second is the “good doctor” theory, that policymakers will want to “get caught trying” thereby defaulting to action when considering costs and benefits of a potential intervention.

Benjamin Denison addressed the role of institutions in the outcome of interventions. Denison argued that the likes of past U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan would likely occur in the future, despite a possible drop in American willingness to conduct such occupations. According to Denison, U.S. military often become trapped in unanticipated lengthy occupations upon arriving in foreign territories for smaller intervention operations. In many cases, the U.S. military had to build the political infrastructure necessary for the success of their intended small-scale missions by themselves, leading to lengthy state-building interventions in foreign countries.

When asked whether interventions for the purpose of regime change would continue in the future, Denison stated that they likely would, though perhaps not under the same terminology. Denison believes future U.S. occupation or regime-change operations might adopt new names, such as “territory administration” and “stability activities.” He further argued that such interventions are often tempting to policymakers who wish to dispense with diplomacy altogether, electing instead to install a new regime understood to be “friendlier” to the intervener. In analyzing the costs of such an intervention, Denison argued that local institutions are key to the post-war phase of an intervention, and that weak partners can limit or even cause failure in interventions.

By Emilio Contreras and Ruijingya Tang

Panel 2: Costs of Intervention

The second panel of the Military Intervention Conference examined the costs of intervention. Chaired by Sidita Kushi, a postdoctoral fellow with the Center for Strategic Studies (CSS), the panel included Jon Askonas of the Catholic University of America, Rebecca Lissner of the U.S. Naval War College, Kaija Schilde of Boston University, and Patricia Sullivan of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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The discussion focused on the “hidden” costs of military interventions. Askonas discussed the longterm domestic costs of interventions, including the non-monetary costs, such as substance abuse and PTSD among veterans that have served abroad. He emphasized that even though the casualties from foreign interventions are relatively low, many veterans are left with lifelong injuries and disabilities.

Lissner discussed the future of U.S. military interventions, arguing that as unipolarity diminishes, military interventions will become a smaller part of U.S. grand strategy. The unipolar period created significant incentives for the United States to conduct military interventions abroad as the costs—including opportunity costs—were relatively low. But as other powers begin to exert a stronger influence on the world stage, the costs of U.S. intervention will increase, reducing their frequency.

U.S. military interventions also have a significant impact on the target country. Sullivan emphasized the public health problems that afflict target countries. Unlike military costs, which are generally short-term, public health costs often do not peak until several decades after the intervention. The countries ravaged by the Vietnam War decades ago, for example, are continuing to see significant medical costs to the present day.

Schilde described how military spending can also distort the wider economy, arguing that significant military spending during periods of growth can create far-reaching drag on the economy. Furthermore, attempts at state building, which sometimes follow U.S. military interventions, often have unforeseen negative economic consequences on the target state.

The opportunity costs of interventions also featured prominently in the discussion. Lissner argued that the overwhelming dominance of the military in conducting U.S. foreign policy needs to be reexamined. Future great power competition, which may take the form of “grey zone” competition, will require U.S. military and diplomatic capabilities to adapt.

Sullivan noted that an overreliance on the U.S. military has created a negative cycle. The United States invests significant resources in the military, to the point that it has become the most efficient and functional institution in the U.S. government. As a result, the military is continually asked to solve an ever-increasing array of problems beyond its traditional expertise. There was consensus on the panel that this trend should be countered with greater resources put into diplomacy. The panelists also agreed that a hyper-fixation on fighting radical Islamic terrorism has diminished the focus on other problems that also threaten the security of the United States, such as climate change and domestic terrorism.

A participant raised the question of how the American public can be engaged as responsible stakeholders in controlling the costs of military interventions. Sullivan suggested that hollowing out the State Department does not help the American government think critically about the long-term effects of interventions. Furthermore, the continual appointment of non-experts to prominent government positions does not encourage long-term thinking.

Overall, there was widespread agreement among the panelists that the costs of U.S. military interventions are significant, and that scholars are starting to uncover many of the “hidden” costs in areas like public health, economic growth, the environment, and others. The panel closed with many of its speakers expressing hope that military interventions would become a less significant part of U.S. grand strategy in the future.

By Drew Hogan

Panel 3: Non-Traditional Interventions

The third panel of the Military Intervention Conference focused on non-traditional interventions. The panel, chaired by Lindsay O’Rourke of Boston College, included insights from Neha Ansari, a Fletcher PhD candidate studying drone warfare, Jonathan Schroden, an analyst from CNA, James Siebens, a researcher at the Stimson Center, and retired Colonel Frank Sobchak, an expert on U.S. Special Forces and Fletcher PhD candidate.

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As Sun Tzu wrote, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting,” and Siebens explained that one of the least traditional types of intervention is not intervening at all. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S .military adopted what Siebens calls a “military operation other than war” doctrine. This new kind of peacekeeping was focused on deterrence, presence, and crisis response, and required practices such as forward troop deployments, engaging in security assistance operations with allied host nations, and conducting joint military operations to signal a readiness and willingness to fight whenever necessary.

When the United States does need to use force, one of the preferred methods in recent decades has been special operations. Sobchak detailed the strengths and weaknesses of both direct action forces and indirect action forces—two key components of special operations employed by the United States. Direct operations include what one might expect—highly trained and motivated military units that disrupt enemy operations to buy time for larger strategic efforts. Policymakers often mistake this short-term tactic for long-term strategy because of the clear, measurable results they produce, which reinforces overreliance and presents legal, ethical, and psychological challenges that the United States has yet to fully address.

Indirect action forces, on the other hand, center their efforts on “hearts and minds” operations. Building civil society, fostering good governance, and promoting effective peaceful messaging often overlaps with and enhances the effects of public diplomacy. However, competition for funding has resulted in an even greater imbalance between the State and Defense Departments and there are now more military Psychological Civil Affairs Officers than there are Foreign Service Officers.

Another tactic that is consistently confused with strategy is drone warfare. As armed Predator drones have grown increasingly effective against non-state terrorist groups, the risk of overuse has skyrocketed. And although the use of drones has significantly reduced both the political and casualty risks to U.S. personnel, Schroden argues they address “exactly zero” of the on-the-ground conditions that create extremist groups in the first place. Ansari added that although her case study showed local populations in Pakistan actually support the U.S. drone offensive against the Taliban (who they also oppose), as soon as drones target someone that is not a shared enemy, she would expect the public backlash to be swift and severe.

Furthermore, although increased precision, better intelligence, and tighter rules of engagement have made drones safer for local populations, the potential for civilian casualty remains and good strategy still requires boots on the ground that can hold territory and provide security. Preferably, those boots would belong to local military partners rather than U.S. soldiers and marines.

In the question and answer session, the panelists agreed that the most serious consequences of a foreign policy that relies too heavily on non-traditional interventions are the erosion of international norms concerning national sovereignty and the potential of losing sight of long-term policy objectives. Some future challenges they identified were a likely increase in international aggression as technological advances lower the barrier for entry and increase plausible deniability for bad actors.

By Grady Jacobsen

Panel 4: Kinetic Diplomacy

The fourth panel of the Military Intervention Conference focused on the intricacies and implications of “kinetic diplomacy,” a term coined by Monica Toft to describe America’s overreliance on the use of military force. The panel was led by Professor Toft and featured Alan Henrikson, emeritus professor of diplomatic history at The Fletcher School, David Vine, professor at American University, Jacqueline Hazelton, professor at the U.S. Naval War College, and Bridget Coggins, professor at UC Santa Barbara and a fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies (CSS).

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Henrikson presented an analysis of the relationship between diplomacy and war. Throughout the twentieth century the relationship has expressed itself in three different forms: diplomats among warriors, warriors as diplomats, and diplomats at war. However, since the end of the Cold War the relationship has devolved. Henrikson links this devolution to the U.S. electorate’s skepticism of diplomats, which contrasts with its high levels of trust in the military. Thus, making use of military force is more politically viable than before.

For Vine, the United States’ reliance on military force largely predates the end of the Cold War. Vine argues that following the end of World War II, the United States consistently presented itself abroad as militarily dominant, establishing itself as a state primarily focused on national security. Vine points to the immensity of the military-industrial-congressional complex and how it has defined American foreign policy. The Pentagon’s ballooning budget and the more than 800 military bases spread throughout the world are a stark comparison to the modest and dwindling resources afforded to the State Department. Coupled with the 5.9 trillion dollars spent and more than 1.3 million lives lost in the global war on terror since 9/11, there is evidence to suggest “U.S. foreign policy is war.”

Hazelton made a more narrow critique of U.S. foreign policy. In her discussion of the United States’ implementation of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) policy initiatives, Hazelton argues that while the policy goals under R2P are worthy, using military force has proven ineffective. The military’s willingness to accept non-military missions, coupled with an institutional aversion to risking failure, has led military R2P programs to promote absolutist strategies such as regime change, which has given rise to the return of great power competition.

Drawing on observations from the Middle East and North Africa, Hazelton explains that by using kinetic diplomacy, the United States has destabilized local leadership to maximize its ability to implement R2P policies. The toppling of regimes to promote U.S. policies recreates the spheres of influence that defined great power politics during the Cold War. Hazelton’s prescription involves breaking the country’s reliance on using the military to implement worthy diplomatic objectives. Instead, the United States should support multilateral institutions, promote Track II diplomacy, and build channels of communication to improve the livelihoods of people on the ground.

The final panelist neatly tied together the discussion by harkening back to the typology of relationships between war and diplomacy that Henrikson presented earlier. “Diplomacy and war are intertwined,” said Coggins. The United States prefers to use violence to engage with terrorist or insurgent groups. She noted that there exists a taboo against diplomatically engaging with insurgent groups that forces military actions, with dangerous spillover effects.

For Coggins, America’s overreliance on kinetic diplomacy is ill fitted to a global environment in which diplomacy has become easier to conduct than ever before. The internet era has spawned a plethora of communication technologies that could be harnessed as diplomatic tools. Terrorist organizations are using these tools to recruit, expand, and grow their financial resources. The United States, however, in focusing on the military over its diplomatic forces, has hollowed out the expertise needed to weaken such groups.

By Mario Zampaglione

Panel 5: Cyber, Digital, and Information Security

The final panel of the Military Intervention Conference featured a lively discussion about cyber intervention. Chaired by Tufts Political Science Professor Jeffrey Taliaferro, the panel included Ivan Arreguín-Toft, a director and lecturer at Brown University, Major Amanda Current, a Fletcher PhD student, Peter Dombrowski, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, and Josephine Wolff, a cybersecurity policy professor at The Fletcher School. The panelists delved into topics such as conceptualizing cyber interventions, measuring threats in the cyber domain in a way comparable to conventional security threats, and exploring the roles of state and non-state actors in securing cyberspace.

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On thinking about cyber as a domain of interventions, the various panelists grappled with the very nature and capabilities of cyber operations. On one hand, cyber capabilities can be thought of as enablers of conventional military operations, and in this respect the fundamental factors driving its associated logics and calculi should not differ much from those of traditional military interventions. On the other hand, cyber can be thought of as a standalone tool for intervention. This raises questions about the efficacy of its use (is it able to achieve the same objectives as conventional force?), the legitimacy of various targets including civilian, political, and military ones, the extent of its kinetic and non-kinetic impacts, and the stakeholders involved in the conduct of such operations. Central to the discussion was an appreciation of the pervasive and interconnected nature of cyberspace, which results in a state of persistent and constant engagement between the different actors, with strategic implications for all operations conducted within the cyber realm.

This conversation segued into the challenge of measuring threats to cyber, digital, and information security in a way that is comprehensive and compatible with our understanding of traditional security threats. The panelists ultimately acknowledged the difficulty of the task, recognizing the all-encompassing nature of cyber threats and their capability to affect strategic political change at larger scales and with lower costs than traditional military interventions. These could take the form of threats to critical infrastructure, intellectual property, espionage, and even societal institutions. To that end, there was general consensus among the panelists that current models for understanding cyber threats were limited in their inherent inclinations towards direct, kinetic, and tactical operations that had clear monetary costs and were conducted by state actors. Existing threat models would thus have to deal with cyber on its own terms, and increase their apertures to account for strategic-level cyber activities, and even activities not within the cyber domain. That said, threat perceptions vary wildly among states and other actors, so prioritization of these threats in consideration of individual interests and circumstances will be crucial.

This naturally led to the question of what roles great powers and international organizations have in securing the cyber and digital space. There has not been any consensus thus far within the international community on what a secure cyberspace would look like. Compounding this problem are the divergent perspectives and strategies employed by Russia, China, and the United States within the cyber realm, stemming from their respective political conditions and domestic and foreign interests. The panelists also expressed worries over the possibility that Western dominance of cyberspace is being challenged and undermined by companies and state actors that do not share compatible values. Progress on codifying norms for operating within cyberspace has been stymied; increasingly, norms are emerging through state practice instead. It has become important, then, for nations to think hard about resilience, both in terms of infrastructure and societal attitudes to potential threats.

By Lionel Oh