Western interventions: success or failure?


In the conflicts of Afghanistan, Syria, Mali and Libya, the West is involved either directly or indirectly, by means of UN and NATO missions. Western countries intervened in these conflicts mainly because of core interests—the fight against international terrorism—or for urgent humanitarian reasons—to protect a civilian population against massive violations of international law and human rights. What has been the impact of these interventions? Will it become more difficult for Western nations to engage in such armed interventions in the future? This dossier compiles five analyses which were previously published as episodes in a Clingendael Spectator series on Western interventions.

First stop: Afghanistan, that is still caught up in the biggest overreaction to terrorism in history. Do current negotiations offer some momentum for peace?

Second stop: Syria, where the Turkish invasion is only the latest illustration of the fact that the Syrian civil war has featured one foreign intervention after another. This second article provides an assessment of the tactical military success and the broader strategic effects of eight sets of intervention.

Third stop: Mali, where the UN peace operation is becoming increasingly less effective. Without the operation however, the security situation in Mali and perhaps even the broader Sahel region would likely deteriorate significantly.

Fourth stop: Libya. From a perspective of Western interventions, the case of Libya has demonstrated a U-turn. Whereas in 2011 the West crucially contributed to the course of events, today regional powers such as Turkey, Egypt, and the UAE take centre stage.

With conflict raging on for years, none of the Western interventions in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Mali may be called a success to date. This raises some serious questions about their legitimacy and efficacy that will be addressed in the final episode. Given their limited impact and due to geopolitical shifts, will it become more difficult for Western nations to engage in such armed interventions? Is the UN still relevant in addressing conflicts with major humanitarian crises? What are the consequences of intervention without a UN mandate?

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ISSN 2405-8319