Explaining the Intervention Matrix: Theory and Practice from Northern and Southern Perspectives

Lead Research Organisation: University of Surrey


What is meant by 'international intervention'? What are we trying to achieve, and who is the 'we' in this context? Are we guilty of assuming that everyone who talks about intervention is using the same language? Do we understand sufficiently well the full range of ways in which outside actors, usually powerful countries in the North, intervene in response to situations of crisis and conflict, usually in the poorer countries of the South? Are there unexpected consequences of intervention, should they be unexpected, and are interveners' expectations realistic in the first place? Do we appreciate the perspectives of those 'on the receiving end' of international intervention compared to those of the outsiders who intervene?

These and other questions will be addressed by a three year series of multidisciplinary seminars that will bring together a wide range of practitioners, policy-makers, and private sector organisations with an interest in international development and peace support interventions. The seminars will draw on the perspectives on intervention of different groups of people: academics for whom it is a subject for scholarly research, government officials who have to determine how to intervene to deliver specific policy objectives, and practitioners who are themselves interveners but who may have a different perspective on whether intervention is a good thing or not and whether it is carried out well. Understanding the position of government officials, NGOs, the UN, the military, and other government agencies must be the starting point for any exploration of this topic. By bringing together representatives of these different stakeholders the seminar series will provide a unique platform for the development of a holistic approach to studying international intervention.

Each seminar will focus on a distinct dimension of this topic and consider it from two separate but related angles:
- How do the various theories of intervention in International Relations and other disciplines compare with the practice?
- How do perceptions of intervention differ depending on whether one is an intervener or a target for intervention - and on where one sits in the sub-groups belonging to both categories?
Areas to be covered include:
- Frames of reference that can be used to develop a more comprehensive understanding of intervention;
- How Northern governments decide to intervene;
- How new technologies influence these decisions;
- What can be learnt from the stories about intervention that are told in art and literature 'on the receiving end';
- Whether policy and practice regarding intervention are sufficiently sensitive to issues of gender, given the weight currently attached to 'women, peace, and security' as a guiding principle for intervention;
- How stability and resilience can be built in societies affected by crisis.

The series will conclude with a results and findings conference bringing together the conclusions from the series as a whole.

In order to understand the view from 'the receiving end' the individual seminars will include invited speakers from different countries affected by intervention. Their participation seeks to establish a dialogue between interveners and intervened upon. It will also help to shape a new research agenda that is sensitive to competing interests and policy agendas on the ground.

The main aim of the project is to provide an evidence based framework for decision-making about when and how to intervene based on a more mature appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches, including the likely consequences of intervening or not intervening. The project will generate new topics for academic research, which in turn will play a key part in delivering this policy outcome. The series as a whole aims also to establish a collaborative network of academics, practitioners, and policy-makers who can continue to work on these issues once the series has concluded.

Planned Impact

The impact of the project can be summarised as follows:

a. It will contribute to breaking down disciplinary boundaries between scholars by promoting a truly multi-disciplinary approach to the analysis of international intervention that is sensitive to the needs of policy makers as well as those 'on the receiving end';

b. It will establish new links between different stakeholder communities, with a view to promoting knowledge transfer and sharing of best practice through the establishment of continuing network;

c. Particularly important to its success will be the development of links already established at Surrey between scholars, policy-makers, and practitioners, as evidenced in the two cii projects already referred to. The inclusion of non-academics in the seminars as presenters, as well as delegates, will have an immediate impact on the formulation of the research questions, methodologies, and theoretical models that will be considered;

d. It will result in higher quality scholarship founded in a more nuanced understanding of the different perspectives of theorists and practitioners in both northern and southern countries and institutions.

As can be seen in the Objectives and the Case for Support, this seminar series is designed as a collaborative venture between the academic, practitioner, and policy-making communities. All three stakeholder communities have been involved in the conceptualisation and design of this research proposal and all have a vested interest in its successful execution.

The research programme will aim to develop a holistic theory of intervention based on a matrix approach that acknowledges the often very different interests and objectives of key actors. This new approach will thus draw on two interfacing axes:

- Theories of intervention against the practice of intervention;
- The perspectives of intervening states against the perspectives of those who are being intervened upon.

The real challenge of the project is to develop a theory that is sensitive to and inclusive of these - competing - views of intervention.

The seminars provide an important opportunity for leading scholars in the field to engage with practitioners, who will be involved in the workshops as delegates and keynote speakers. Practitioner participation will include Director-level representatives from the following UK government departments with a close interest in the subject matter of the research: the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; the Department for International Development; the Ministry of Defence; the Stabilisation Unit. These bodies will be involved as members of the Steering Group along with non-governmental stakeholders such as the International Committee of the Red Cross; the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), NGO consortia such as Enhanced Learning and Research in Humanitarian Assistance (ELRHA), plus individual organisations such as Human Rights Watch, Care International, and Save the Children. PA Consulting Group will also join the Steering Group and support the seminar series (letter of support attached). Through them private sector participation will also be sought.


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Description All seven of the projected seminars in this series have now been held.

The first event, held on 30/31 July 2014, was a two day mini-conference entitled 'Reconceptualising International Intervention'. The 33 participants were a mixture of academics, policy-makers from government, and practitioners from NGOs and the military. The conference considered whether it is reasonable and useful to bring together different kinds of international intervention - e.g. diplomacy, conflict mediation, and development assistance, as well as military intervention - under a single conceptual framework, and concluded that it was. The central theme of this series is that that the term 'intervention' has been hijacked by those who use it to mean military intervention and that a more rounded understanding of what 'intervention' is and what it might be is necessary if it is to be more effective in future. This conference provided a great deal of encouragement that this is a worthwhile path to pursue.

The PI's blog piece summarising the conference is at this address: http://blogs.surrey.ac.uk/politics/2014/08/04/reconceptualising-international-intervention/

The second event, held on 27 October 2014 at the premises in Whitehall of Project Partner the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), was a shorter seminar, examining the 'political economy' of decision-making about intervention. The 16 participants came from government departments (FCO, MoD, DFID, HM Treasury), the NGO world, think tanks, and academia. The programme was structured (for this and for all the Whitehall seminars) to make it possible for busy government officials to take part and the discussions were completely private and off the record. They considered how well (or how badly) the UK government and military learn from experience, and why 'we' so often seem to achieve suboptimal outcomes in various forms of intervention. The seminar was structured around the three broad themes of the psychology, the process and the politics of decision-making about international intervention, and brought together a broad variety of perspectives - both 'insider' and 'outsider' - to share and discuss insights on the personal, organisational and structural factors that have shaped, and still shape, UK intervention and operations.

On 22 April 2015 16 people from academia, government, and the private sector attended a seminar at the University of Surrey to consider three aspects of the role of technology in international intervention: the degree to which technological superiority shapes foreign policy decisions by powerful states; the extent to which dependency on sophisticated technology makes states vulnerable to 'reflective disruption' or the 'boomerang effect'; and the ethical dimension of greater dependency on machines that allow us to operate remotely and also cede varying degrees of autonomy to them. The seminar concluded that while technology offers enormous power for good, its unthinking use can also result in enormous harm and that thus far those who possess the power have yet to learn fully how to apply it wisely.

The second mini-conference, held at Surrey on 22-23 July, was attended by 40 people from academia, government, and NGOs; it focused on the 'stories' people tell to justify intervening in other people's affairs, and also on those told by people 'on the receiving end' to make sense of their experience. Thus the focus was on the personal as well as the international, and on the similarities and differences between the two narratives. The conference drew on presentations from a wide range of disciplines, and included an evening screening of a film about conflict mediation in Africa by Africans that provided a different perspective on 'international intervention'. The conference amply demonstrated the importance of deconstructing the prevailing - often simplistic and even misleading - narratives of intervention employed by interveners.

The PI's blog piece attempting to do justice to this very rich discussion was posted on the University of Surrey website at this address: http://blogs.surrey.ac.uk/politics/2015/08/05/narratives-of-intervention-perspectives-from-north-and-south/
One of the areas this series set out to examine was the extent to which the prevailing global norms relating to international intervention have real meaning. A seminar, held at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 10 December 2015 - and attended by officials from DFID, the MoD, and the Stabilisation Unit as well the FCO - considered the construct of 'Women, Peace, and Security' by means of discussion of papers from academics on both the opportunities and the pitfalls of the recent emphasis on the role of women in conflict and in peace-making interventions. While the focus on women's rights, and the key role of women as peacemakers, is welcome there is also a danger of instrumentalising and disempowering women through a partial understanding of what a focus on gender actually entails.

On 13 June 2016 a seminar was held at DFID on the subject of 'Resilience'. 22 people took part, from academia, government, international development NGOs, and the Research Councils (ESRC, AHRC, and NERC/BGS, who were in the process of designing a joint call for proposals on the subject of Resilience under the Global Challenges Research Fund). The seminar heard about studies into different approaches to intervention to increase resilience, and considered lessons emerging from the research into why some succeed and some do not. It considered: the building blocks of household and community resilience; the links between preparedness, resilience, and humanitarian response; how intervention could create the conditions for resilient institutions; and how flows of information could be improved to support at risk populations to increase their resilience to climate change risk. It also provided an opportunity to provide feedback to DFID on an online resource on Resilience they were in the process of developing.

The final event of the series was a mini-conference held at Surrey on 18 and 19 July. Under the heading of 'International Intervention: The Future?', this attempted to draw together the findings from the series as a whole. 21 people attended, again from the research, practitioner, and policy-making communities. The conference considered: new and old justifications for intervention; evolving approaches to intervention; and the unresolved challenges of intervention.

The PI's blog piece drawing out the main conclusions of the discussions and setting this in the context of the series as a whole is available here: http://blogs.surrey.ac.uk/politics/2016/07/22/international-intervention-the-future/

The conference concluded that the West was at something of a turning point with regard to its traditional approach to intervention, which had by and large been shown to be deficient and was increasingly contested from a number of different quarters. It was becoming more and more difficult to claim that the purpose of intervention by the powerful was to support local systems, as opposed to serving the interests of the interveners themselves. Perhaps the main finding of this seminar series as a whole is that expressed in the concluding paragraph of the above-mentioned blog piece:

"Ultimately, intervention is about power - the power to change the course of events. Exercising that power responsibly, and understanding its limitations as much as its potential to do good, is perhaps the greatest challenge facing international interveners in future."
Exploitation Route This series has both academic and non-academic targets. Among the academics the aim is to stimulate ideas for original, cross-disciplinary, research and in particular to expose early career researchers to people and ideas they would normally find it difficult to access. But the series also aims to educate policy-makers and practitioners about the value of research, and to encourage them to share their insights and their data with academics. The longer-term goal is to bring about an improvement in the quality of thinking about and delivery of international intervention.

Throughout the series we have managed to maintain close engagement with Whitehall officials. The value of holding seminars in Whitehall, thereby making it easier for hard-pressed officials to attend, has been evident. From the seminar on the 'Political Economy of Decision-Making' - held in Whitehall at RUSI - through the seminar on 'Women, Peace and Security' held at the FCO, to the one on 'Resilience' held at DFID, we have established a good model for bridging the academic/practitioner/policy-maker interface. This is a demonstrably successful modus operandi for others to follow.

The longer-term aim of the seminar series is to improve the quality and effectiveness of intervention; in the short term the aim has been to provide a sense-check that this project has identified the right areas for further research. We believe that those academics taking part in the series have taken encouragement from witnessing the validity of our central principle: that international intervention benefits from being studied holistically and in the round. We hope that this will result in new and productive areas of research in future.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy

URL http://blogs.surrey.ac.uk/politics/category/esrc-seminar-series/
Description The main impact has been on those who have attended the seminars. Each seminar has provoked lively discussion and participants have taken away new ideas for research, in some cases including new collaborations with other participants. In addition, through the cii blog and coverage on Facebook/Twitter the key messages have been communicated to a wider audience. The main non-academic impact has been achieved by strengthening the links between academics, practitioners, and policy-makers - particularly the links between academia and government. Three of the seminars have taken place in Whitehall: one at the FCO, one at DFID, and one across the road at RUSI; and all the seminars have included participants from all three communities: academics, practitioners, and policy-makers.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy,Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services