Refugees in International Relations

By Alexander Betts; Gil Loescher | Go to book overview

10
Refugees and Military Intervention1

Adam Roberts


ABSTRACT

Refugees and IDPs are often seen simply as the victims of power politics. However,
they are often involved in power politics, in various ways. Members of refugee
communities sometimes form armed groups for self-defence or join armies that
offer the prospect of liberating their homeland. Partly because refugee commu-
nities do often have a military aspect, large-scale refugee movements can be
interpreted as a threat to international peace and security. International military
action is sometimes seen as a necessary means of preventing or reversing refugee
flows. Especially in the post-Cold War era, states and international bodies have
often cited refugee issues as grounds for threatening, and embarking on, interna-
tional military action, including forcible intervention within states. Similarly, as
regards countries in which there are large numbers of internally displaced
persons (IDPs), outside powers and international organizations have sometimes
taken action aimed at preventing them from becoming refugees.

The first part of the chapter glances at five types of connection between
refugee issues and power politics. The second (and main) part looks at the
frequency with which, in the post-Cold War era, and especially in resolutions of
the UN Security Council, refugee issues have been cited as part of the justifica-
tion for military action, including interventions: nine examples from the 1990s
are cited to illustrate the point. The third part explores some of the thinking
about these issues at the UN. Finally the chapter draws some conclusions on the
central questions: granted that considerations relating to refugees have played a
significant part in the initiation of certain military actions, what are the criti-
cisms of this trend? What are the problems that this connection with power
politics poses for humanitarian organizations? And what are the challenges to
be faced if the connections between refugee issues and international interven-
tions prove to be enduring facts of world politics?

Scholars and practitioners concerned with refugee issues are often sceptical about all manifestations of war and power politics, which are seen as a significant cause of refugee flows and an obstacle to their resolution. In this

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