Military Intervention: Cases in Context for the 21st Century

By Norton, Richard | Naval War College Review, Autumn 2005 | Go to article overview

Military Intervention: Cases in Context for the 21st Century


Norton, Richard, Naval War College Review


William J. Lahneman, ed. Military Intervention: Cases in Context for the 21st Century, Oxford, U.K.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. 224 pp. $26.95

Most students of international affairs would agree that understanding the causes and results of military interventions is one of the more pressing security issues facing the United States in the early years of the twenty-first century. William Lahneman, program coordinator of the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, has assembled a gifted group of analysts to examine seven instances of military intervention and, through the use of a common set of pertinent questions, attempt to reach a deeper understanding of interventions, while identifying ways to increase the chances of success in an intervention.

The eleven contributors to this volume have impressive credentials. Together, they compose a potent mix of security scholars and practitioners. In addition to Lahneman himself, of special note are William Zartman and John Steinbruner. Zartman is the Jacob Blaustein Professor of International Organizations and Conflict Resolution, and the Director of Conflict Management at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. John Steinbruner, Director of the Center for International and Security Studies at the School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, is also the author of The Cybernetic Theory of Decision (Princeton Univ. Press, 2002), a seminal work in the study of decision making.

Military Intervention examines six cases of military intervention: Somalia (1992), Bosnia (1991-94), Haiti (1994), Rwanda (1994), Sierra Leone (2000), and East Timor (1999). A seventh case involving Cambodia is also provided, although in this instance, rather than focusing on a single intervention, the authors examine interventions from 1806 to 2003. Lahneman's stated intention was that each case be examined through the lens of nine discrete questions, ranging from the nature of the intervention force to the extent to which nonmilitary aspects of the intervention were necessary and sufficient to produce a lasting peace. As analytical approaches go, this one seems well suited to support comparative analyses and cross-case lessons. Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case with a collection of essays, some authors approached this requirement with more rigor than others. The essay on Rwanda, written by Gilbert M. Khadiagala, follows the formula most closely; the chapter on Cambodia veers the farthest from it. Editing a volume of this nature can be a thankless task, but Lahneman would have been better served by insistence that his contributors specifically answer his questions. The lack of such consistency may obscure elements the cases have in common, resulting in a missed opportunity to increase a systemic understanding of intervention.

That said, this volume is a useful addition to the body of work that, to paraphrase Alexander George, attempts to bridge the gap between the realms of academic theory and practical application. Of particular value in this regard is the first chapter of the book, written by Steinbruner and Jason Forrester. The authors confirm what many security professionals have long believed, that "civil conflicts are actually economic battles over the control of resources waged under conditions in which allocation can not be managed by legal methods or legitimate government domination."

Other chapters are less useful. First, with the possible exception of East Timor, there are deeper and more complete descriptions of the crises to be found than those in this book. Second, in some cases, the author's conclusions raise questions that beg to be answered but are left hanging. For example, David Laitin, writing on the intervention in Somalia, argues that "early, decisive action" could have been taken. …

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