Civil Wars, Use of Force and International Peace

While the West is apt in removing despotic regimes like the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam of Iraq, they have failed to provide any stable alternative in those places as well as in Syria.

[Dr. Manoj Kumar Mishra | Oped Column Syndication]


The evolution of the doctrine of humanitarian intervention has aroused academic interests on the need to debate whether external intervention during humanitarian crisis could be a higher and superior ethical principle of global governance than deference to the well accepted concepts of sovereignty and non-interference. Deference to absolute sovereignty is gradually becoming less acceptable due to rising cases of authoritarian regimes perpetrating unmitigated violence against their own people.

However, there is a lack of agreement among the developed countries of the west on the ground situations which would permit intervention, although in many cases post-facto humanitarian explanations have been provided to justify actions and many contrasts are also observed in the manner the cases of civil wars in developing and underdeveloped countries have been handled by the countries of the west on account of their short-term and militaristic view of conflicts. Moreover, in some cases, use of force has been contemplated without exhausting other peaceful and less coercive measures.

By evoking morality – to save oppressed masses from human rights abuses – as an excuse for intervention, the West has sought to occupy a moral high ground to shape international politics in a desired way. The doctrine, at same time, intends to deflect attention from the apathy that the West has shown, over the years, towards the long-term socio-economic needs of the developing and underdeveloped countries, which have largely resulted from their continued but subtle exploitation of these countries towards the fulfillment of their hegemonic aspirations.

The poor countries lacking geostrategic lustre for the developed countries and the countries where authoritarian regimes act as their geostrategic partners — do not figure in the western agenda of humanitarian intervention and strike a discordant note with their morality to intervene.

While most of the humanitarian crises are results of unequal distribution of global resources and technology which lies at the root of most of the socio-economic predicaments concerning developing countries and provides breeding grounds for underdevelopment, poverty and civil wars, the developed countries of the West take a short term view of humanitarian crisis.

The western understanding of security during civil war situations is primarily driven by the impulses of protecting individualistic notions of human rights with a priority on civil and political rights. Apart from the myopic perspective on humanitarian crisis, the developed countries of the West are motivated by their geostrategic interests as well which engender a militaristic approach to crises.

The grim fact which cannot be wished away is that the western security perspective’s preoccupation with the enforcement of rights of individuals may call for international intervention taking an intense form bent on a regime change even at the expense of human security.

This understanding of security engenders a militaristic perspective on security which not only leads to an increase in cases of civilian deaths, but also fails to treat security as a comprehensive concept that has political, socio-economic and cultural dimensions as well. It also leads to the fact that developed countries selectively intervene in cases of humanitarian crisis which is largely motivated by their respective geostrategic interests.

For example, Rwanda, an African state, was left to its fate for long despite cases of serious human rights violations while Kosovo in Europe quickly attracted the attention of the west. Similarly, it was the 9/11 that propelled the US to intervene in Afghanistan but for long the country was ripped apart by civil war and human rights violations by the fundamentalist Taliban regime. The US considered the Taliban a stabilizing force to ensure its geostrategic interests by assisting in laying down the alternative Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) pipeline bypassing Iran and Russia. It was when the Taliban moved away from the American orbit of influence that the US decided to intervene in Afghanistan.

It is no surprise that geostrategic interests rather than humanitarian concerns providing background for intervention are bound to engender a military perspective on security.

There is a need for a third world perspective on peace to handle intricate security issues which primarily affect the developing countries before and during civil wars. Third World security perspective not only would require all the rights to be protected equally for a secured living of human-beings, but also would look after the socio-economic and cultural factors pertaining to people and societies of the developing and underdeveloped countries prior to and during civil war situations.

The incapability and impatience of the US and Western troops to study the socio-economic conditions of Somali society during the UN operations in Somalia primarily were revealed, because of their preoccupation with militaristic understanding of security. Because of the militaristic turn in the US spearheaded Operation Restore Hope, the UN forces in Somalia were declared as new warlords, imperialists and occupation army. After the withdrawal of the American and Western troops, the UN operation became largely a Third World effort.

Evidences point to the fact that the western security perspective emphasizes on quick military solutions to intricate problems even if the end result is continued instability and growth of non-state actors like terrorist groups.

Furthermore, it is also noteworthy that the meaning of peace is not uniform everywhere. For the third world states peace does not mean mere absence of conflicts. It entails, on the contrary, a long-term project of preventing humanitarian crisis by democratizing the distribution of global resources and technology and socio-economic restructuring once normalcy has been secured following peace-keeping measures.

While the West is apt in removing despotic regimes like the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam of Iraq, they have failed to provide any stable alternative in those places as well as in Syria. The US by supporting the rebel forces has contributed to the weakness of the state institutions in Syria, much like the Russians and Iranians who seek to prevent the Assad regime from falling despite its despotic character.

Weak state institutions are the results of civil wars, where rival groups claim power and legitimacy leading to absence of security within the political boundary of the state. Hence, the obvious result is the collapse of the economy and failure of basic social services like education and health.

These are the primary reasons for the rise of a radicalized environment conducive for the growth of terrorism as evidenced in Iraq and Afghanistan and in a host of African countries like Libya, Somalia and Mali.

In case of Libya, it is argued that the western-led intervention completely looked over the African Union’s position which asked for mediation between Muammar Qaddafi (Gaddafi) and the revolutionaries. The Western coalition’s quick intervention is suggestive of a premeditated action driven by the US national security concerns following 9/11 and the plans to boost up penetration into Africa’s energy sector which faced stiff resistance from Qaddafi’s long-run anti-western position.

Management of civil wars in developing countries requires a long-term vision of creating an egalitarian economic world order, strengthening of democratic institutions of states before they fail, and applications of persuasive and negotiable methods showing concerns for stability and socio-economic and cultural understanding of their societies.


Dr. Manoj Kumar Mishra, Lecturer in Political Science, S.V.M. Autonomous College, Odisha, India. Previously worked as the Programme Coordinator, School of International Studies, Ravenshaw University, Odisha, India.


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