Summary of "Report of Conference Key Findings, Ideas, and Recommendations"

Summary of

Report of Conference Key Findings, Ideas, and Recommendations

by The Aspen Institute

Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: "Report of Conference Key Findings, Ideas, and Recommendations" in Managing Conflict in the Post-Cold War World: The Role of Intervention. Report of the August 2-6, 1995, Aspen Institute Conference (Aspen, Colorado: Aspen Institute, 1996) pp. 9-26.

The 1995 Aspen Institute Conference convened to consider the question, "How can the international community establish greater stability in the world system at large, and within that system, what is the role of international intervention?"[p. 10] International intervention can take many forms, including political, economic, diplomatic, humanitarian, and military interventions.

Conference participants discussed three main types of potentially violent large-scale conflicts. First were conflicts between the great powers over the structure of the emerging post-Cold War international system, and over the distribution of power. Currently relations between China, Russia, and the United States are potential sites of great power conflict.

A second area of potential conflict is presented by regional conflicts over the local distribution of power. At the time of the conference, North Korea, and Iran and Iraq were seen as having the strongest potential to erupt into violent regional conflict. The third type of conflicts considered were communal conflicts over "competing identities, territorial claims, and political institutions." These include religious and ethnic conflicts. Communal conflicts have increased in number and intensity since the end of the Cold War, especially the former Soviet states and Africa. Such conflicts tend to Wi the least international concern, and yet have the potential to become very costly, spread, produce human rights abuses including, possibly, genocide. Communal conflicts were predicted to be the most common form of violent conflict in the future. Therefore conference participants tended to focus on the role of international intervention in communal conflict.

Conference participants recounted some of the main questions raised when nations consider intervening in communal conflicts. Two questions usually arise first. Is intervention in the outside nations' interest? Is intervention a moral imperative? These two influences are often found in tension.

Considerations of national interest lead to the further question: What are the costs of intervention, as compared with the costs of inaction? Conference participants agreed that more consideration should be given to the costs of inaction that tends to be given currently. Moral considerations prompt the broader question: At what point do moral concerns become imperative? The conference participants suggested that genocide should be recognized as a moral threshold. Genocide requires international intervention.

The most pragmatic question is "Whose money and whose kids?"[p. 12] This is a key question, since it summarizes so many basic concerns. This is the question which most tends to frame domestic and international debates over proposed interventions.

As agreement on the need for intervention is reached, the further question then arises: Who should lead or coordinate interventions? Given the United States' present status, conference participants agreed that the U.S. must take a leadership role in building an effective international system. U.S. failure to participate would undermine the power and credibility of any other international system or undertaking. However, the U.S. will need to share power with other nations. And leadership entails taking on a share of the risks and costs of the venture.

There are a wide array of interventions available to nations. To date there is no coordinated or principled system for using the various techniques. Often nations have rushed to employ military intervention. Conference participants stressed the need to develop and employ other, non-military means of intervention.

Similarly there are a number of international organizations through which intervention into violent conflicts could occur. However, many of these organizations, such as NATO, were designed to deal with the interstate conflicts typical of the Cold War. Conference participants agreed that such organizations need to be updated, and that they should be given greater roles in peacekeeping.

The United Nations in particular has been overburdened. The UN's successful intervention in Kuwait during the Gulf War produced unrealistic expectations in many member states. Many nations then "dumped" their problems and conflicts on the UN. UN peacekeeping has had a number of successes. Unfortunately the UN's failures tend to be better remembered. While this has revealed many shortcomings of the UN system, it has also prompted unjustified criticism, and damaged the UN's reputation and effectiveness.

Conference discussions about the future of the UN produced agreement on a number of points. First and most pointedly, it was agreed that "states should not dump difficult problems on the United Nations, provide inadequate political will and resources, and then blame [the UN] for not acting strongly enough." In addition, UN capabilities should continue to be enhanced, particularly in its non-enforcement and humanitarian areas. For the present, conference participants suggested that regional organizations may be better situated to supply peace enforcement in communal conflicts.

In addition to intervention in full-blown violent conflicts, conference participants discussed preemptive intervention. Preemptive intervention seeks to make an early, decisive intervention to end or reduce violent conflict. Such interventions may be military. However we do not yet fully understand how to make effective military intervention in communal conflicts. Other forms of preemptive intervention may include use of human rights observers, shows of force, diplomatic or economic sanctions, and intervention to limit or eliminate hate propaganda. The conference participants agreed that more emphasis on preemptive intervention was needed.

Conference participants also stressed that conflict prevention would be preferable to intervention. One key to improved prevention of violent conflict is greater regional integration. Such multilateral regional partnerships will facilitate better early detection, more stability, and would create powerful organizations to deal with other threats to global stability. Increased economic growth, development and prosperity would also tend to prevent conflicts.

Based on the conference discussions, participants developed a set of guidelines for planning and implementing international interventions into violent conflicts. When planning an intervention, the intervening nations must have a robust appreciation for, and understanding of, the broader context in which the present conflict occurs. Intervening nations should undertake a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the proposed intervention. Participants stressed the importance of having "clear, achievable objectives and a strategy to achieve those objectives."[p. 18] Planning should include an exit strategy. Nations must then muster the political will to implement that strategy, including the will, where relevant, to use military force. Participants agreed in cautioning that "the international community must avoid issuing threats and failing to follow through. Failed intervention efforts and empty threats of action embolden aggressors."[p. 18]

Effective implementation of a planned intervention requires a swift effective decision-making process. Leaders must have clear principles of accountability. Over the course of the intervention process, intervening nations must maintain unity and support among themselves, with the interventions forces, and with their respective publics. Conference participants caution against allowing intervention forces to be taken hostage, or directly targeted. Finally effective intervention requires effective follow-through. Provisions must be made for disarming combatants and reintegrating them into their society.

Polls show that the American public is generally willing to intervene in cases involving terrorism, energy supplies and oil, proliferation and humanitarian crises. They are generally willing to employ military force if necessary, but prefer non-military intervention whenever possible. Americans support the UN. Usually, public opinion can be swayed by decisive action by the nation's leadership.

International opinion tends to exaggerate the American public's reluctance to become involved in international conflicts. This tends to undermine other nation's confidence in the United State's reliability as an international leader. Such perceptions also fuel the concern that the U.S will tend to act unfairly, unilaterally pursuing it own best interests.