Rethinking Intervention and Interventionism
Development Dialogue, No. 58, pp. 131-150
21 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2014
Date Written: 2012
Although history offers many examples of international intervention, the post-Cold War era has seen a burgeoning of different forms of outside interference and intervention by a range of state and non-state actors and for many different purposes. These include practices known as humanitarian intervention, responsibility to protect, development intervention, governance intervention as well as peace-building and state-building intervention. Many of these interventions are controversial and many are judged as having mixed results, or even as being complete failures, as illustrated by present-day Iraq, Afghanistan and a number of interventions throughout Africa.
This article argues that 'the problem of intervention' cannot be divorced from its external political origins. A significant portion of research in the field shows that interventions have all too often been based on an insufficient understanding of the surrounding context, and on an external definition of the problem these interventions set out to solve. As many have noted, interventions are often designed for purposes other than solving the problems of those described as 'beneficiaries' and 'targets' (Rubinstein 2005; Richmond 2011). We argue that there is a need to rethink external interventions in general and what occurs in the encounter between interveners and those 'intervened upon' in particular. Indeed, determinations of the success or failure of interventions are partial unless they take seriously the role of local dynamics and cultural meaning systems that inform social action as well as the power relations between interveners and those intervened upon. This article constitutes our first step in outlining what such a 'rethinking' implies theoretically and conceptually.
Keywords: intervention, statebuilding, peacebuilding, peace, security, aid
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