No Success Without Legitimacy! A Comment on Military Interventions

By Thomas Risse - 18 June 2014
Risse - No Success Without Legitimacy! A Comment on Military Interventions

This column by Thomas Risse is part of Global Policy’s e-book, ‘Lessons from Intervention in the 21st Century: Legality, Legitimacy and Feasibility', edited by David Held and Kyle McNally. Contributions from academics and practitioners will be serialised on Global Policy until the e-book’s release in the summer of 2014. Find out more here or join the debate on Twitter #GPintervention.

Introduction: A Note of Caution on Numbers

Despite all the hype about them, military interventions are rather rare events. If we count the number of legal interventions, authorized and/or mandated by the United Nations (UN; mostly Security Council; both Chapter VI and Chapter VII), there have been 68 operations since 1948 of which fifty have been authorized since 1990 and fifteen are ongoing. And according to Wikipedia, there have only been fifteen Chapter VII military interventions authorized by the United Nations (UN) since 1950, almost all of them in the post-Cold War period (1). Unfortunately, it is next to impossible to determine with any degree of certainty the ratio between legal interven-tions authorized by the UN or regional organizations, on the one hand, and all other military interventions carried out by a state or a group of states against other states, on the other hand. E.g., the International Military Interventions (IMI) dataset which adopts a rather broad definition of military interventions, counts 425 such interventions in the post-Cold War period until 2005 (Pickering and Kisangani 2009, 596-597). In contrast, the Consolidated List of Wars (CoLoW) dataset – with a very restrictive understanding of militariy interventions - only finds 20 interven-tions in 84 ongoing wars between 1990 and 2008 (Chojnacki, Herchenbach, and Reisch 2009, 246-247).

Therefore, I use a more qualitative approach in the following and concentrate on the “legality-legitimacy-effectiveness” conundrum by looking at a selected few of interventions. I take an analytical approach and only deal with normative legitimacy in the end.

The Legality – Legitimacy – Effectiveness Conundrum

To begin with, legality and legitimacy are not the same (see introduction by the editors, this volume). Moreover, we also need to disentangle legitimacy. The introduction to this volume concentrates almost exclusively on normative legitimacy, i.e., the question of whether or not a particular political action can be considered legitimate according to some moral or ethical standard. In contrast, there is also the concept of empirical legitimacy, i.e. the factual belief by those being ruled (or being intervened in this case) that the ruling authorities (or the interven-ers) are justified to claim followership (see Schmelzle 2011 on these distinctions).

Empirical legitimacy is not the same as normative legitimacy and it is rather orthogonal to in-ternational legality, as the following five cases demonstrate (2) (see also figure 1 below):

  • Kosovo 1999: The NATO intervention in Kosovo was probably illegal by international law, but it enjoyed empirical legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of the local population sub-jected to Serbian ethnic cleansing. And it was effective since it stopped the ethnic cleans-ing.
  • Afghanistan 2001: The international intervention in Afghanistan was authorized by the UN Security Council, thus legal. The same holds true for its initial empirical legitimacy (t1 in ta-ble 1), as it was supported by local populations (as extended household surveys in North-eastern Afghanistan document, see Koehler 2008). In the beginning, the intervention was rather effective, since it ousted the Taliban and kept the peace. Over time (t2 in table 1), however, the support for the interveners eroded, and the effectiveness of the intervention in keeping the peace and containing the Taliban decreased, too.
  • Iraq 2003: The U.S. intervention in Iraq was illegal, since it lacked UN authorization. Whether it was regarded as legitimate by the Iraqis is at least questionable. The interven-tion was ineffective. While it removed Saddam Hussein, it created a failing state.
  • Libya 2011: The UN Security Council authorized the use of force invoking R2P (legality). The intervention was initially (t1) supported by the local population, and it was effective, since it successfully prevented a genocide. However, whether it remained legitimate in the eyes of the locals over time is questionable (t2), and it ultimately created another failed state. Its effectiveness at t2 is, therefore, equally doubtful.
  • Crimea 2014: The Russian intervention in the Crimean was certainly effective and it was apparently welcomed by large parts of the (Russian) population. At the same time, it was il-legal by any standard of international law.

The following figure which is ordered according to the legality of the intervention, summarizes the findings of these five cases and seven observations (with Afghanistain and Libya repre-senting two observations each at t1 and t2).

Figure 1: Selected Military Interventions and their Legality-Legitimacy-Effectiveness


 


Legality


Empirical Legitimacy


Effectiveness


Afghanistan 2001, t1


Yes


Yes


Yes


Afghanistan, t2


Yes


Decreasing


Decreasing


Libya 2011, t1


Yes


Yes


Yes


Libya, t2


Yes


???


???


Kosovo 1999


No


Yes


Yes


Iraq 2003


No


???


No


Crimea 2014


No


Yes


Yes

Two findings stand out: First, there is no relationship between an intervention’s legality by in-ternational law and its effectiveness in terms of establishing a sustainable peace. There have been effective, but illegal interventions (Kosovo, Crimea), but also legal, but ineffective ones (Afghanistan and Libya at t2). Second, however, empirical legitimacy – i.e., the interventions’ support by local communities and populations – matters hugely for effectiveness. There is al-most a perfect correlation. No legitimacy, no success!

This finding is corroborated by studies at our Berlin research center on “Governance in Areas of Limited Statehood”. Accordingly, empirical legitimacy is a necessary condition for the effec-tiveness of external efforts at governance, and this includes military interventions (Krasner and Risse 2014) (3). This could ultimately explain why Chapter VI UN peacekeeping missions are widely regarded as successful in keeping the peace and prevent the return to violence (see e.g. Doyle and Sambanis 2006; Fortna 2008; Matanock 2014, 8, for the following). Only 27% of the cases in which UN peacekeeping missions were involved between 1990 and 2003, revert-ed to violence, while 60% kept the peace. In a matching sample of similar cases of countries involved in civil wars but not subject to UN peacekeeping, 60% of the cases reverted to war. Chapter VI peacekeeping interventions, however, are based on the consent of the host states. They are a specific type of “governance delegation agreements” (Matanock 2014) by which states delegate particular tasks to external actors, peacekeeping in this case. One could argue, therefore, that such “interventions by invitation” enjoy comparatively more local support than imposed interventions which might explain why they are more effective on average. As Lake and Farris (2014) argue, interventions without the consent of the warring parties have been far less successful, because they rarely enjoy sufficient support by the locals. Moreover, the more interventions amount to “regime change” as well as wholesale state-building operations (trus-teeships), the higher the requirements for empirical legitimacy are. Afghanistan at t2 is a case in point. Once the domestic support for the external interveners decreases, however, effective-ness suffers inevitably.

Conclusion

I have tried to demonstrate in this short contribution that there is a clear relationship between the support of external interveners by local rulers and/or populations, on the one hand, and the effectiveness of the intervention in term of keeping or restoring the peace on the ground, on the other hand. This finding has implications for the normative justifiability of military interven-tions, their normative legitimacy: First, legality matters normatively, of course, as the report by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) on the R2P al-ready pointed out in 2001. Humanitarian interventions without the support of the international community such as Kosovo 1999 should be absolute exceptions. Second, however, legality and effectiveness – another R2P criterion – do not correlate.

Third, the political and normative discourse on R2P and the justifiability of military interventions has so far paid little attention to what local populations – those on whose behalf the interven-tion is supposed to be carried out – actually think. Empirical legitimacy, however, matters for normative legitimacy, too, since interventions are necessarily intrusions in the “Westphalian” as well as domestic sovereignty of states (Krasner 1999 on these distinctions). Whether or not interveners have the support of the local populations and manage to “win hearts and minds” should matter for the justifiability of an external intervention. It is also – as argued in this contribution - a necessary condition for effectiveness. At the same time, empirical legitimacy alone cannot justify interventions from a normative perspective, as the Crimean case documents. In sum, the tradeoffs between legality, legitimacy, and effectiveness remain.


Thomas Risse is professor of international politics at Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. He coordi-nates the Research Center “Governance in Areas of Limited Statehood”, funded by the German Re-search Foundation DFG. He is editor of “Governance Without a State? Policies and Politics in Areas of Limited Statehood” (Columbia University Press, 2011) and co-editor (with Stephen Krasner) of “External Actors, State-Building, and Service Provision in Areas of Limited Statehood,” special issue of Governance, 2014.

 

Notes

(1) If we include interventions authorized by regional organizations (RO) such as ECOWAS in West Africa, the number of legal interventions might be higher.

(2) Because of space constraints, the following analysis is extremely superficial, of course.

(3) Note that empirical legitimacy is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for external efforts at gov-ernance in areas of limited statehood. We also find that institutional design and sufficient resources matters hugely

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