The Unintended Consequences of Military Interventions

There are always unintended consequences of military interventions, in strengthening the target country and recruiting allies for it.

When a country intervenes in the affairs of another country, its action might be politically acceptable to its own population, at least in the short term – but adverse consequences are still possible:

●  Countries that intervene in the affairs of others are internationally damaged by doing so (  Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, for example, had unintended consequences according to CNBC: Putin’s always wanted to weaken the West. He’s done the exact opposite.

●  One of the common unintended consequences of military interventions, as noted previously (6.3.6), is strengthening the leader of the target country in a wave of patriotic solidarity.

●  When the West seemed to be supporting an uprising in Syria, Russia took the opportunity of damaging its enemies by helping President al-Assad.  An attacker must take into account the possibility that other governments will leap to the defence of the country being attacked.

●  When a Security Council member defies the UN, it weakens international law.  Other countries then feel that they can ignore the UN with impunity.

●  Interventions rarely help the target country.  The Syria profile – Timeline, published by the BBC, tells a sorry story of intervention by the French, British, Americans, Russians and others.  At the time of writing, the Syrian civil war has not yet ended, the country lies in ruins, and much of its population has fled.

The above examples illustrate reasons why there are unintended consequences of military interventions in political terms.  There are also many practical difficulties in any international use of force, as examined later in this chapter (7.4).


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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/7324.htm.