Collier and Blattman on Military Intervention

22 Mar

I just finished development economist Paul Collier’s book The Bottom Billion. His perspective, which largely trumpets reforms to aid and trade that allow for industrial growth and stability to be maximized in the poorest of the poor nations, as well as his concern for the growing divergence between developing and stunted states is some pretty convincing/interesting stuff and well worth a look. Additionally he advocates for a more open-minded view of military intervention as a tool in development, which is worth thinking about in the context of Libya.

He writes in the article “Does Military Intervention Work?“:

Some believe that countries in conflict should be left to sort themselves out. But compassion and self-interest dictate against this approach. Modern civil wars are horrific. They overwhelmingly affect civilians in the poorest and most desperate environments on Earth. Rich nations don’t fall victim to political violence, but do bear some of its costs. After all, broken societies are havens for illegality, whether drug trafficking or training of terrorists.

He goes on to argue (using a cost benefit analysis) that Military intervention or “peacekeeping” has a substantial economic benefit and may, in some cases, be worth both the economic and human costs. However, he assumed when writing his book (wrongly now that we have engaged Libya) that in the years following Iraq such military intervention (even if beneficial from a cost-benefit perspective) would not be the chosen by political leaders.  He notes how situations such as the U.S. intervention in Somalia in 1993, in which 18 American soldiers were killed before the U.S. withdrew, led to great public outcries against intervention, even though in retrospect such intervention (if continued) would likely have led to a more stable Somalia than the one we have today.

In a recent blog post Chris Blattman notes the difficulty of the intervention dilemma, writing:

I’m skeptical that non-military means alone can prevent massacres of innocents. I think our choice is a hard one: have more aggressive means of intervening, with (at least at first) big risks of failure, or live with a degree of war crimes.

He too is surprised by the decision to intervene but offers an explanation:

I for one was very surprised that the UN Security Council endorsed military action against Libya. This is big. I suspect the UNSC’s failure to act in Rwanda and the Congo, and to some extent Iraq, played a big role in their decision. That is institutional evolution in action. That makes me hopeful, because I think unified responses and moral authority matter.

Of course the question of why Libya and not Bahrain or any other recent case for possible military intervention probably dampens the optimistic view Blattman holds of the Security Council’s decision as a lesson from previous failures.

Looking for more articles on this topic. If you find a good one from any angle please link to it in a comment!





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