Intervention: Why, When and How? - Defence Committee Contents

1  Introduction

Our inquiry

1. We announced an inquiry entitled Intervention: Why, When and How? on 17 July 2013. This inquiry was one of four strands[1] that we are undertaking as part of our overarching work looking ahead to the next Defence and Security Review (DSR).[2] We published a preliminary Report, Towards the next Defence and Security Review: Part One,[3] in January 2014, to which we published the Government's response in March 2014. We expect to publish a final Report in this series later in the year which will draw together the conclusions from our preliminary Report and our work on the four strands. These Reports are intended to assist the Government in its consideration and development of the next DSR due in 2015 and to contribute to, and inform, its outcomes.

2. The strands were entirely paper-based inquiries in that no formal oral evidence was taken on each. The Committee appointed Committee Members to act as rapporteurs for each of the strands, who have presented their findings to the Committee. The rapporteur on this strand was Gisela Stuart MP. We are grateful to our Specialist Advisers[4] and staff for their work on this inquiry.

3. Intervention operations are commonly associated with the use of military force to achieve the UK Government's or the international community's desired outcome. However, there are other types of intervention operations that do not involve the use of military force, including those aimed at conflict prevention or stabilisation. UK Armed Forces might be involved in such operations but this would usually be in conjunction with other Government Departments such as the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Our inquiry considered the strategy underpinning decisions on interventions and how such decisions might evolve and change in the future. This will be a key consideration as the Government develops the future structure and capabilities of UK Armed Forces and also as it considers the respective roles and coordination of the various Government Departments and agencies involved in intervention strategy. We received eleven pieces of written evidence and are grateful to all those who submitted evidence. We also received two briefings from Government officials and senior Service personnel as part of our inquiry. The first briefing was from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on how it identified lessons from intervention operations and incorporated them into, and used them to inform and test, possible future interventions. The second briefing was from the MoD and the FCO on the following publications:

·  the July 2011 Building Stability Overseas Strategy[5] and the February 2013 International Defence Engagement Strategy[6] which set out the UK's Government's approach to setting priorities and taking steps to ensure coherence across its conflict prevention activities, including through the use of joint funding mechanisms such as the Conflict Pool;[7]

·  Global Strategic Trends[8]published in January 2010 which is produced by the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre and is an examination of the strategic context that faces defence and the challenges and opportunities it provides for the MoD; and

·  The Future Character of Conflict[9]published in February 2010 which examined the context to within which UK Armed Forces would be operating out to 2029.

We are grateful to the Departments concerned for facilitating these briefings.


4. Our Report is not intended as a critique of past UK intervention decisions, although learning lessons from these is extremely important. Our intention in this inquiry was to examine the strategic rationale behind intervention decisions, why and how these decisions are made and how they are implemented so as to assist in the development of the next National Security Strategy (NSS) and Defence and Security Review (DSR). The NSS and DSR are being developed against a background of the withdrawal of UK Armed Forces from Afghanistan and UK Armed Forces moving from enduring operations, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan,to a contingent posture prepared for potential military operations.Other developments include the publication of the International Defence Engagement Strategy, the continuing threat from non-state adversaries, the possible re-emergence of Cold War state-on-state tensions, and a lack of public appetite for military intervention.

5. Intervention operations arise for many different reasons and take various forms and they do not only involve military actors. The Government has put particular emphasis on the adoption of a "Comprehensive Approach"[10] and "Unity of Effort,"[11] notably through the engagement and interaction of a number of different Government Departments and agencies and other participants such as international allies, NGOs, contractors and foreign nationals. Since the early 1990s, UK Armed Forces have been involved in a number of military interventions including: Bosnia (1992), Kosovo (1999), Sierra Leone (2000), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003), Libya (2011) and Mali (2012).[12] Military interventions in a sovereign state are always likely to be controversial[13] and this has been demonstrated by the UK public's reactions to some of the interventions listed above and also by the international tensions they have caused. Some commentators have also highlighted the House of Commons' vote to reject military intervention in Syria and the Government's decision to abide by this as a pivotal change in UK intervention policy. Our Report starts by examining some of the strategic considerations for any decision on intervention and then looks at how the UK undertakes intervention operations.


6. In its written evidence the MoD defined intervention "as the projection of military force (augmented by other agencies as required) outside UK sovereign territory to achieve an effect in securing, protecting or promoting UK national interests through the use or threat of force".[14] Several of our witnesses have highlighted the concept of humanitarian intervention. Dr James Pattison,Senior Lecturer in International Politics, University of Manchester, defined this as:

forcible military action by an external agent in the relevant political community with the predominant purpose of preventing, reducing or halting an ongoing or impending grievous suffering or loss of life.[15]

In its evidence, the Humanitarian Intervention Centre expanded on this:

It focuses around the notion of human security. This is the concept that the protection of individuals is more important than the national security of the state. The primary purpose of humanitarian intervention is to end human rights violations within the state in which it takes place and prevent the humanitarian crisis from escalating further.[16]

7. We note that the Ministry of Defence defined intervention "as the projection of military force (augmented by other agencies as required) outside UK sovereign territory to achieve an effect in securing, protecting or promoting UK national interests through the use or threat of force". However this definition seems to us to be very narrow, as it takes minimal account of the UK's wider responsibilities as a UN Security Council member or as a member of NATO or other alliances where national interests might have to be balanced by wider global responsibilities. We also note that several of our witnesses have referred to humanitarian intervention which does not appear to fit within the Government's definition. We call on the Government to develop definitions of the terms "intervention" and "humanitarian intervention" which can be used across Government Departments and be included in the next iterations of the National Security Strategy and the Defence and Security Review.

1   The other three inquiry strands are: Deterrence in the 21st Century; Remote Control: Remotely Piloted Air Systems-current and future UK use; and UK Armed Forces Personnel and the Legal Framework for Future Operations.  Back

2   In our report DSR refers to the Defence and Security Review expected in 2015. The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review is referred to as the SDSR. Back

3   Defence Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2013-14, Towards the next Defence and Security Review: Part I, HC 197 Back

4   The Committee's Specialist Advisers are Rear Admiral (retired) Chris Snow, Major General (retired) Mungo Melvin, Air Vice-Marshal (retired) Paul Colley, Professor Michael Clarke, Dr John Louth, Mr Paul Beaver and Mr Chris Donnelly. Their declarations of interests can be found in the Committee's Formal Minutes which are available on the Committee's website.  Back

5   Department for International Development, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Ministry of Defence, Building Stability Overseas Territory, July 2011; see also Ev w2 [Note: references to Ev wXX are references to the written evidence received by the Committee which is published on the Committee's website].  Back

6   Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Ministry of Defence, International Defence Engagement Strategy, February 2013; see also Ev w2.  Back

7   Ev w2; The Conflict Pool, established in 2001 and restructured in 2008, is funded from a separate HM Treasury Conflict Resources settlement, which also funds the Peacekeeping Budget. It is managed jointly by the DFID, the FCO and the MoD. The pool funds conflict prevention, stabilisation and peacekeeping activities that meet the UK Government's conflict prevention priorities as set out in the Building Stability Overseas Strategy. It brings together the work of the three departments traditionally involved in conflict prevention work: the FCO, DFID and MoD, to conduct joint analysis, establish shared priorities and design and implement joint conflict prevention and management programmes. (DFID, FCO, MoD, Conflict Pool Strategic Guidance, April 2013, available at:  Back

8   Ministry of Defence, Strategic Trends Programme: Global Strategic Trends-out to 2040, January 2010 Back

9   Ministry of Defence, Strategic Trends Programme:The Future Character of Conflict, February 2010; see also Ev w3. Back

10   There is no one commonly agreed definition of what a comprehensive approach entails. The MoD defined the Comprehensive Approach as "commonly understood principles and collaborative processes that enhance the likelihood of favourable and enduring outcomes within a particular situation". It is based on four guiding principles: Proactive engagement, shared understanding, out-come based thinking and collaborative working. For more informations see: Defence Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2009-10, The Comprehensive Approach: the point of war is not just to win but to make a better peace, HC 224, paras 11-14. Back

11   The Ministry of Defence describes "unity of effort" as: "Many relevant actors are likely to be present in, or have an influence on an operational area; an intervening force is but one. Contributing states may be joined by international and regional agencies, institutions and organisations, both inter-governmental and non-governmental. Therefore stabilisation is likely to be a multinational and multi-agency activity. Private sector organisations and contractors will compete to supply services, products and even security. While unity of command remains the ideal, the complexity of actors rarely makes it achievable. Consequently achieving and maintaining unity of effort may be the best that can be achieved, and will require robust decision-making architecture. Without it effective campaigning will be difficult" (Ministry of Defence, Joint Doctrine Publication 3-40, Security and Stabilisation: the Military Contribution, November 2009,pp 4-5).  Back

12   Ev w1 Back

13   Ev w1 Back

14   Ev w1 Back

15  Dr James Pattison,Humanitarian Intervention and the Responsibility to Protect: Who should intervene? (Oxford, 2010)  Back

16   Ev w40 Back

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Prepared 28 April 2014