Intervention: When, Why and How?

Written evidence from the Humanitarian Intervention Centre


This paper intends to provide Her Majesty’s Government with a detailed analysis of the political and strategic considerations surrounding military intervention in order to assist the House of Commons Defence Select Committee in developing an effective policy to guide decision making in respect of future military interventions. This paper principally covers historical analysis, coverage of strategic options, non-state actors and our military capabilities.



The introduction offers a short overview of what the paper will cover, puts the issues in contemporary context and briefly informs readers of the work of the Humanitarian Intervention Centre.

Rwanda: Greatest Failure

This section offers a historic analysis of the genocide of Rwanda, which demonstrated the consequences of inaction in the face of serious human rights violations.

Iraq: Challenge to Intervention

Iraq is the most controversial and problematic case of intervention in recent years. Here it is given in-depth analysis and portrays it against the backdrop of the doctrine surrounding humanitarian intervention. This section challenges the black and white preconceptions surrounding the war in Iraq.

Options for Intervention

The options available to intervening forces are explored, and the factors which may constrain which options can be used in a given conflict.

Non-state Actors and Intervention

Non-state actors are an increasingly important factor to take into account when considering intervention. Here the three concepts of spillover, self-containment and excessive radicalisation are addressed.

Capabilities of Intervention

The British armed forces will be analysed to determine their capabilities and to what extent they align with stated objectives for future defence posture.


The paper will be summarised and the most salient, important and less mainstream points made are elucidated in an accessible, bullet-point format.

1. The Humanitarian Intervention Centre is a not-for-profit, independent foreign policy think tank based in London, which works with politicians, policy-makers, journalists and human rights activists to promote and engage in a debate about the consequences of action and inaction in war and conflict zones.


2. Although it was hoped that the end of the Cold War would mark the beginning of a new era of international peace and security, the 1990s would instead only see the world grow more volatile. Following the Gulf War, events in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, East Timor and Kosovo, among others, demanded international attention and response, and consequently, the question of humanitarian intervention would remain in the foreground throughout.

3. Yet, as international action was often neither timely nor adequate, lacking the necessary military capabilities, finances and even political mandate, the international community would be shamefully unable to prevent some of the worst tragedies that ensued. The failures amply illustrate that while action, as in the recent case of Iraq, undoubtedly has serious costs and limitations, inaction or delayed action has consequences too – and often, much more grave.

4. Since the election of the Coalition government, the United Kingdom has faced a series of challenging and diverse series of interventions in Afghanistan, Libya and Mali. In August and September, the world retreated from international action due to the House of Commons defeat over the possibility of Syrian intervention. The chain reaction which followed led to American and French politicians asserting their authority over the direction of national foreign policy and ending any possibility of direct foreign assistance in the Syrian conflict. The conclusion of these interventions and the failure to enter the Syrian conflict has left serious questions and issues with the United Kingdom’s place to intervene.

5. Militarily the future structure of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces and their ability to conduct interventions while already committed in other engagements has also been widely questioned. The continued fiscal constrictions in the MOD budget, has seen a reduction in the defence capabilities of our country and questioning of our role in the world.

6. The Humanitarian Intervention Centre (HIC) has outlined the most prominent challenges that face the United Kingdom’s ability to conduct independent and international interventions.

7. The HIC has sought to answer three crucial questions concerning the UK’s ability for future interventions: the range of options available, the increasing importance and implications of non-state actors in interventions and the preparation and readiness of HM Armed Forces to intervene.

Rwanda: Greatest Failure

8. In few cases did the failure of the international community to protect have consequences more tragic than in Rwanda, where action seemed perilously absent. Lest its memory only have evoked passionate, but ineffectual, echoes of "never again" that eventually get drowned out in the louder uproar against more recent and more controversial interventions, the Rwandan genocide of 1994 must, like the Holocaust, be solemnly and carefully considered so as to highlight the inexcusable guises and bloody costs of silence, apathy and inaction.

9. The tensions between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority, which accounted for 85% and 14% of Rwanda’s population respectively around the time of the genocide, were hardly recent. Historically, Tutsis held greater power, and under Germany and Belgium in the colonial era, the power structure would only get more centralised, with hierarchical distinctions between Tutsis and Hutus, codified and reinforced. [1] By the early-1960s, when Rwanda attained independence, the tables had already turned, with around a third of the Tutsi population living in exile in neighbouring Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire, and the Hutus in power in Rwanda. [2]

10. On 6 April 1994, shortly after the civil war waged between the Tutsi-rebel-group Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and Hutu-dominated Rwandan government ostensibly ceased with the signing of the Arusha Accords, the airplane carrying the Hutu Rwandan President Habyarimana was shot down. [3] At Arusha, both the RPF and Rwandan government had requested UN assistance in implementing the agreement, and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) was formed, but it was now unclear whether the attack was perpetrated by Tutsis, Hutu moderates or Hutus against the power-sharing government the Accords entailed. [4]

11. Nevertheless, right after the attack, the government-controlled Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines exhorted Hutus to take revenge on the Tutsis, and the Rwandan government forces along with government-affiliated Hutu militias (the Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi) promptly went on a rampage, targetting Tutsis and even moderate Hutus. [5] The génocidaires wielded weapons, from machetes and clubs to guns and grenades, and it was clear that the mass killing had been well-planned. By June 1994, over just a hundred days, an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and opposing Hutus had been killed in what might have been the most concentrated mass killing in history. [6]

12. The reluctance of the international community to get involved was evident right from the start. The US, still confronting the ghosts of Somalia, remained hesitant not just to intervene, but also to refer to the developments as genocide, lest that legally oblige it to act as per the Genocide Convention. [7] Although Belgium had contributed significantly to UNAMIR, soon after 10 Belgian paratroopers protecting the Rwandan Prime Minister were mutilated alive and killed, Belgium withdrew its troops. [8] By 21 April 1994, the UN Security Council as well had resolved to reduce UNAMIR’s strength from 2,500 to just 270. [9]

13. From the justifications provided for their inaction, it appeared that the major powers and the UN lacked adequate and timely access to information as well as financial resources and troops that could be readily and rapidly deployed. [10] Yet, as is now known, even if the UN lacked formal intelligence operations in the field, it was not that its member states faced similar shortcomings. The US, Belgium, France and Germany had information about the imminent troubles from early on, and Belgium even called on the UN for a stronger UNAMIR mandate in February 1994. [11] Besides, informal UNAMIR intelligence units long transmitted warnings to Brussels and New York, and Major-General Romeo Dallaire, Force Commander of UNAMIR, informed New York as early as January about orders issued to register all Tutsi in Kigali, possibly for extermination. [12]

14. Moreover, the rigid bureaucracy of the UN only served as additional hindrance. When his informant warned him also of a major weapons cache, Dallaire planned to raid it within 36 hours, only to be refused permission by his superiors to do so as it went beyond the mandate. [13] Dallaire repeatedly intimated New York of the imminent dangers and requested for a stronger mandate so he could seize weapons, but his requests were turned down at least six times. [14] Even his plea for reinforcement after the airplane episode in April 1994 was in vain. Right until mid-May 1994, senior officials at the Secretariat treated the troubles as armed banditry, tribal warfare and ethnic killings, hardly worthy of major intervention, rather than systematic, well-organised genocide. [15]

15. It would only be on 17 May 1994, by when it had become clear that the situation was only worsening, that the Security Council finally approved an expansion of UNAMIR’s mandate, with a plan to increase the strength of UNAMIR up to 5,500. [16] Yet, UNAMIR II would only be authorised by 8 June, and then, owing to differences among member states on its mandate and also due to the great reluctance among member states in contributing to the mission, finding troops proved to be a struggle, their first deployment, hence, only taking place much later. So weak was the response that even by 25 July 1994, UNAMIR II had only 550 troops. [17]

16. Recognising how grave the situation was, France offered to intervene in the interim period, but when it sought a multinational coalition for its UN-authorised Operation Turquoise, which was to serve mainly as a humanitarian intervention, only Senegal stepped forward. Although arguably somewhat effective in its humanitarian aims, especially the creation of safe havens, France curiously ended up offering refuge to Hutu génocidaires, even providing then with escape routes into Zaire, and its entry at a time when the Hutu regime it had long supported was disintegrating with the RPF clearly ascendant caused its motives for intervention to still be in doubt. [18]

17. Eventually, international media increased its coverage of the genocide, provoking public outrage and compelling governments to act. When one considers that following the authorisation of Operation Turquoise, a force of 2,800 arrived within just hours, it makes one wonder how differently history might have turned out if calls for UNAMIR’s reinforcement had been responded to just as swiftly. As Dallaire recounted, "with the 450 men under my command during this interim, we saved and directly protected over 25,000 people and moved tens of thousands between the contact lines. What could a force of 5,000 personnel have prevented?" [19]

18. The one lesson that emerges from Rwanda is the extent to which national and international interests determine action or the absence thereof. Rwanda hardly held similar relevance as Yugoslavia and Haiti, and most major powers on the Security Council, as the Synthesis Report of the Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda noted in March 1996, were simply "uninterested in a small Central African country that was marginal to their economic and political concerns, and peripheral to international strategic rivalries." [20] It is impossible to explain the inaction in Rwanda without emphasising the sheer lack of political will.

19. If Rwanda warns us of the human costs of inaction, it also teaches us that inaction has financial costs. As D.R.L. Ludlow observed, "the millions of dollars required to effectively support the original UNAMIR mission pale in comparison to the billions spent on humanitarian aid in the Great Lake Regions since the genocide." [21] One would have hoped that Rwanda would be the last time the international community would say "never again", and yet inaction – and delayed action – would allow death to lay its icy hands on many more in East Timor, Chechnya, Darfur and, of course, Syria.

Iraq: Challenge To Intervention

20. While Rwanda stands for the greatest failure to act, the war in Iraq presents the greatest challenge to the idea of intervention in recent history. The debate about the reasons for going to war against Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003 is as yet unresolved. After no weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) were found in the post-invasion period, many remain convinced that the US and UK governments took their countries to war on a manufactured casus belli.

21. The HIC believes that it would have been possible for US policy-makers to explicitly refer to RtoP in the run up to the war if the protocol had been ratified instead of an emphasis on Saddam’s breach of previous UNSCRs. This analysis depends upon the assumption that the war in Iraq could have been classified under the criteria of RtoP, preventing much of the dispute over the cause of the intervention.

22. Iraq is an interesting case to compare with those of Libya and Syria, as it explains the intimate relationship between RtoP and national interests, in a different manner. While in Libya benefits outweighed potential costs leading to intervention, in Syria the incentive to act against a potential veto in the UNSC is not strong enough. Iraq presents a third aspect, where Russia would have vetoed any UNSCR to have sanctioned military intervention under RtoP in order to maintain its interests in the region, while the US would have disregarded such a veto and taken action.

23. The first precautionary principle under RtoP requires that the main purpose of the intervention must be to ‘halt or avert human suffering’ [22] . Although the justification of the 2003 war was Iraq’s breach of previous UNSCRs, the humanitarian dimension played an essential part in the overall equation.

24. When analysing Tony Blair’s speech in Chicago in 1999, it becomes apparent that the brutal nature of Saddam’s regime was a factor in the minds of political leaders years before Iraq: ‘Both [Milosevic and Hussein] have been prepared to wage vicious campaigns against sections of their own community. As a result of these destructive policies both have brought calamity on their own peoples’ [23] . He had challenged Saddam’s breaches of UNSCRs three times prior to the war in 2003, once in 1997 and twice in 1998, resulting in Operations Desert Thunder and Fox [24] . Saddam was thus perceived by Blair to present a clear threat to international peace and security, given his long history of aggression and human rights violations.

25. In the build-up to the 2003 intervention, both the US and UK governments repeatedly and strongly emphasised Saddam’s history of internal and foreign aggression. ‘The worst act of domestic criminal behaviour by a government is large-scale killings of its own people; the worst act of international criminal behaviour, attack and invasion of another country’ [25] . Iraq was guilty of both.

26. Its systematic human rights violations were unprecedented even by the generally low standards of the Middle East. According to Grey, a terrible picture emerges with ‘between 70 and 125 civilian deaths per day for every one of Saddam's 8,000-odd days in power’ [26] . Saddam employed chemical weapons during the Anfal campaign, which killed at least 100,000 Kurds, ordered the execution of 600,000 civilians during the course of his rule and repressed and persecuted other minorities, in particular the Shia. Externally, he was responsible for the deaths of over a million people in his war of aggression against Iran, as well as another 75.000, resulting from the invasion of Kuwait [27] .

27. Opponents have argued that the humanitarian argument was no longer valid, since the majority of the killings took place during the 1980s and early 1990s. But that does not necessarily exclude the case of Iraq from RtoP, as ‘prevention is the single most important dimension’ of the protocol [28] . With an increase in illegal border-crossings, severe violations of the no-fly zone over Kurdistan by the Iraqi air force, a rising oil price leading to a renewal of finances and the existing infrastructure of chemical and biological weaponry, Saddam would almost certainly have regained the ability to engage in large-scale internal repression and foreign aggression.

28. Bush and Blair have repeatedly argued that with the decreasing efficiency of the sanctions regime and Saddam’s non-compliance with previous UNSCRs over a period of 12 years, there was sufficient evidence to suggest that "every non-military option for the prevention or peaceful resolution of the crisis" had been exhausted [29] .

29. It is highly unlikely that there will ever be a final consensus about the legality of the 2003 war and the related question of whether or not military action was the last resort. While those who supported it read UNSCR 1441 permissively, others interpreted it restrictively. There are strong arguments that can be made on either side of the debate as to whether this intervention in 2003 was legal. The most plausible attempted justification for the war relied upon Security Council resolutions from the first Gulf war. This was the position supported by the UK and the Blair government.

30. UNSCR 1441 established that Iraq was in material breach of previous resolutions and gave the regime ‘a final opportunity to comply’. According to operational paragraph 4, a failure to comply immediately, unconditionally and unrestrictedly constituted a further material breach per se, without further UNSC authorisation. This, in return, sanctioned ‘serious consequences’, as indicated in operational paragraph 13 [30] .

31. From a legal perspective, it is critical to note that the agreement of the international community with the Iraqi regime, in the post-Gulf War period, was based upon a conditional ceasefire, outlined in UNSCR 687. Resolution 678 established the authority to use force and provided the legal basis for interventions in 1993 and 1998 under the Clinton administration. Since it had ‘not been terminated by the Security Council’, it was possible, in the opinion of Greenwood, to revive the mandate, given a breach of obligations by Iraq [31] . UNSCR 1441 established that such a breach had occurred, not once but twice, and represented a legal reactivation of previous resolutions. As Greenwood argued, intervention was lawfully ‘taken in accordance with a fresh mandate from the Security Council’ [32] .

32. RtoP further requires that any intervention is conducted using proportionate means. The first phase of the war saw US troops relatively quickly capture the most key centres of the country, including Baghdad. The process of de-Ba’athification and the disbanding of the Iraq security forces were followed by a rapidly increasing insurgency, which developed into civil war by 2006 and eventually claimed the lives of more than 160,000 Iraqis.

33. However, it would be incorrect to suggest disproportionate use of force was responsible for the scale of the death toll. Even opponents of the war concede that ‘the main war was conducted with military efficiency, civilians were never the chief target, and indeed the coalition forces have tried to minimise civilian casualties’ [33] . The most accurate figures reveal that only 13% of civilian casualties were directly caused by Western forces, whereas most deaths were caused by communal violence, Islamist groups, such as al Qaeda, and Iranian-backed insurgents [34] . The coalition forces cannot incur blame for the actions of criminal and terrorist groups and it should be noted that the focus of coalition security operations was to prevent attacks upon civilians.

34. Finally, the criterion of reasonable prospect requires that the likely consequences of action must not exceed those of inaction. It might be too early to judge but what is evident is that the US-led coalition did not shirk the responsibility of rebuilding the country, the third and final pillar under RtoP [35] . Elections have taken place on a regular basis, declared transparent and legitimate by independent monitoring groups [36] , the child mortality rate is significantly lower and Iraq has now the fastest growing economy in the region [37] .

35. As in the case of Syria, any attempt by the US-led coalition to gain a UNSCR to enable humanitarian intervention under RtoP would very likely have been met by a vehement Russian veto.

36. Iraq was one of the few remaining Russian allies in the Middle East following the collapse of the Soviet Union and Russia’s strongest interests in the country were economic. When the US and UK pushed for smarter sanctions in the UNSC, prior to 2003, Russia embraced exactly the opposite position and lobbied hard for the lifting of the sanctions regime against Saddam [38] . In order to understand this policy, one must look at the economic and financial relationship between Moscow and Baghdad. Iraq’s debt ‘was in many billions of dollars resulting from the Iran-Iraq war’ [39] . Furthermore, Saddam had secretly offered Moscow attractive oil contracts, a policy in line with Russian desire to retain the profits from the UN’s oil-for-food-programme [40] .

37. The crucial difference between the Iraqi and Syrian crises is that the US-led coalition had already begun active preparation for war, so that, despite the absence of an enabling UNSC resolution, the US was able to act in accordance with its national interests and disregard the diplomatic obstruction of France and Russia on the UNSC.

38. The decision against Iraq was essentially determined by the perceived national interests of the US and its coalition partners. At this point, it is important to observe that national interests and the protection of human rights are not mutually exclusive but that protection of human rights can be perceived as a part of the national interest. With humanitarian intervention, domestic considerations and humanitarian motives become interlinked.

39. In conclusion, history has taught us two valuable lessons: that inaction has dire consequences in both financial and human terms and that national and international support does not necessarily have to chime to prevent or enable intervention.

Options for Intervention

40. Figure 1 represents a non-exhaustive range of options from minimal to maximal interventions available to a state.

Fig. 1 – Range of Intervention Options

41. There are a number of factors to be taken into consideration when examining availability and necessity of options in a humanitarian intervention. These include, but are not limited to:

1. Objective of the intervention and the urgency with which it must be achieved

2. Attitude of the public of the intervening state towards intervention, both generally and in the specific case under consideration

3. Capability and operability of armed forces in the intervening state

4. Capability and operability of armed forces in the intervenee state

5. Capability and operability of opposition groups (if any) in the intervene state

6. Leadership and power structure of the intervenee faction (concentrated or dispersed)

7. Leadership and power structure of opposition groups (concentrated or dispersed)

8. Degree of public support for the intervene government

9. Degree of public support for opposition groups

10. Miscellaneous considerations including but not limited to- ethnic groups, geography, third parties and non-state actors

42. Most of these variables are self-explanatory with the possible exception of numbers six and seven. These points refer to the degree of concentration of leadership and power within a single person or party in the opposing and allied factions respectively. The lower the concentration, the more likely maximum intervention will be required.

43. By applying the variables listed above to the range of intervention options in Fig. 1, it is possible to understand why no two interventions are similar. Possible intervention options change with every scenario and time period. Given that only the first and second variables can be objectively ascertained, reliability of intelligence in forecasting the third through the tenth will be important in estimating the value that these variables will have on the range of intervention options.

Non-State Actors and Intervention

44. The tenth and final variable that shrinks options for intervention includes non-state actors, as a non-homogenous grouping they can cause significant complications when considering and/or carrying out interventions. ‘Non-state actors’ is a broad label which includes NGOs, terrorist organisations, protest movements and myriad other groups. However, this term when used in this particular context more often than not refers to armed non-state groups engaging in asymmetric warfare. They are not limited by territorial borders in the same ways that states are current international law is very much based on interactions between nation states, making application of international law difficult as UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions etc. cannot be made against non-state actors. When considering the impact of non-state actors on intervention, there are three key concepts one should take account of.

45. Spillover – As non-state actors are not constrained by territorial borders, they can and do operate on a transnational basis. Where intervention in a particular country is given assent, there is the potential for conflict to spill over the originally designated borders of the conflict due to actions from non-state actors such as terrorist groups or crime cartels.

46. Pakistan is arguably an example of this spillover because the leadership of al Qaeda and other militant groups known to operate on the field of battle in Afghanistan have been based in the mountainous Waziristan region of Pakistan, or even further afield in cities such as Quetta [41] , Abottabad [42] and Peshawar [43] . In order to address this issue of transnational warfare, US Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have taken to using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), colloquially referred to as ‘drones’. These are most often the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator [44] and MQ-9 Reaper [45] systems and are armed with AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles. Whilst hugely controversial, these have been used to great effect against militant leadership, with US intelligence officials, perhaps overoptimistically, claiming ‘all but two’ of al Qaeda’s central leadership have been killed or captured [46] .

47. Self-containment – Where intervening actors refuse or are unable to either address or acknowledge territorial spillover as described above, they become a victim of ‘self-containment’. Here, intervening actors are hindered by territorial boundaries and are likely unable to effectively manage the destabilising threat posed by armed transnational non-state actors. This can cause chronic problems for any ongoing intervention, as local civilians may not trust intervening military forces to guarantee their security from predations from non-state actors, particularly in border areas.

48. A potential case for self-containment could well be Syria. With Hezbollah so active in Syria, but headquartered in Lebanon with clear supply chains from Lebanon moving into Syria, it is unlikely that an intervening force would be willing or able to cross the border into Lebanon to deal with the threat from Hezbollah. Hezbollah are already believed to be conducting attacks on Syrian soil from the Lebanese Beka’a Valley [47] and this is causing complications to arise as Syrian government and opposition groups are retaliating with attacks of their own into Syria [48] .

49. Similar complications arise with the new incarnation of al Qaeda in Iraq, now known under several names including al Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers; the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (al-Sham), most commonly referred to by its abbreviation ISIS. This group operates both in Iraq and Syria, as the name might suggest, and it would be almost politically impossible to justify crossing Iraq’s borders again so soon after Operation Iraqi Freedom to deal with this group. ISIS’s transnational activities are already destabilising the Anbar province of Iraq, as well as wreaking havoc throughout Syria, particularly in the northwest around the city of Aleppo [49] . Were an intervening force to tactically defeat ISIS and drive it out of Syria, the chances are that ISIS would proceed to carry out a cross-border insurgency from Anbar province, as well as increasingly destabilising Iraq.

50. Excessive radicalisation – A phenomenon arising within non-state actors engaged in jihadist terrorism, excessive radicalisation involves foreign militants radicalised with rhetoric about a global jihad against the West and Muslims deemed as apostates (a practice known as takfir). These militants are so enamoured with the philosophy of jihad and the global objectives of destroying unbelievers and apostates and establishing an Islamic caliphate that they do not effectively engage with more local priorities and objectives such as protecting minorities and innocent civilians and maintaining the unity and integrity of the local community. Such fighters are prone to frenzied violence, excessive collateral damage and often a complete disregard for local strategies to engage with would-be supporters/sympathisers.

51. This could well be termed the Zarqawi Syndrome, after erstwhile leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi came to Iraq to fight off invading Western forces and was responsible for many of the video-taped beheadings of civilians and journalists (including Kenneth Bigley [50] ) broadcast during the war in Iraq. Zarqawi also orchestrated an incredibly brutal campaign of sectarian bombings and attacks on the local Shia Muslim community. Al Qaeda’s central leadership did recognise that this was alienating large sections of society who would otherwise be at least sympathetic to their cause, if not outright supportive, but efforts to temper Zarqawi were largely unsuccessful.

52. This phenomenon and the potential for excessive violence should always be borne in mind and accounted for when contemplating intervention in countries significant to jihadists. However, it should also be noted that this phenomenon need not be an idiosyncratic feature unique to jihadist groups and could well occur in future with other violent groups which propagate a strong global and universal ideology, which could include, but is not limited to, other religious terrorist groups, eco-terrorists and anti-globalisation groups.

Capabilities for Intervention

53. Though intervention options vary due to circumstances and variables such as non-state actors, it is assumed that the strength and capabilities of HM Armed Forces are always ready and present to fulfil the political wish for intervention. However, the legacy of the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2010 and growing international commitments has cast a long shadow over the availability of pool capabilities.

54. Currently a significant proportion of the rapid deployment forces of the Armed Forces are committed to a standby short notice call-up commitments with the HQ Allied Rapid Reaction Corp (ARRC), NATO Response Force (NRF), and the UK led multinational Battle Group currently providing the rotating European Union Battlegroups capability. As such it is difficult to ascertain, outside of the indigenous Joint Expeditionary Force, which commitment has primacy and how all can be met with a shrinking manpower capability. An example of this competing overlap is the commitment of 16 Air Assault Brigade, it is a core foundation of the Army 2020 Vision ‘reaction force’ [51] and the existing Joint Rapid Response Force. This year the Brigade also finds itself part of Britain’s land component command of the NRF/ARRC [52] and in all probability the July-December 2013 UK led EU Battlegroup commitment. The ability for rapid deployment as part of any intervention would place severe pressure on the 16 Air Assault Brigade to meet international commitments. The pressure will therefore fall significantly on the Royal Marines which make up just 4.4% of HM Armed Forces but 43% of the badged frontline Special Forces contingent. This pressure will only increase with the formation of the Anglo-French Combined Joint Expeditionary Force.

55. It therefore remains vital that the UK does not relent in its pursuit of enhancing European defence capabilities in both NATO and the European Union to ease this pressure. This will remain central to the viability of the partner nations playing key roles in the proposed Joint Expeditionary Force and CJEF. It is not a coincidence that currently only Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Qatar [53] (Libyan no fly-zone participants) and Denmark and Estonia [54] (both ISAF Helmand allies) have been mentioned as possible contributors. The principle underpinning both the JEF and CJEF is to seemingly avoid the bureaucratic and cumbersome NATO frameworks which often lead to disproportionate troop contributions from selective nations and significant national caveats that plagued the Afghan contributions. Although the Coalition government and international community have remained committed to the EU Battlegroup in principle, it has never been close to deployment in its six years of existence. As such the UK should robustly endorse the efforts led by Lithuania as part of their rotating European Council Presidency, to increase the national capabilities committed, flexibility in commitments and composition of Battlegroups to ease the conditions for their deployment [55] . The commitment of the Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office to this cause has most recently seen substantial non-NATO forces from Sweden and Finland contributed to the NRF, which demonstrates the progress being made in this vital field [56] .

56. Since 2010 the SDSR has had a dramatic effect upon the expeditionary capability of the Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and the Fleet Air Arm. The sale of RFA Largs Bay to the Royal Australian Navy and placing HMS Albion into extended readiness until 2016 was designed purely as a financial decision running contrary to the commitment for greater rapid global mobility for HM Armed Forces. It is obvious that the current Coalition strategic thinking has reversed the 1998 Strategic Defence Review focus on force projection as a primarily maritime based action [57] , in favour of the rapid deployment capabilities of the Royal Air Force (RAF) delivered by the tactical transport C-17 Globemasters, the future A-400M fleet and Airbus Voyagers. A demonstration of this shift is emphasised in the envisaged JEF and MOD-Foreign Office Defence Engagement strategy, in 2011 the Coalition outlined this policy as a need to tackle threats at source, by working with fragile and conflict affected countries [58] . As such the MOD utilised the stock phrase ‘Defence Engagement’, the use of Armed Forces expertise overseas, short of combat operation, in such a capacity that achieves influence and stability [59] . Specifically the policy would favour key allies and countries that provide the UK access, basing and over-flight privileges [60] thereby circumventing the reduction in maritime expeditionary capability by providing tactical air transport and RAF strike capability from friendly nations. Nevertheless the tactical capability loss must be questioned, as a single Albion class can deliver a deployable cargo capacity equivalent to thirty three C-17’s or nearly one hundred A-400M’s.

57. Yet the decommissioning of HMS Illustrious in 2014 leaving HMS Ocean as the sole dedicated helicopter carrier bucks the trend that is emerging in South America and the Asia-Pacific of increasing Blue Water amphibious and maritime aviation projection. Consequently the future capability of HM Armed Forces to intervene will become increasingly reliant upon other nations’ willingness to accommodate significant UK military capabilities as the strength of the Royal Navy expeditionary projection capability is reduced. With the rise of the military power projection capabilities of Peoples Republic of China, Russia, India, Brazil, Japan and South Korea, the willingness of states to hedge against these growing regional powers and accept UK basing could become less assured. Moreover, the recent experience of Operation Ellamy in Libya demonstrated that friendly historical ties with the United Kingdom did not guarantee basing rights; Cyprus [61] and Malta [62] both ruled out the use of their territory for offensive military operations. The Libyan experience should serve as a warning not to become reliant on a single expeditionary force capability. The Centre recommends that Defence Engagement commitments and defence co-operation across Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East should be expanded significantly to foster greater relations to ensure adequate flexibility for future airlift capability.

58. The HIC strongly believes that there should be no further reduction in amphibious and littoral capability within the Royal Navy as it would seriously risk any future expeditionary force capability. Yet, the Centre also acknowledges the need for greater fiscal responsibility and does not foresee any future situation whereby both Queen Elizabeth class carriers would be required for overseas deployment, given the capacity to embark 36 F-35B. Therefore it is appropriate to maintain a reduced continual at sea carrier capability, with the second carrier held at varying high (R4-R5 – 20-30 days) to medium readiness (R6-R9 – 40-90 days [63] ) to enable a full continual at sea capability depending on the strategic geopolitical conditions.

59. The decision to reverse the purchase of the F-35C carrier variant (CV) is one that will have a profound effect upon UK and allied expeditionary capability. The decision to revert back to the F-35B (STOVL) variant placed short-term economy over the long-term strategic goal of NATO and the European Defence Agency of greater interoperability amongst member states. Although Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced a saving of three years and between £2-£5 billion for the installation of the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System [64] , it must be questioned whether this was a false economy. United States Navy (USN) internal documents have revealed more than a dozen reasons as to why the F-35B will ‘sub-optimize’ carrier-borne operations which includes the lack of internal stand-off weaponry [65] . The MOD’s own estimates projected 25% through-life reduced costs of the F-35C variant [66] , due to the F-35B carrying 31% less fuel which reduces combat radius by 24% when compared to the F-35C [67] . Moreover, significant savings in training and operational conversion costs would have been made as the Fleet Air Arm pilots were relearning "cat and trap" conventional carrier landing skills with the United States Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet during the 2012-2018 operational carrier gap [68] . The catapult and arrestor gear capability has already demonstrated mutual compatibility with the USN Super Hornet [69] , French Aéronavale Dassault Rafale [70] and the shared Airborne early warning (AEW) E-2C Hawkeye. The UK could have developed joint Maritime Aviation Task Groups and embarked foreign components with the shared F-35C [71] . The Centre therefore argues that future interventions will have continued interoperability issues with our major naval aviation allies due to the above myopic policy decisions. As a result, the Centre urges increased defence co-operation with the much smaller future F-35B operators United States Marine Corp Aviation and Italian Marina Militare to enhance interoperable capability with the Italian flagship Cavour and future US Navy classes: America and Gerald R Ford.

60. Finally, the deployment of fourteen NATO allies and four non-NATO partners in Libya (2011) and seven NATO allies, two non-NATO partners and the RAF’s own No.99 Squadrons in support of the French led Opération Serval in Mali demonstrates the breadth of backing expected from the international community in support of intervention. Additionally, both campaigns demonstrated some progress within NATO on interoperability and sharing of aerial refuelling, transport and ISTAR assets, but more effort is needed to pool resources.

61. The Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) 2010 began with a commitment that the UK would retain the capability to deploy anywhere across the globe in minimalist time [72] . The fiscal reality requires that there will be a dramatic reduction of manpower in line with other capital spending decreases, yet it is the Centres’ belief that the capability and readiness of the UK Armed Forces will remain sufficient to allow for future interventions. The Centre strongly believes that the UK still remains one of the few specialised nations both capable and also with the political will to fulfil the most demanding and dangerous overseas military interventions. However, competing commitments, the future capability of Royal Navy, the F-35 variant U-turn and policy underpinning the creation of the Joint Expeditionary Force remain significant hurdles for the foreseeable future.


62. Throughout this submission, the HIC has aimed to shed light on aspects of intervention that are beyond the mainstream discourse and the obvious considerations. Below is a list of bullet points which outline our main conclusions and highlight less obvious contributions this paper hopes to make.

63. Inaction is as much a declaration of intent and policy as action.

64. Whilst many hold the opinion that the 2003 Iraq war was illegal and illegitimate, the HIC believes that a reasonable case can be made for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Had the RtoP doctrine been ratified into international law, it could have clarified the political casus belli.

65. The decision between protecting human rights and defending one’s national interests is rarely a binary choice and not mutually exclusive.

66. There are a number of options when considering military intervention ranging from economic sanction, through airstrikes and ending at the most invasive option of a full-scale combined-arms force mobilisation.

67. There are many factors which limit the availability of intervention options in specific crises including the objective, public opinion and support for various involved actors, the capabilities of each actor involved, the leadership structures of the belligerents, geography, ethnic tensions and divides, the activities of non-state actors and more.

68. One must take account of spillover, self-containment, and excessive radicalisation/Zarqawi Sydrome when dealing with armed non-state actors, particularly those with transnational ideologies.

69. In light of the SDSR, one must be mindful of the impact that defence cuts have had and will have on our ability to honour our various overlapping military commitments.

70. Our reduced naval capabilities may impact our ability to project power abroad, as we are now over reliant on allies’ granting overflying permission and air basing rights to deploy forces globally. Future interoperability issues with our allies will arise due to our decision to purchase the F-35B variant of the JSF, rather than the F-35C, this should be recognised and appropriate measures taken to minimise interoperability issues. We recommend that there be no further reduction in British amphibious or littoral capabilities.

71. Britain must continue to pursue the enhancement of defence capabilities in NATO and the EU to ease pressure on our defence structures.


Julie Lenarz: Executive Director

Simon Schofield: Senior Fellow

Philip Cane: Junior Fellow

Dwayne Ryan Menezes: Junior Fellow

Zhenjie Im: Junior Fellow

November 2013

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[9] Ibid., pp.20-22.

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[13] Ibid., Carlsson et al., Report of the Independent Inquiry, UN Doc. S/1999/1257, p.11.

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[27] Ibid.

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[32] Ibid.

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Prepared 28th November 2013