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CPSA/ISA-Canada section on International Relations

C12(a) - Self-Interests, Coercion, and International Intervention in Conflict Zones

Date: Jun 5 | Time: 02:00pm to 03:30pm | Location: SWING 208

Chair/Président/Présidente : Aaron Hoffman (Simon Fraser University)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Aaron Hoffman (Simon Fraser University)


Session Abstract: International Relations scholars are only beginning to unravel the complexity of international intervention in the current and rapidly shifting geopolitical climate that features growing Russian and Chinese assertiveness, US uncertainty and retreat, and a startling array of new intervention actors. Shifting geopolitics inspires and requires new analysis regarding the aims, norms and modalities of international intervention in conflict zones and the way states execute their foreign policies and secure self-interests through coercive international interventions abroad. This panel weaves together a discussion of international coercion and self-interests through papers that explore the unconventional tactics of gray zone conflict by aspirants in the global hierarchy of power, the self-interested imperialism of Canadian ‘policekeeping’ and police ‘assistance’ missions, the power advantages gained from strategically maintaining ambiguity inside international interventions to counter and prevent violent extremism, and the desperate coming to terms with the failure of internationally-sponsored conflict resolution in Afghanistan that has prioritized the self-interests of intervenors over addressing fundamental drivers to ongoing violence and instability.


Applications of Hybrid Warfare in an Era of Gray Zone Conflict: A Comparative Analysis: Dani Belo (Carleton University)
Abstract: Today’s geopolitical conflicts reflect a desire by parties to gradually, but fundamentally, revise the regional or global system of alliances and international norms to a degree not even seen during the Cold War. This process of conflict-induced change is often understood as gray zone conflict in which states conduct operations that never pass the threshold of war. One definitional inaccuracy regarding gray zone conflicts is their conflation with hybrid warfare. In this paper we distinguish between the strategic goals captured by gray zone conflict and the tactical operations of hybrid warfare. Unlike hybrid warfare, in gray zone conflicts participants may rely exclusively on unconventional tactics. We compare gray zone strategies and hybrid warfare through four cases. First, we evaluate China’s notion of “unrestricted warfare”, a model which closely approximates gray zone strategic thinking and limited utilization of hybrid warfare. Second, in Russia’s involvement in the Baltics and Eastern Ukraine we see mixed elements of gray zone and hybrid warfare or what we call “hybrid balancing.” Third, we consider Israeli application of “regional hybridism”, emphasizing tactical operations. Finally, we examine NATO's hybrid warfare in weak and fragile states and its utilization of what we call “restricted hybridism.”


Canada’s International Peace Operations, Policekeeping, and the Question of Imperialism: Colleen Bell (University of Saskatchewan)
Abstract: In the field of International Relations, comparisons have been made between contemporary peacekeeping/peacebuilding operations and imperialism (Paris 2001; Cunliffe 2012, Turner 2010). This paper examines these arguments and how they might help in assessing the role of Canada’s international peace operations in international relations. I focus specifically on the role of the “policekeeping” and police “assistance” missions organized through the Canadian Police Arrangement and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Canada’s history of peacekeeping has received critical commentary on the grounds that it is less about “peace” than war (Whitworth 2004) and also that it misrepresents Canada’s involvement in international conflict, partly because Canada’s contributions in recent decades fall far below public perceptions (Wegner 2018). However, Canada’s international police operations have received little consideration within the peacekeeping/ peacebuilding literature, nor have they received much attention within international policing debates. Following a review of operations and guiding principles of Canada’s decisions to conduct international police operations, I analyze the peacebuilding literature on the question of imperialism, specifically with respect to the “aims” and “modalities” of peacebuilding, a framework that I borrow from Phillipe Cunliffe (2012). I argue here that the RCMP not only played a key role in advancing the colonial settlement of Canada historically, but also that its contemporary international peace operations meet the criteria for imperialism in several respects.


The Strategic Ambiguity of International Interventions to Counter/Prevent Violent Extremism: Chuck Thiessen (Coventry University)
Abstract: This paper investigates the growing use of ‘countering/preventing violent extremism’ (C/PVE) as a strategic framework for international peacebuilding interventions in conflict zones across the developing world. The starting point for this paper’s argument is the increasingly confident assertion that international peacebuilding interventions are substantially driven by the self-interests of intervening states, and that C/PVE interventions allow for more invasive forms of self-interested intervention than were previously possible. This paper argues that the international intervening community ensures deeper forms of control by utilizing the power of strategic ambiguity – whereby international actors ensure tactical advantages by not clarifying the terms of engagement with domestic counterparts. This argument is supported by research conducted within the UN system in Kyrgyzstan and at UN headquarters in New York. Two examples of ambiguity in P/CVE interventions are discussed – definitional ambiguity regarding key terminology across multiple levels and ambiguity regarding the explanatory social, economic and political drivers of radicalization and violent extremism. This paper concludes by discussing the consequences of strategic ambiguity for local conflict-affected populations and the ways that ambiguity might be resolved.


Why the US Conflict Resolution Strategy in Afghanistan has Failed?: Said Yaqub Ibrahimi (Carleton University)
Abstract: Afghanistan is a significant case in studying conflict and conflict resolution. War in Afghanistan is one of the longest asymmetric conflicts in modern history. The war in Afghanistan, in varying forms, has lasted for over 40 years - engaging superpowers, regional powers, and multiple domestic players. Afghanistan is also the case that marks the United States’ longest military engagement in a foreign country. Following the defeat of the Taliban as a result of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom in late 2001, it was broadly proclaimed that Afghanistan was a post-conflict country. However, the optimism was challenged by the resurgence of the Taliban and the continuation of violence and terrorist attacks. Considering the persistence and complexity of the Afghan war, the main question today is: why the US and its partners could not resolve the conflict? This paper aims to address this question. The paper, first, focuses on the root causes of the conflict and investigates how the US and its partners failed to address those causes and, next, it argues how this failure caused the extension of the conflict and its development from one to another stage in the past two decades. Outlining the root causes of this conflict, the paper will also discuss a number of conflict resolution scenarios in the war-torn country and warns that unless conflict resolution strategies are directed toward solving the causes of the conflict, in the first place, reaching to a meaningful peacebuilding process does not seem likely.