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Theorising military intervention
journal contributionposted on 2023-06-07, 17:34 authored by Patricia Owens
It seems no book about the current world order is complete these days without 'empire' or 'imperial' in the title. All three authors under review avoid this trend but are nonetheless timely in explicitly associating past colonial practice with more recent military adventures. This association is not always evident in the burgeoning 'empire' literature, or that on contemporary military intervention. Yet many opponents - and supporters - of the recent US-led wars over Kosovo (1999), Afghanistan (2001-2) and Iraq (2003) suggested these interventions were not only (or even) based on so-called 'humanitarian' or 'anti-terrorist' grounds. They were, in part, quests by the United States for strategic influence and in light of the current balance of power that could only translate into a form of imperialism, whether judged pernicious or benign. Of course, opponents and supporters of these campaigns differ as to whether their imperial tinge disqualifies the humanitarian claims made by the United States and its allies. The North-American authors under review in this essay seem to suggest that colonial (and decolonisation) practices actually reinforce the humanity of the West and the validity of recent 'humanitarian' justifications for war rather than expose anything unseemly about contemporary interventionary practice. What is the source of this apparent paradox? How can the historical legacies of North-South relations (and what we know about the politics of imperial identity construction) seem so benign in the present era? It cannot (only?) be that the authors are all North American. One answer can be found in the theoretical framework of the books. Notwithstanding the extent to which each author has sought to be self-reflective concerning power and critical of the International Relations (IR) mainstream, all offer legitimisations for imperial war in wide and problematic ways...
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