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Foreign Powers and Intervention in Armed Conflict

Foreign Powers and Intervention in Armed Conflicts, by Aysegul Aydin. Stanford University Press, 2012.

At some point in scientific history, someone’s experiment demonstrated heat melts ice and liquid water results. Aysegul Aydin’s work is no more than one of those in providing some additional verification for what should be common knowledge. The author chooses a key modern strategy discussion: why and how do external states become involved in international conflicts and civil wars. He uses qualitative and quantitative means to prove states intervene in some conflicts, and when they do, reasons exist. Further, the study shows some states are more likely to intervene in some conflicts than other nonsimilar states. The reasons why Aydin believes states intervene are linked to motivation from national incentives or constraint from private investors. In the end, he shows when two states consider conflict intervention, one is more likely than the other to take action. For me, the book falls short of delivering any useful insights and your best bet may be to leave this particular volume on the shelf.

To start, Aydin introduces intervention studies and how factors driving intervention remain critical for many academics. The next two chapters further detail both intervention studies and explore the liberal theoretical lens underlying this work. Liberalism serves as the central element, stating causal links exist between domestic policies and state actions. The theoretical review is interesting but not tied closely enough to the fundamentals of why and how Aydin’s underlying study emerged. Chapter 4 presents seven hypotheses and 25 independent variables with only negligible, statistical correlation between them. Chapter 5 abandons the previous discussion to qualitatively examine several US case studies before returning to a statistical analysis of civil war intervention in Chapter 6. The conclusion is remarkably inconclusive, short at only six pages, and fails to link any analytical points directly or indirectly to the final observations. The strategic-level discussion is excellent; however, the method lacks sufficient depth to advance past a “states intervene in conflict” level conclusion.

Foreign Powers studies the government and private sector economic incentives behind intervention and labels these as motivation and constraint. Motivation describes government intervention incentives while constraint depicts how private domestic investors may restrain or spur equivalent action. Unfortunately, the two terms are not uniformly used or applied during the study, and neither term appears in the work’s hypotheses, variables, or final conclusion. To his credit, Aydin analyzes significant amounts of data from the Correlates of War project to create some quantitative results behind the study.

The author does attempt to conduct some detailed analytical work through the hypotheses and variables. The first three theses consider states with economic ties like trade volume, foreign direct investment, and preferential trade agreements more likely to intervene than those without. The next three theses compare democratic versus nondemocratic states, parliamentary systems versus other democracies, and personal rule autocracies versus other autocracies with the first in the pair as always more likely to intervene when economic links exist. Finally, the seventh hypothesis questions whether intervening states are more likely to use military or nonmilitary intervention once a decision to intervene occurs. The seventh should have been left off in favor of concentrating on the first six, if not just the first three for better overall research. Unfortunately, the intersection between the variables and the hypotheses is never explained within the text. Aydin also never answers whether any of the hypotheses prove true or false during testing.

One can combine Aydin’s first three hypotheses into a single line: “Some regimes with preferential trade agreements, direct investment, and significant trade volumes are more likely to intervene to defend their economic interests than those without.” The next three theses combine as the following: “Autocracies intervene to support economic interests more often than democracies.” Unfortunately, this statement merely follows the book’s theoretical basis without demonstrated connection to Aydin’s empirical research. Nothing of particular analytical interest emerges from any hypothesis. All analysis occurs by aggregating all potential interventions as binary activity comparisons (that is, did the state intervene or not) without explaining relationships. Most will likely agree states intervene on behalf of those with whom they substantially trade more than those with whom they do not. Most will also agree autocratic states will intervene more often than democratic states since they do not face home constituencies or subsequent elections. If Aydin had demonstrated a statistical basis for the previous statements, the study may have been more worthwhile. Unfortunately, he fails to ever discuss what exactly he is looking for in his few pages of empirical calculations and analysis. Several graphs to explain results or probability and correlation discussions would have been immensely useful.

One of the least enjoyable techniques is Aydin appearing to logically stumble and jump through the entire text by lurching from one unsupported assertion to the next without a sufficient theoretical framework or any support. His assumptions include stating the sole desire of elected officials as perpetuating personal power and then, in presidential democracies, all essential decisions are made directly by the executive while legislators only worry about their constituencies. Another personal favorite is his stating presidentialism is a democratic government, and rightfully so, but then declaring all African presidencies assert total personal control over political structures and weakened military, judiciary and civil service, much more like an autocracy. Neither assertion is supported by any outside reference. Other examples occur throughout with over 20 instances where Aydin’s qualitative comment is disconnected from the surrounding, previous, or following text as well as not linked to textual notes. The logic is poorly structured, and the conclusions simply do not follow the author’s premises for many of these items.

Overall, the work reaches two conclusions: First, a state’s decision to intervene in an external conflict is complicated. Second, most states will act to support their economic interests, and democratic states are under additional pressure from their domestic constituencies. Neither conclusion appears analytically tied to the data presented within the text. The numbers and theoretical support do appear to loosely support the conclusion but certainly do not break any new ground. Message received, states act in their own interest; ice melts and becomes liquid water when heat is applied. Skip this one.

Lt Col Mark Peters, USAF
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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