14 September 2012

Refugees and Military Intervention

The growing number of refugees may be what triggers a military intervention into Syria. Lionel Beehner looks into the murky issue on the World Policy Institute blog and discusses past examples.
The relationship between refugee crises and humanitarian interventions remains unclear. On one hand, the use of brute and indiscriminate force appears to be a deliberate tactic by the Assad regime to displace locals and create refugee flows, thereby raising the costs for outside powers like Turkey to either provide humanitarian assistance or intervene militarily. But this tactic could also backfire, prompting calls for greater military involvement by the West.

A look back at recent interventions is instructive on how the size and scope of refugee flows has swayed policymakers and the public to intervene militarily. One of the major motivations behind the northern Iraq no-fly zone, established in 1991 was to relieve the burden of an estimated million-plus Kurds seeking shelter in Turkey by creating a secure zone for them within Iraq. Ankara was particularly worried about the influx of refugees exacerbating tensions among its own Kurds in the southeast, creating a kind of “Kurdish Gaza Strip” that could become a lawless zone of instability. In Bosnia and Kosovo, similar spillovers of refugees and the threat they posed to regional stability provided the catalyst for greater involvement and eventual military intervention. As then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it, “Spreading conflict … could flood the region with refugees and create a haven for international terrorists, drug traffickers, and criminals.”
His post is worth a full read. Go here