Interventionism definition/Main advantages/Types/historical examples

Interventionism is any significant activity intentionally undertaken by a government to influence the political or economic affairs of another country. It can be an act of military, political, cultural, humanitarian or economic intervention aimed at maintaining international order – peace and prosperity – or strictly for the benefit of the intervening country. Governments with an interventionist foreign policy typically oppose isolationism . Interventionism definition

Main advantages: interventionism

  • Interventionism is the action taken by a government to influence the political or economic affairs of another country.
  • Interventionism implies the use of military force or coercion.
  • Interventionist acts may aim to maintain international peace and prosperity or, strictly, benefit the intervening country.
  • Governments with an interventionist foreign policy typically oppose isolationism .
  • Most arguments in favor of intervention are based on humanitarian grounds.
  • Criticism of the intervention is based on the doctrine of state sovereignty.

Types of interventionist activities

To be considered interventionism, an act must be of a forced or coercive nature. In this context, intervention is defined as an act that is neither invited nor welcomed by the target of the intervention act. For example, if Venezuela asked the United States for help in restructuring its economic policy, the United States would not intervene because it had been invited to intervene. If, however, the United States threatened to invade Venezuela to force it to change its economic structure, that would be interventionism. Interventionism definition

While governments can engage in a variety of interventionist activities, these different forms of interventionism can, and often do, occur simultaneously.

Military Interventionism

As the most recognizable type of interventionism, military interventionist actions always operate under the threat of violence. However, not all aggressive acts by a government are interventionist in nature. The defensive use of military force within a country’s borders or territorial jurisdictions is not interventionist in nature, even if it involves the use of force to change the behavior of another country. Thus, to be an act of interventionism, a country would need to both threaten to use and use military force outside its borders.

Military interventionism should not be confused with imperialism , the unprovoked use of military force solely for the purpose of expanding a country’s sphere of power in the process known as “empire building”. In acts of military interventionism, one country may invade or threaten to invade another country to overthrow an oppressive totalitarian regime or to force the other country to change its foreign, domestic or humanitarian policy. Other activities associated with military interventionism include blockades, economic boycotts , and the overthrow of key government officials.

When the United States became involved in the Middle East following the April 18, 1983, terrorist bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut by Hezbollah , the objective was not to directly restructure Middle Eastern governments, but to resolve a regional military threat with which these governments were not dealing. Interventionism definition

Economic Interventionism

Economic interventionism involves attempts to change or control the economic behavior of another country. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the US used economic pressure and the threat of military intervention to interfere with economic decisions across Latin America.

In 1938, for example, Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas confiscated the assets of nearly every foreign oil company operating in Mexico, including those of US companies. He then banned all foreign oil companies from operating in Mexico and proceeded to nationalize the Mexican oil industry. The US government has responded by enacting a compromise policy that supports efforts by US companies to obtain payment for their seized property, but has supported Mexico’s right to confiscate foreign assets as long as prompt and effective compensation is provided.

Humanitarian Interventionism

Humanitarian interventionism occurs when a country uses military force against another country to restore and safeguard the human rights of the people living there. In April 1991, for example, the United States and other Persian Gulf War Coalition nations invaded Iraq to defend Kurdish refugees fleeing their homes in northern Iraq after the Gulf War. Labeled Operation Provide Comfort, the intervention was primarily conducted to deliver humanitarian aid to these refugees. A no-fly zone instituted to help do this would become one of the key enabling factors for the development of the autonomous region of Kurdistan, now Iraq’s most prosperous and stable region. Interventionism definition

covert interventionism

Not all interventionist acts are publicized in the media. During the Cold War, for example, the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) regularly conducted covert and clandestine operations against governments considered hostile to US interests, especially in the Middle East, Latin America and Africa.

In 1961, the CIA attempted to depose Cuban President Fidel Castro through the Bay of Pigs Invasion , which failed after President John F. Kennedy unexpectedly withdrew US military air support. In Operation Mongoose, the CIA continued to pursue its efforts to overthrow the Castro regime by conducting multiple assassination attempts on Castro and facilitating US-sponsored terrorist attacks on Cuba.

In 1986, the Iran-Contra Affair revealed that President Ronald Reagan’s government had secretly arranged to sell arms to Iran in exchange for Iran’s promise to help secure the release of a group of American hostages in Lebanon. When it became known that revenue from arms sales had been funneled to the Contras, a group of rebels fighting the Sandinista Marxist government of Nicaragua, Reagan’s claim that he would not negotiate with terrorists was discredited. Interventionism definition

historical examples

Examples of major foreign interventionism include the Opium Wars in China, the Monroe Doctrine, US intervention in Latin America, and US interventionism in the 21st century.

Opium Wars

As one of the first major cases of military intervention, the Opium Wars were two wars fought in China between the Qing Dynasty and the forces of Western countries in the mid-19th century. The first Opium War (1839 to 1842) was fought between Great Britain and China, while the second Opium War (1856 to 1860) pitted the forces of Great Britain and France against China. In each war, the most technologically advanced Western forces were victorious. As a result, the Chinese government was forced to grant Britain and France low tariffs, trade concessions, reparations, and territory.

The Opium Wars and the treaties that ended them paralyzed the Chinese imperial government, forcing China to open major seaports, such as Shanghai, for all trade with imperialist powers. Perhaps most significantly, China was forced to give Britain sovereignty over Hong Kong . As a result, Hong Kong functioned as an economically profitable colony of the British Empire until July 1, 1997.

In many ways, the Opium Wars were typical of an era of interventionism in which Western powers, including the United States, tried to gain undisputed access to Chinese products and markets for Europe and the US. replacement. Interventionism definition

Long before the Opium War, the United States was looking for a variety of Chinese goods, including furniture, silk, and tea, but found there were few American goods that the Chinese wanted to buy. Britain had already established a lucrative market for opium smuggled into southern China. American traders soon also turned to opium to ease the US Trade Deficit with China. Despite threats to the health of opium, growing trade with Western powers forced China to buy more products than it sold for the first time in its history. The resolution of this financial problem eventually led to the Opium Wars. Similar to Britain, the United States sought to negotiate treaties with China, granting the United States many of the favorable access to ports and trade terms granted to the British. Aware of the overwhelming power of the US military, the Chinese readily agreed.

Monroe Doctrine

Issued in December 1823 by President James Monroe , the Monroe Doctrine declared that all European countries were obligated to respect the Western Hemisphere as the exclusive sphere of interest of the United States. Monroe warned that the United States would treat any attempt by a European nation to colonize or otherwise intervene in the affairs of an independent nation in North or South America as an act of war.

The Monroe Doctrine was President James Monroe’s December 1823 declaration that the United States would not tolerate a European nation colonizing an independent nation in North or South America. The United States warned that it would consider such an intervention in the Western Hemisphere a hostile act.

The first real test of the Monroe Doctrine came in 1865, when the US government exerted diplomatic and military pressure in support of Mexico’s liberal reformer President Benito Juárez . US intervention allowed Juárez to lead a successful revolt against Emperor Maximilian , who had been placed on the throne by the French government in 1864. Interventionism definition

Nearly four decades later, in 1904, European creditors from several troubled Latin American countries threatened armed intervention to collect debts. Citing the Monroe Doctrine, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the right of the United States to exercise its “international police power” to curb this “chronic crime.” As a result, US Marines were deployed to Santo Domingo in 1904, Nicaragua in 1911, and Haiti in 1915, ostensibly to keep European imperialists out. Not surprisingly, other Latin American nations viewed these US interventions with suspicion, leaving relations between the “great Colossus of the North” and its southern neighbors strained for years.

At the height of the Cold War in 1962, the Monroe Doctrine was symbolically invoked when the Soviet Union began building nuclear missile launch sites in Cuba. With the support of the Organization of American States, President John F. Kennedy established a naval and air blockade around the entire island nation. After several tense days, known as the Cuban Missile Crisis , the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw the missiles and dismantle the launch sites. Subsequently, the United States dismantled several of its obsolete air and missile bases in Turkey. Interventionism definition

American intervention in Latin America

The first phase of American intervention in Latin America began during the Cold War with the CIA-sponsored coup d’état in Guatemala in 1954 that deposed the democratically elected left-wing Guatemalan president and helped bring to an end the Guatemalan Civil War . Deeming the Guatemala operation a success, the CIA tried a similar approach in Cuba in 1961 with the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion. The enormous embarrassment of the Bay of Pigs forced the US to increase its commitment to fighting communism throughout Latin America.

During the 1970s, the US provided weapons, training, and financial aid to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. While US-backed regimes were known for violating human rights, Cold War hawks in Congress excused this as a necessary evil to stop the international spread of communism. During the late 1970s, President Jimmy Carter attempted to change the course of US intervention by denying aid to human rights violators. However, the success of the 1979 Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua, along with the 1980 election of anti-Communist President Ronald Reagan, changed that approach. When the communist insurgencies that existed in Guatemala and El Salvador escalated into bloody civil wars, the Reagan administration provided billions of dollars in aid to governments and guerrilla militias fighting communist insurgents. Interventionism definition

The second phase took place in the 1970s, when the United States took its long-running War on Drugs seriously . The US first targeted Mexico and its Sinaloa region, known for its massive marijuana production and smuggling operations. With increasing US pressure on Mexico, drug production shifted to Colombia. The United States mobilized military ground and air drug interdiction forces to combat newly formed Colombian cocaine cartels and continued to implement programs to eradicate coca cultivation, often harming poor indigenous peoples who had no other source of income.

As the United States was helping the Colombian government fight the communist guerrilla FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), it was simultaneously fighting the drug cartels that smuggled tons of cocaine into the United States. When the United States and Colombia finally defeated Pablo “King of Cocaine” Escobar and his Medellin cartel, the FARC formed alliances with Mexican cartels, most notably the Sinaloa cartel, which now controls drug trafficking.

In the final and current phase, the United States provides important foreign assistance to Latin American countries to support economic development and other US goals, such as promoting democracy and opening markets, as well as combating illicit narcotics. In 2020, US aid to Latin America totaled more than $1.7 billion. Nearly half of that total went to help address underlying factors, such as poverty, that drive illegal migration from Central America to the United States. Although the United States no longer dominates the hemisphere as in the past, the United States remains an integral part of Latin American economics and politics.

21st century interventionism

In response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, United States President George W. Bush and NATO launched the War on Terror , which included military intervention to depose the Taliban government in the Afghan War, as well as the launch of Attack of drones and special forces operations against suspected terrorist targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. In 2003, the US along with a multinational coalition invaded Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein , who was eventually executed for crimes against humanity on December 30, 2006. Interventionism definition

More recently, the United States provided weapons to groups trying to overthrow the autocratic regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and launched airstrikes against the terrorist group ISIS. However, President Barack Obama was unwilling to send American ground troops. After the November 13, 2015, ISIS terrorist attacks in Paris, Obama was asked if it was time for a more aggressive approach. In his response, Obama prophetically emphasized that an effective intervention by ground troops would have to be “large and time-consuming.”


The predominant rationale for intervention, as expressed in UN Security Council Resolution 1973, is “to protect civilians and civilian populations in areas under threat of attack. ” Adopted on March 17, 2011, the resolution constituted the legal basis for military intervention in the Libyan Civil War. In 2015, the US cited Resolution 1973 to assist Libyan forces in the fight against the militant terrorist group ISIS.

Most arguments in favor of intervention are based on humanitarian grounds. It is assumed that human beings have a moral, if not legal, obligation to prevent serious human rights violations and inhumane treatment of innocent people. Often, this standard of humanitarian civilian conduct can only be enforced through intervention with the use of military force. Interventionism definition

When oppression reaches the point where the connection between the people and the government ceases to exist, the argument of national sovereignty as opposed to intervention becomes invalid. Intervention is often justified on the assumption that it will save more lives than it will cost. For example, it has been estimated that US interventions in the war on terrorism may have prevented more than 69 attacks on the scale of September 11, 2001 in the past two decades. An estimated 15,262 US military personnel, Department of Defense civilians and contractors died in these conflicts – a much smaller number. On a theoretical level, the war on terrorism could be justified by the far greater number of lives saved through aid to Afghanistan’s health care system.

The longer conflict and human rights violations continue without intervention, the greater the likelihood of similar instability in neighboring countries or regions. Without intervention, the humanitarian crisis can quickly become an international security concern. For example, the United States spent the 1990s thinking of Afghanistan as a humanitarian disaster zone, neglecting the fact that it was actually a national security nightmare – a training ground for terrorists. Interventionism definition


Opponents of interventionism point to the fact that the doctrine of sovereignty implies that interfering in the policies and actions of another country can never be politically or morally right. Sovereignty implies that states must not recognize authority superior to themselves, nor can they be bound by any superior jurisdiction. Article 2(7) of the UN Charter is quite explicit about the jurisdiction of States. “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state…” Interventionism definition

Some realist scholars, who see the state as the main actor in international relations, also argue that the international community has no legal jurisdiction over the citizens of another state. The citizens of each state, they argue, should be free to determine their future without outside intervention.

Positions both for and against intervention are rooted in strong moral arguments, making the debate passionate and often hostile. Furthermore, those who agree on the humanitarian need for the intervention often disagree on details such as the purpose, magnitude, time and cost of the planned intervention.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button