Gaza conflict: What are the best intervention strategies?

February 14, 2009

In “The Delusion of Impartial Intervention”, Betts* argues that rivals in a civil war fight for a single purpose: control of the government (or the establishment of separate governments controlled by each of the contending parties) (Betts 1994: 20-21). They will stop fighting only when this objective is achieved, or when stalemate is reached. From Betts’ perspective, there are only two effective ways for international actors to intervene in a civil war: (1) partisan intervention supporting one party to achieve its purpose, and (2) impartial yet unlimited intervention in which the intervening states or the UN take complete command of the polity. We will test the first option with the Gaza conflict, demonstrating that Betts’ thesis is at least partly valid.

In November 2008, a six-month Egypt-brokered truce was broken by both sides. This may be because the truce did not fulfill Israel’s goal of weakening Hamas and Hamas’ goal of getting politically engaged with the international community. This suggests that a limited intervention measure not fulfilling the rivals’ purpose of fighting in a civil war is not effective.

In December and January, the US helped to draft a UN Security Council Resolution calling for a halt in the attacks but then abstained from it. However, later the US intervened to assure that it would help stop the flow of arms into Gaza, after which Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire.The assurance addresses Israel’s purposes of attacking Gaza—to reduce the military power of Hamas in order to 1) protect the security of Israelis, and 2) maintain control over the entirety of the Israeli territory. It is partisan and limited because the US only gave assurance to Israel but not Hamas and did not take complete command of Gaza. This is consistent with Betts’ thesis that where intervention is limited, only partisan intervention can end a civil war quickly.

So far we cannot conclude whether this biased intervention will bring stability to Gaza in the long run. We have some questions for all: Is this type of partial intervention by the US conducive to the long-term stability in Gaza? If not, how can we balance effective intervention and maintenance of peace in the long run? Lastly, what if the rivals’ purposes in fighting the war are not just? Or there is no global standard of justice?

Betts, R. (1994). The Delusion of Impartial Intervention. In Foreign Affairs, 73(6),p.20-34

Veronica Tse and Annie Li


7 Responses to “Gaza conflict: What are the best intervention strategies?”

  1. lmcinhk Says:

    Veronica & Annie —

    A few questions ….

    Betts argues that “impartiality works best where intervention is needed least: where wars have played themselves out and the fighting factions need only
    the good offices of mediators to lay down their arms.” How would you characterized the conflict between Israel and Hamas? Is it ripe for resolution by impartial intervention?

    Betts also argues that intervention to bring peace means “determining how the war ends” or who governs. Perhaps the lack of a viable governance solution for Gaza, one that is acceptable to both sides, is the real problem. Is peace possible without this?

    Finally, how is this discussion related to human security?

    Looking forward to your responses,


  2. Clara Says:

    Thank you for your detailed analysis on the Gaza conflict using Betts’ idea of impartial intervention.

    I believe partisan intervention was somewhat conducive to at least a temporary ceasefire in the Gaza conflict. However, I have my reservations about this kind of intervention. Perhaps, it was effective in the Gaza conflict because neither Israel nor Hamas had particularly strong and supportive allies. If partisan intervention were to take place where both parties had strong allies, there is a possibility for it to escalate, perhaps into a proxy war, or something even bigger (ex. the Korean and Vietnam War).

    In my opinion, it is necessary for the US to engage Israel and Hamas in constructive negotiation for the temporary ceasefire to be extended to a peace treaty. It is desirable for both parties to conclude a representative government, or perhaps establish Gaza as an autonomous region. The US also needs to increase its sanctions on Israel and Hamas regarding future attacks or peace treaty breaches. This may sound rather ideal, but I believe it is the best approach, theoretically speaking.

    In regards to a lack of standard in global justice, I do not have an answer. This is a question that will take years of international effort to resolve. There have been many political philosophy articles written about global justice, yet theory is only appealing on paper, and never in reality. In determining the standard for global justice, there is a requirement for states to compromise their sovereignty partially. Failed states fear Western bureaucratic domination, and powerful states apprehend the pressure to send forces to every conflict which would drain their military resources. In fact, this is an important question that will take numerous UN meetings to balance the conflict of interest among states.


  3. Thank you Professor Cummings for your questions. Here are some of our replied to them.

    We agree Betts’ argument that “impartiality works best where intervention is needed least”. This argument is in line with his major allegation in his article that impartial intervention may also be effective to end a war if the outsiders take complete command of the situation (i.e. not limited). But such argument has a necessary condition: “where wars have played themselves out”. In another words, neither side has an upper hand in winning the war. We doubt whether the situation in Gaza in one of the stalemate cases whereby but both sides are even-handed. The result of the conflict between Israel and Hamas ( at least after the ceasefire in Jan 2009) seems clear. Hamas has failed to inflict significant causalities on the Israeli invaders and is showing signs of stress and division as shown by the decreasing number of rocket bombardment of Israel during the conflicts. Many of its buildings and installations have been destroyed. On the contrary, Israel, with the assurance from US to stop the flow of arms into Gaza seems to be in a more advantageous position. We doubt whether an impartial intervention from the UN or the US ( which we have reservation whether she would intervene impartially given her vested interest with Israel) would be effective, not to mention whether it would be feasible in practice. Having an upper hand in the conflict, it seems that there is no reason for Israel to accept an impartial/peaceful negotiations.

    We agree that the lack of a mutually-accepted and viable governance solution is the real problem of the conflict and as long as such solution cannot be agreed upon, peace (more specifically long term peace) seems to be impossible. That’s why we have reservation towards the effectiveness of the current assurance from US to Israel for the stoppage of weaponry flows to Gaza in fostering peace in the long run. For long term peace, peace negotiation and talks facilitated by the UN would be important in ensuring that the government established would be internationally recognized. However, given that Israel and Hamas hold different ideals towards “the government to be established” whereby Israel does not recognize the “terrorist regime of Hamas” and Hamas would like their government to be recognized by the international community, whether there is in deed such a viable solution in practice is questionable.

    We hope the discussion of the Gaza conflict can help to shed lights on the practical aspect of human security intervention. Recognizing that the R2P provides sound moral rationale for the international community to intervene when the state itself is not protecting its people, it seems that R2P provides a conceptual framework than a practical guidance as to how exactly countries should intervene and in what manner intervention should be in order to be effective. Under the modern human security paradigm whereby focus has been shifted away from national security to protection of human beings from violent civil conflicts, an effective mean of intervention is important so as to protect possible tragedy in the future.

    Annie and Veronica

  4. Thank you Clara for your thoughts and comments.

    We do have the same reservation as you mentioned that whether partisan intervention would really be conducive to the long term peace-settling of Gaza. Thus, we recognize that constructive negotiation by the UN is needed to long term peace because it gets Hamas to be politically engaged (which is its goal to be achieved throughout all these years) and the agreement reached to be internationally recognized. Yet, as we have replied above to Professor Cummings’ question, we are not optimistic for the establishment of a mutually acceptable and viable governance solution between Israel and Hamas as they hold totally different ideas concerning the solution.

    Responding to your statement that “the US also needs to increase its sanctions on Israel and Hamas regarding future attacks”, we are not sure whether it would be possible as US has its own vested interest with Israel and has long been on the side supporting Israel. Wouldn’t it be possible for the UN to take up such a role in sanctioning then? Again, we doubt whether the UN has the necessary operational capacity to do so.

    Concerning your global justice point, we hold a similar stance as you that it is difficult, if not impossible to say that there is a standardized notion of global justice. In the Gaza case especially, different cultural background, historical upbringings of the country and the different level of involvement in the conflict shape one’s perception of “justice” But the reason why we would like to bring up this notion of “justice” is that it is interesting to note the discourse of justice and peace. As stated in Bett’s article (p.31), we should not confuse peace with justice when dealing with international intervention. They may not coincidence simultaneously for each intervention, not to mention sometimes one need to weigh between the two in initiating an effective intervention.

    Annie and Veronica

  5. andyho82 Says:

    Thank you for your post.

    I do not think partial intervention will bring about much changes in Gaza, let alone soothe the relations between the Hamas and Israel. Partisan help in this case of the US did not and cannot eliminate the long lasting problems between Gaza and Israel, but only to quell the erupting violence. With the main aim of Hamas wanting to replace Israel with an Islamic state, it is quite unlikely that Hamas would stop in their tracks even after the recent war between the both sides and with outside intervention.

    I think the first question would be more fitting if it involves long-term stability in Gaza AND Israel. Back to the question – by suppressing one side and helping the next, it will only cause more pressure on the Hamas’ side to build up, and being the kind of fighters they are, will only strengthen their desire to work even harder towards their cause.

    Taking sides can be a tough decision. Gaza is blockaded and necessities can be hard to come by. When people are desperate and angry over their situation, it is possible for them to take up a more extreme point of view towards things. If people had a better living in Gaza, they would probably be less affected by the political meals the Hamas dishes out. Perhaps more can be done for the people in Gaza. Although there is no sure way to ensure peace, the international community could at least do more in aiding the Gaza strip to prevent more people to subscribing to Hamas’ point of view.

    I agree with Clara’s part on the sanctions for both sides should they breach any peace treaties. But first and foremost Israel should stop the blockade of Gaza, and then perhaps the international community can try to work something out between the two sides, without either sides being handicapped in any way to promote a more level platform to enable positive discussions.

    Through historical factors, inequalities and other circumstances, I believe that there is no absolute global standard of justice. From the fighting, both sides believe that they’re just. You’ve mentioned that all those factors conjure up the “notion of justice”, but who is there to judge?

  6. Thanks Andy for your reply.

    Firstly, as we have mentioned in our reply above, we agree with you that if the main aim of Hamas is to replace Israel with an Islamic state, then the so called “ceasefire” taken up by Israel in January would not bring much changes ( at least in the long term) to the situation between Israel and Gaza. But recent news had suggested that Hamas sent a letter to President Obama, it is speculated that Hamas may possibly be asking more attention from US and negotiation with Israel. This may indicate his willingness to compromise. If that is really the case, we believe that the US or the international community should grasp this opportunity to get both sides to negotiate. But again, we are still doubted about the vested interest of US in Israel.

    You also raised a really good point about the possibility of the international community to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian in Gaza so that they won’t subscribe to the extreme point of view or action of the Hamas. This should be done along with the negotiation for a viable government solution as Dr Cummings has pointed out. But we somehow believe that in order to improve the economy/livelihood in Gaza effectively, mere monetary aids are not enough. The international community also has to recognize that Hamas isn’t a extreme terrorist group. Otherwise, they can only give aids but may not be able to help build the infrastructure or education system etc in Gaza as that requires liaison with Hamas.

    Once again, as you have rightly pointed out, we also believe that in order to ensure long term peace between Israel and Gaza, negotiations between the 2 sides based on a level playing field is indispensable to enable constructive discussion. However, it seems that as different countries may have different vested interests in either Israel or Palestine, whether there could really be equal bargaining power between the two is doubtful.

    Veronica and Annie

  7. Annie li Says:

    Dear Clara and Andy,
    You may refer to the following news articles about Hamas failing to inflict significant casualties and sending the letter to the US, and the difficulty the international community experiences in helping to build the infrastructure of Gaza respectively:

    Veronica and Annie

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