17.478 | Fall 2013 | Graduate

Great Power Military Intervention


Those taking the course for credit can satisfy the requirement for written work in one of two ways: a typical class paper, or, a pair of review essays. The latter requires some explanation. The student will read at least two related books for each of the review essays, for a total of four books. These cannot be the required books on the syllabus.

Suggested Paper and Book Review Topics and Questions

Note: related questions are clustered together. This list is suggestive, not exhaustive. Please suggest alternatives.

  • What has been the relative weight of legal, ethical, domestic political, and power political, motives in great power decisions to intervene in civil wars?
  • Is Preventive Diplomacy a reasonable policy tool to avoid civil wars, or at least the worst excesses sometimes associated with such wars?

Can the Early Warning problem for civil wars and their humanitarian excesses be solved?

  • How did alliance politics affect decisions to intervene?

Are there any systematic differences in the ways that different great powers approach civil wars? Why?

  • Which types of military force, and what types of military strategy seem to be most useful for intervention into civil wars?

Is external intervention into civil wars best thought of as a deterrence problem or a coercion problem? Is this a useful distinction?

  • How well have states integrated the political and military components of their interventions?

How has the coalition nature of modern interventions affected the conduct or outcome of these interventions?

  • What would Cold War and earlier history of great power intervention into civil wars have taught us, had we bothered to examine it in 1990?
  • What are the relative merits of neutrality vs. choosing sides for outsiders considering intervention?
  • How does domestic politics in the intervener’s society affect decisions to intervene? Is the notion of an “exit strategy” before one intervenes, sound strategy or fatuous nonsense invented to gull skeptics?
  • Do civil wars produce more war crimes or violations of international humanitarian law than other kinds of wars? Are they particularly destructive or vicious?

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2013
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments
Instructor Insights