How does military intervention affect ordinary people? Does it spare them from violence by the regime, or exacerbate it?
Dursun Peksen has a new article out in Political Research Quarterly suggesting that military interventions increase state repression against domestic opposition groups. Peksen argues that when foreign powers intervene in domestic conflicts, human rights violations in the target country go up considerably. This is true regardless of whether the intervention comes from an international organization or an external government, democratic or not.
Importantly, the target of external interventionist forces does not matter; interventions that target or support embattled ruling regimes both encourage repressive behavior. Armed interventions in support of governments (e.g., South Africa in Lesotho in 1998) embolden the embattled regimes, granting them more coercive resources and a sense of legitimacy in committing these violations. Armed interventions that are neutral (e.g. United Nations in Bosnia) or hostile toward the embattled government (e.g., US-led intervention in Haiti 1994) are likely to make the regime perceive itself to be under an existential threat, giving it nothing to lose and encouraging even more brutal toward domestic opponents.
The policy implication for humanitarian-minded interventionists is clear. Do you want to spare civilians from human rights abuses? Then unless you are sure you can decisively stop the violence, don’t intervene.