To intervene or not to intervene?


Written by Six One student Aliya — President of Security Council, Benenden MUN.

With the threat of a world war looming and pressure being placed on Russia to release Ukraine from its proxy-dictatorship, the classic question of foreign intervention has become predominant amongst the circles of many politics scholars, arguing for and against the effectiveness of foreign intervention, and whether the West has a duty to get involved in conflicts ongoing around the world.

As a member of the Model United Nations, this question appears to have a straightforward answer – the role of the UN is to keep peace around the world, therefore, foreign intervention is necessary when this is being threatened. However, there is an ‘internal’ conflict looming, as we must also consider the effects of previous interventions in the Middle East and Africa, and how they might have left the countries even more damaged than they previously were.

Firstly, it is important to understand what foreign intervention is. Elizabeth Schmidt, a professor emeritus in History, defined it as ‘a phenomenon which occurs when a dominant country uses force or pressure to interfere with and exert power over a weaker sovereign entity’. Considerably, this definition is almost critical of ‘foreign intervention’, but aptly describes what it serves to do in the broadest sense, which is to apply pressure and force a ‘predatory’ country to release its ‘prey’. On the international stage, this analogy reflects Russia and Ukraine, and the actors of foreign intervention are primarily the United States and United Kingdom.

In the past week, as of late February 2022, the United Kingdom and United States have threatened Russia and its elite with economic sanctions, the summation of this being a direct freeze of Putin’s personal accounts internationally, and the banning of him being able to trade in the United States. As well as this, many Russian banks and major companies have also been banned from trading in the United Kingdom.

These significant measures are arguably a significant form of economic intervention, and its effects have been immediately obvious; shortly after the initial promises of economic sanctions were made by Boris Johnson, the Russian stock market fell by 40 points. This demonstrates the potency of intervention, but also brings attention the harsh reality of it.

Foreign intervention can be described as a boomerang – although it hits its target, causing the mass destruction of certain institutions, it also finds its way back to its purveyor, causing them significant damage as well. For example, after Russia invaded Ukraine despite American’s sanctions and threats, the fuel price climbed overnight, and experts have warned that it could reach $5 a gallon – the highest recorded price ever in American history.

Similarly, oil prices have also risen in the UK, as Russia is one of the most prominent global suppliers of natural gases. It is arguable that the economic sanctions appear to have both been ignored, and also considered by Putin to be insignificant. In this way, who is this economic intervention affecting more – Russia or the West? Only time will tell.

However, Biden hitting Putin directly with economic sanctions has hit the bullseye. This form of pressure might be considered as a more viable option of intervention, as it protects the Russian public from being unfairly economically incapacitated by these sanctions, whilst forcing their leader to be more prudent with his military decisions.

Overall, although the argument as to whether foreign intervention is effective or not is highly subjective, and up to the reader to decide, physical foreign intervention is becoming a more prolonged act, with leaders being hesitant to invade Russia, and economic intervention is being favoured, much to the dissatisfaction of many Ukrainians, who have been left in the lurch by the West to defend themselves militarily.