Finishing the job or mission creep? How American Presidents justify humanitarian intervention exit strategies

Presented by ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

Humanitarian interventions to stop mass atrocities are among America’s most controversial uses of military force overseas since the end of the Cold War. While there is much research analysing justifications for and conduct of humanitarian interventions, there is very little scholarly investigation of how and why interventions end. Indeed, successive US presidents have struggled to implement exit strategies from humanitarian interventions.

In this seminar, Anna Samson will show how we can use US presidential rhetoric as a way to understand exit strategy dynamics in humanitarian interventions. Looking specifically at how American presidents engaged in practises of public justification and legitimation in four interventions from 1991-2011— northern Iraq, Somalia, Kosovo and Libya — Anna identifies the normative constraints on exit strategy decision-making. She will demonstrate why exploring public justifications provides insights into how and why mission creep occurred in these cases, and ultimately why it is so hard to withdraw troops and end humanitarian interventions.

Anna Samson is currently a PhD candidate in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre. She has previously worked in the humanitarian protection sector across the Asia-Pacific. Anna’s research was supported by a Fulbright scholarship to Washington DC where she was based at Georgetown University, George Washington University and the International Institute for Strategic Studies.