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Cross-Disciplinary Research Could Mean More Effective Military Interventions

February 22, 2011

Several academic disciplines study how to achieve success in military interventions in internal wars, not least peace studies and war studies. But the fact that researchers in the various disciplines formulate the problems differently and use different scientific methods means that they often reach different conclusions. A thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, shows that an interdisciplinary approach could improve the research and thus benefit military operations.

Research is generally carried out within the framework of different academic disciplines. These disciplines color researchers’ perceptions of the world around them and how the research is carried out. This, in turn, is considered to benefit the development of knowledge as it focuses and delineates the research. But advocates of interdisciplinary research argue that disciplines restrict researchers, and that some problems fall outside the scope of the disciplinary framework. This means that knowledge about these problems is difficult to develop. Using this as a basis, Kersti Larsdotter has written a thesis that investigates how military interventions in internal wars are studied within the disciplines of peace studies and war studies, and how the differences between the two disciplines affect the development of knowledge in the field. She uses the ISAF mission in Afghanistan as a case study.

Military interventions interpreted differently depending on discipline

The findings suggest that military interventions in internal wars are interpreted and studied in different ways depending on the disciplinary perspective used. For example, different relationships are central to the two perspectives. Peace studies focus primarily on the relationship between the warring parties in a conflict, which means that its theories often concerns how the intervening forces can improve the chances of the parties achieving a peace agreement, increase the trust between the parties, increase the cost of continued fighting, and increase the benefits of ending the conflict.

War studies, by contrast, focus on the relationship between the warring parties on the one hand and the local population on the other, which means that its theories mainly concerns how the intervening forces affect the relationship between the local population and the warring parties. By protecting the population and offering food and other necessities the military forces are considered to influence the population to support the state actor in a conflict, and thus reduce support for the insurgents.

To pave the way for a more rational approach to increasing knowledge about military interventions in civil wars, the thesis proposes that research on military interventions should be integrated rather than carried out in parallel in the two different disciplines.

“For example, including both types of relationship in the theories on military interventions could improve our knowledge of these interventions,” says Larsdotter. “How, for example, do the conduct of military forces affect the relationship between the warring parties, and the relationship between the warring parties on the one hand and the local population on the other?”

The findings of the thesis also have implications for the execution of military interventions in internal wars. The various aspects studied in the different disciplines are important for strategy, tactics and doctrines, and should therefore also be included in the planning and execution of these interventions.

“If the military forces focus solely on how to change the relationship between the warring parties on the one hand and the local population on the other, they could impact on the relationship between the warring parties in ways they hadn’t predicted,” says Larsdotter. “The inclusion of this relationship in the planning of military operations could reduce the risk of unforeseen consequences.”

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