Liberal Interventionism and Resilience – Two Paradigms of Foreign Policy

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Theory and Previous research

In the following section, the theoretical framework of the thesis will be outlined along with a short literature review on the previous research in the field. Since the aim is to evaluate the claims of a paradigm shift in EU foreign policy, it is necessary to determine what constitutes the particular traits and characteristics of the liberal interventionist and resilience paradigms. First after having identified what separates the paradigms from each other, it is possible to categorise discourses brought forward under each paradigm and investigate whether or not a paradigm shift has taken place in practice. Before a constructive analysis is possible, we must therefore seek to clarify and understand how the concepts of resilience and liberal interventionism are understood in the literature. The purpose of this section is consequently to give a systematic overview of the concepts’ use in discourses of world politics, with a specific focus on the EU foreign policy. In the following paragraphs, I will present a review of the most prominent theories on resilience and liberal interventionism respectively. Having established what each paradigm means in a general sense, the section will be concluded by a review of previous empirical research on the EUGS and the paradigm shift.

Liberal Interventionism and Resilience – Two Paradigms of Foreign Policy

In the following paragraphs, I present theories on the paradigms of liberal interventionism and resilience that will hopefully shed some light on these phenomena and provide with a foundation for the analytical framework.

Liberal Interventionism

As a product of the liberal world order, the paradigm of liberal interventionism is founded on a number of fundamental assumptions made about the ontology of state-building and societal life. The belief in liberal democracy, the conviction of a moral prerogative and the trust in a supreme right to intervene on behalf of ‘universal’ liberal values has shaped Western foreign policy for decades. Almost every Western-led intervention conducted after the Cold War has been motivated and legitimised by interveners claiming a moral duty to protect victims of human rights abuses and to secure the sovereign rule of law for the good of the ‘international community’ (Chandler, 2012; Manea, 2017). This foreign policy approach is often called the paradigm of liberal interventionism and has been central for Western foreign policy since the 1990’s (Balthasar, 2017; Chandler, 2012; Paris, 2014). While the methods have differed over the decades, liberal principles of freedom, democracy and human rights have been promoted by liberal actors under the assumption that these values are universal and true for all peoples (Sørensen, 2011). Following the belief of a moral prerogative to protect liberal values world-wide, the liberal interventionist paradigm emphasises the role of the external interveners as global defenders of human rights with the obligation to protect and secure citizens of fragile states (Paris, 2014).
Under this paradigm, interveners are influenced by the idea that problems in promoting a liberal world order of sustainable development, prosperity, peace and post-conflict reconstruction lies in elite blockages created by corrupt authorities and weak or failing state institutions (Chandler, 2013; Pugh, 2014). To address this problem, interveners aim to replace malfunctioning institutions and systems with liberal frameworks of democracy and rule of law through various methods of external intervention. According to the liberal understanding of state-building, it is the formal institutional frameworks that shape and determine the outcomes of social interaction (Bourbeau, 2013; Chandler, 2013; Joseph, 2014). These institutions are assumed to stand above the rest of society and operate independently from ‘bottom-up’ social forces. This conclusion builds on the liberal assumption that the societal sphere, if left unconstrained from elite blockages, intuitively will work as a force of ‘good’ that leads to democratic and economic development (Chandler, 2013; Pugh, 2014).
A second assumption of liberalism is the belief that the most secure foundation for peace, both within and between states, is a so called ‘market democracy’, i.e. a liberal democratic polity and a market-oriented economy (Manea, 2017). According to the liberal interventionist paradigm, peace and democracy is presumed to be guaranteed through the external introduction of a liberal state model. In practice this has traditionally meant a universal ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution where mainstream liberal institutional frameworks of democracy and the market have been exported (Chandler, 2013). Actions to implement liberal systems span from the unconditional reform of government, constitutional arrangements and courts, to systems of political representation and the organisation of the police and military (Chandler, 2013; Manea, 2017). When it comes to questions of agency such as ownership of the interventions and responsibility for its outcomes, the liberal interventionist belief is that ownership resides with the interveners themselves. Inhabitants of fragile states are mainly perceived as victims of failed governments or state-sanctioned abuses and are as such treated as passive subjects (Chandler, 2012; Paris, 2014). An example of the belief in the universal validity of liberal values can be found in the United States national security strategy from 2002 which states that: “the United States must defend liberty and justice because these principles are right and true for all people everywhere. No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them” (The White House, 2002, p. 3). As a consequence to this view on liberal values, national sovereignty sometimes has to give way to external intervention in cases where liberty, justice, and global human rights is believed to be under threat (Chandler, 2012; Newman et al., 2009; Paris, 2014).
The paradigm of liberal interventionism has, according to Chandler (2015a), thereby given rise to an asymmetrical and potentially oppressive discourse as critics argue that the liberal assumption of the ‘right to intervene’ is based on the presumed superior knowledge, resources and moral of the policy-intervener. According to Sørensen (2011), the principal dilemma for interveners is that the promotion of liberal values, including human rights and democracy, has to be respectful of other cultures and societies while at the same time uphold the position that there are universal values true for all people. Critics also contend that a fundamental part of the problem with liberal interventionism has been that Western powers have tried to promote liberal values in ways that risk to undermine those very same principles, often leading to arguments of hypocrisy and neo-imperialism (Balthasar, 2017; Chandler, 2012; Paris, 2014; Sørensen, 2011). In addition, there are those who claim that the liberal interventionist paradigm often has proved to be less successful than anticipated, has led to unintended consequences and side-effects, and has shown significant limitations in effectively responding to mass violence (Balthasar, 2017; Chandler, 2015b; Paris, 2014).
In an attempt to avoid the structural problems of liberal interventionism, policy makers have sought to establish internationally accepted foundations for ‘just’ interventions. In 2005 this resulted the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine which was unanimously endorsed by the members of the UN (UNGA, 2005). However, according to Manea and Paris (2017; 2014), policies claimed to be in the interest of the international community which at the same time challenges principles of sovereignty and non-intervention have often proved counterproductive, even under the R2P. This problem is commonly called the ‘liberal peace paradox’ and has become increasingly apparent as institutionalist and social constructivist theories have become more influential in discourses of international development and peace-building (Chandler, 2015a; Manea, 2017). Following the limitations of liberal interventionism described above, policy makers have sought to develop new practices of global governance to promote liberal values around the world.

The Paradigm of Resilience

The paradigm of resilience is a relative newcomer in the fields of political and social sciences. Advocates of the resilience approach see possibilities of democratic development where previous approaches have met resistance. Critics on the other hand warn for neo-liberal tendencies of passing responsibility and possibilities of blame onto the most vulnerable. The following section will provide a clarification of the concept and a review of the theories on the resilience paradigm found in the literature.
While resilience has been a commonly used concept in areas such as psychology, engineering and biology for decades, it is relatively new to political science and global governance. Resilience began to influence the field in the beginning of the 2000’s when scholars started to connect the concept to global governance and liberal societal reforms (Bourbeau, 2013). As resilience is a highly complex and multifaceted concept, stemming from several disciplines and schools of thought ranging from biology to development studies, the resilience debate has often been pursued from several different theoretical perspectives, leading to conceptual confusion and frequent contradictions (Bourbeau, 2013; Chandler, 2012). So, what is resilience? One of the most commonly accepted elements of resilience is the notion of ‘bouncing back’ or recovering from chocks or crises (Bourbeau, 2013; Brassett et al., 2013). In contemporary political science, resilience includes a wide range of significances and definitions stretching from areas of humanitarian aid, development, and the environment to security politics and external interventions. One of the most fundamental aspects for the understanding of the resilience paradigm is that changed views on societal complexity and state transformation entered into foreign policy reasoning in the last decades, challenging the fundamental assumptions of liberal interventionism (Pugh, 2014). With the liberal peace paradox in mind, policy makers started to seek out forms of intervention that would take societal complexities and local ownership into greater account, resulting in several re-evaluations of liberal interventionist assumptions (Chandler, 2013; Paris, 2014; Pugh, 2014). The interventions work in indirect ways by appealing to the freedom and autonomy of the governed by emphasizing empowerment, creativity, local resources and self-awareness (Brassett et al., 2013; Cross, 2016; Joseph, 2014; Smith, 2017; Wagner and Anholt, 2016).
Contrary to the liberal interventionist belief that problems in promoting democratic and economic reforms lies in elite blockages, the resilience paradigm understands the problems of democratic and economic underdevelopment as being endemic to societies and communities themselves (Chandler, 2013; Evans and Reid, 2013; Pugh, 2014; Walker and Cooper, 2011). The paradigm of resilience directs attention away from universal blueprints of liberal state-building by focusing on local actors and bottom-up actions to evade problems of sovereignty and external responsibility (Altafin et al., 2017; Chandler, 2012; Finkenbusch, 2017; Juncos, 2017; Pugh, 2014; Wagner and Anholt, 2016). The liberal assumption of laissez-faire in the societal sphere is thereby inversed with the resilience paradigm and societal intervention becomes the precondition for social peace and development (Chandler, 2013). The methods of reform are as a consequence focused on monitoring, peer reviewing and the promotion of local agency and bottom-up development (Joseph, 2014). Long-term solutions are believed to come from within the fragile societies themselves and cannot be inserted by external interveners, only facilitated and encouraged through induced knowledge of the problematic behaviours. Local responses and practices are therefore regarded as key to achieve positive transformation, making local actors central in handling the complexities of societal life in engaging the ‘right partners’ and implementing the ‘right policies’ (Chandler, 2015b; Joseph, 2014; Pugh, 2014).
Another important aspect to understand is that one fundamental difference between the two paradigms has not so much to do with whether or not interventions happens with or without coercive force, but rather with the conception of agency and responsibility (Bohle et al., 2009; Chandler, 2013; Wagner and Anholt, 2016). As is mentioned above, liberal interventionism perceives the inhabitants of fragile or failed states as victims in need of protection. Under the paradigm of resilience, as societal complexities are put at the centre of the discourse, inhabitants are instead regarded as vulnerable subjects trapped in irrational and problematic societal practices (Chandler, 2013; Kaufmann, 2016). The agency of citizens in governance thus changes from that of passive victims to active, but vulnerable, subjects in need of support and empowerment. The interveners, on the other hand, seek to remove their external subject position and to distance themselves from the discourses of superior knowledge, asymmetrical dependency and accountability (Chandler, 2013; Finkenbusch, 2017). Instead of supreme protectors of liberal values, the interveners present themselves as facilitators of local solutions to local problems (Bohle et al., 2009; Bourbeau, 2013; Chandler, 2013, 2012; O’Malley, 2010; Schmidt, 2015). This has made some scholars worry that the promotion of liberal values and principles will be down-prioritised and lead the so called democratisation versus stabilisation dilemma, meaning that the more external actions for democratisation is needed, the less likely they are to occurr due to the risk of instability (Börzel and van Hüllen, 2014).
Rhinard (2017) argues that resilience first and foremost should be regarded as a second-order effect of other policies and that the ambition to build resilience through external interventions might be little more than wishful thinking. There are also critics who see the resilience paradigm as a way for interveners to deny responsibility for their actions and put the blame for unsuccessful interventions on the most vulnerable (Dunn Cavelty et al., 2015). Scholars holding this view often present resilience as a method of ‘governing through insecurity’ and see resilience as a way for the West to promote the status quo of fragile neighbours (Dunn Cavelty et al., 2015; Evans and Reid, 2013; Walker and Cooper, 2011). Some critics contend that the aim of resilience policy is to maintain the status quo of a fragile or weak country in order to more easily manage its subjects and frame the effects of external interventions as unavoidable, fostering a culture that abandons long-term expectations of resistance and improvement (Dunn Cavelty et al., 2015; Evans and Reid, 2013; Heath-Kelly, 2015; Reid, 2013; Walker and Cooper, 2011). From the field of development and humanitarian aid, some scholars also worry that the resilience paradigm deviates from the traditional needs-based approach of external aid, i.e. that actions are taken as crises occur, as resilience-building actions mainly are suggested to be preventive. This has made some scholars believe that resources will be used where they have most impact, and not in areas where people need them the most. By following a resilience-building approach, policy makers supposedly blur the line between humanitarian and development aid, leading to politicisation of external aid (Dany, 2015).
In sum, the resilience paradigm can be described in many ways and carry different meanings to scholars and policy makers alike. Advocates of the approach promotes the idea that policies of resilience serve to strengthen and ameliorate states’, societies’ and individuals’ abilities to handle and mitigate the effects of shocks or crises. Critics, on the other hand, claim that the resilience approach resilience might have undesirable or perhaps unintended consequences for fragile states and its peoples. Politics of prevention and empowerment might also lead to a reiteration of the democracy versus stability dilemma. This thesis aims to bring answers to this discourse by investigating to what extent and how the resilience paradigm is manifested in practice. In the following section, the theories presented above will be put into the context of the EU as previous research on the EUGS and the EU paradigm shift is presented.

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Previous Research

In this section, I will give an overview of the previous research made on the EUGS. When the EU Global Strategy was launched in 2016, it was received with varied enthusiasm among both scholars and policy makers. Some see the strategy as a way for the EU to show that despite its internal troubles, it is still a powerful international actor in the world. Others see the EUGS as a strategy caught between the old and the new, with lowered ambitions and weakened ideological goals (Juncos, 2017; Smith, 2017). First, it is important to note that resilience as a concept was not introduced in EU vocabulary for the first time with the EUGS. In fact, resilience has been a central concept for several key documents in the field of development and humanitarian aid since the beginning of the 2000’s (Wagner and Anholt, 2016). However, in the EUGS, state and societal resilience-building in the neighbourhood is for the first time stated as one of five top priorities in EU foreign policy (EUGS, 2016).
One feature that separates the use of resilience in the EUGS from the policy areas of development and humanitarian aid is that it refers to a wider understanding of the concept, including a broad range of referent objects. In the EUGS, resilience is used as a part of the policies for areas ranging from security politics to democratisation, the judicial sector, public administration, civil society and the market (Wagner and Anholt, 2016). Under the approach presented in the EUGS, the EU aims to empower its partners by strengthening the resilience of public institutions, critical infrastructure, networks and services and the civil society. The EU defines resilience as “the ability of states and societies to reform, thus withstanding and recovering from internal and external crises” (EUGS, 2016, p. 23). Even though the strategy perceives a resilient society as featuring democracy, trust in institutions, and sustainable development, it also admits that while repressive states are inherently fragile, “there are many ways to build inclusive, prosperous and secure societies” (EUGS, 2016, p. 25-26). This ‘pragmatic’ approach has made critics argue that the EUGS shows alarming tendencies of a move towards the stabilisation of repressive states rather than democratisation (Biscop, 2016; Smith, K., 2017, Smith, M., 2016). Juncos (2017) argues that by proposing principled pragmatism in the form of resilience-building, the EU inevitably gives rise to an impossible theoretical dichotomy similar to the liberal peace paradox. To state that it will be true to liberal principles while at the same time apply a pragmatic approach by building resilience in different ways, the EU gets caught in a paradox where it has to deny the moral imperative of its fundamental values (ibid.). Instead of engaging directly in discourses of democratisation and human rights, the EU will invest in empowerment and stabilisation in the neighbourhood through the less ‘tainted’ concept of resilience (ibid.). According to some critics, policies of political reform and humanitarian aid has thus been made more flexible and less ‘provoking’ in order to keep reform-reluctant governments satisfied and to not thwart political instability in the region (Altafin et al., 2017; Biscop, 2016; Wagner and Anholt, 2016). Smith (2017) even claims that the resilience approach in the EUGS should be seen as a step away from previous EU rhetoric on democracy promotion, in line with the democratisation versus stabilisation dilemma.
Proponents of the paradigm suggest on the other hand that the EUGS proposes a more ‘smart-powered’ approach with a tactical combination of hard and soft power influenced by both idealistic aspiration and realistic assessment (Altafin et al., 2017; Cross, 2016; Juncos, 2017; Wagner and Anholt, 2016). The pragmatist approach could therefore work as a catalyst for EU foreign policy and release it from the blockages of the liberal peace paradox described above. According to this view, one of the greatest benefits with the resilience approach is that it brings European projects and actors from different sectors together to work in the same place at the same time on the basis of their comparative advantages (Wagner and Anholt, 2016). Regarding liberal values of democracy and human rights, there are those who see the resilience paradigm, with its bottom-up approach and increased focus on societal life, as a democratisation of the discourse with potential to advance existing EU frameworks of human rights policies (Altafin et al., 2017). In addition, the EUGS proposes to build societal and individual resilience by renewed focus on the fight against poverty and inequality and humanitarian actions might therefore get a strengthened focus with the strategy (ibid.).
However, one implication of the EUGS is that the EU states it will lead principally as a facilitator and an agenda shaper in the future (EUGS, 2016). This speaks to the literature above claiming a change of agency where external interveners seek to remove themselves from positions of responsibility and has worried scholars of humanitarian development. They fear that the new approach will entail a down-prioritisation of human rights protection as operations become a question of prevention rather than response (Altafin et al., 2017; Wagner and Anholt, 2016). The official EU foreign policy discourse has traditionally aimed at promoting fundamental liberal values such as democracy and economic liberties through the principles of conditionality and ‘more for more’ (Noutcheva, 2015). By putting up universal conditions for financial assistance and access to markets and trade, the EU has used its economic and political appeal to influence reform and spur transformation in countries in the neighbourhood. The explicit conditional connection between liberal reform and external assistance have thus been fundamental for how the EU has acted in the neighbourhood and beyond (Grabbe, 2002; Noutcheva, 2015). By reiterating the focus on stability and governance through resilience-building, some scholars fear that the EU will turn a blind eye to reluctant governments that fail in democratic reforms (Wagner and Anholt, 2016).
In the literature, there are those who are sceptic to the talk about a paradigm shift and consider the new resilience approach of the EUGS as a mere rebranding of policies. According to Smith (2016), the sheer quantity of values, principles, priorities and interests that are stated in the EUGS makes is easy to lose sight of the critical fact that the EU cannot possibly achieve all of these objectives at the same time. Because of the extensive scope of the strategy, Smith argues, the EU will inevitably fail to accomplish many of the goals in the EUGS, making it a lot less revolutionary than it might seem at first glance. Wagner and Anholt (2016) propose that one reason to why resilience plays such a central part in the EUGS is because of the concept’s vagueness and the fact that it refers to such a broad range of actions. The resilience approach has also been described to carry an inherent constructive ambiguity, which can appeal to many different stakeholders (Juncos, 2017; Smith, 2017; Wagner and Anholt, 2016). The downside of this ambiguity is according to some that it becomes unclear what resilience really means and if it therefore can have any practical implications, and there is a lack of clarity as to how the EU should build resilience and for whom (Juncos, 2017; Rhinard, 2017). As is mentioned in the purpose section above, the unclarity and ambiguity of the EUGS is possibly harmful for the Union as its legitimacy hinges on the effectiveness and consistency of its policies (Altafin et al., 2017; Brassett et al., 2013; Juncos, 2017; Smith, 2016; Wagner and Anholt, 2016). Smith (2016) argues that lack of clarity regarding credible EU capabilities and that the long list of objectives framed under the resilience approach is strategically incoherent and that the aim to build resilience in the neighbourhood it is overly optimistic. Perhaps most importantly, several critics point at the unclarity regarding how the EU will tackle the challenge of balancing support for autocratic governments with the objective to promote liberal values of democracy and human rights that inevitably challenges such regimes (Biscop, 2016; Dunn Cavelty et al., 2015; Smith, 2017).

Table of contents :

1 Introduction
2 Purpose and Research Question
3 Theory and Previous research
3.1 Liberal Interventionism and Resilience – Two Paradigms of Foreign Policy
3.2 Previous Research on the EUGS
3.3 Summary
4 Analytical framework
5 Method
5.1 Research design – Comparative Case Study
5.2 Case Selection and Generalisability
5.3 Material
6 Analysis
6.1 Objectives
6.2 Methods
6.3 Responsibility and Ownership
6.4 Instruments of Implementation
7 Discussion
8 Conclusion
List of references


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