Anywhere from three weeks to three years – that’s how long it has taken Western nations to justify and prepare military interventions in the past.


Ethnic Albanians demonstrating on March 21, 1998 in Switzerland against the Serbian crackdown on separatists in Kosovo. Photo: AP

With the increasing number of media reports suggesting the imminent possibility of a military intervention in Syria, Russia Direct reviews the highest-profile military campaigns led by the West in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. What arguments were used to justify them and how long did it take to launch these campaigns?

Yugoslavia: Nine months 

In the Yugoslavia conflict, which led to one of the most prominent military campaigns by the West in the late 20th century, the tensions between Serbs and Albanians living in the Serbian province of Kosovo escalated in 1998. These tensions eventually turned into an open military confrontation between the Kosovo Liberation Army, comprised of Albanians, and the Yugoslav military forces.

In 1999, after 45 Kosovar Albanians were killed in a massacre allegedly conducted by Serbian security services, the West decided to intervene.

It took nine months for the West to prepare the military operation. “The beginning of the quest for military options” to get out of the crisis in Kosovo was announced on June 11, 1998 after a meeting of NATO defense ministers. U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen urged NATO defense ministers to begin conceptual planning for potential intervention in Kosovo. The ministers then decided to "send a signal" to Milosevic by conducting air exercises in the region.

On September 23, 1998 the UN Security Council approved Resolution No. 1199, which required Belgrade to stop the conflict, but did not contain a threat to use force.

Yet during the joint conference with French President Jacques Chirac on February 19, 1999 then-U.S. President Bill Clinton announced that “if Serbia fails to meet its previous commitment to withdraw forces from Kosovo” and “fails to accept the peace agreement,” the U.S and NATO would “stand united in our determination to use force.”

“We now call on both sides [Albanians and Serbians] to make the tough decisions that are necessary to stop the conflict immediately, before more people are killed and the war spreads,” said Clinton. “Serbia's leaders now have a choice to make.  They can join an agreement that meets their legitimate concerns and gives them a chance to show that an autonomous Kosovo can thrive as part of their country, or they can stonewall.  But if they do, they will be held accountable.”

Finally, Operation Allied Force began on March 24, 1999. More than 250 aircraft were involved in the first air raids, which were supported by a Marine Group composed of 15 ships.

“We have acted with resolve for several reasons,” said President Bill Clinton on March 24, 1999 in a televised statement after the invasion. “We act to protect thousands of innocent people in Kosovo from a mounting military offensive. We act to prevent a wider war, to diffuse a powder keg at the heart of Europe that has exploded twice before in this century with catastrophic results. And we act to stand united with our allies for peace. By acting now, we are upholding our values, protecting our interests, and advancing the cause of peace.”

Clinton called for “ending this tragedy” and described the intervention as “a moral imperative.”

Source: University of Virginia's Miller Center

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair echoed Clinton in April 1999. 

“We have learnt by bitter experience not to appease dictators,” he wrote in his Newsweek column. “Milosevic’s actions in Kosovo have given rise to scenes of suffering and cruelty people thought were banished from Europe forever. Europe and the United States must stand firm together. Milosevic’s policy of ethnic cleansing must be defeated and reversed.”

Likewise, during the NATO air bombardment, U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton compared the violence in Kosovo to the Holocaust in order to justify the intervention.

Afghanistan: Less than a month

The Sept. 11 terror attack became the justification to launch the military intervention in Afghanistan, which U.S. authorities claimed to be the location of the Al-Qaeda terrorists. After the terrorist attack, the U.S and NATO decided to start the so-called ‘Global War on Terrorism.’

It took less than one month to plan the intervention in Afghanistan. On September 14, 2001, global media reported that U.S. authorities were preparing military actions against the Taliban as part of the Global War on Terrorism, based on Resolution No.1368 of the UN Security Council.

In an attempt to justify the military intervention then-U.S. President George W. Bush described the military campaign against Afghanistan as an endeavor against “the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century” like fascism in his Address to the Nation on September 20, 2001.

“They follow in the path of fascism, and Nazism, and totalitarianism,” he said. “We condemn the Taliban regime. It is not only repressing its own people, it is threatening people everywhere by sponsoring and sheltering and supplying terrorists.”

Bush used the same messianic ideas of protecting democratic freedoms and values around the world to validate the military operation. “Afghanistan's people have been brutalized – many are starving and many have fled,” Bush said, while calling for others to respect the Afghan people and provide them humanitarian aid.

Operation Enduring Freedom began on Oct. 7, when 20 strategic bombers and 50 airplanes from aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf and the air base on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean struck military targets of the Taliban.

Source: Iconic

Iraq: Two and a half years

Two and a half years passed between the first threats to use force and the military intervention in Iraq. Starting in November 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush regularly accused Baghdad of supporting terrorism and developing weapons of mass destruction.

Military intervention in Iraq was catalyzed by the Sept. 11 terror attack as well as by alleged reports that then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and supported terrorist organizations. Bush was confident that Iraq was involved in backing and hiding terrorists as well as using chemical weapons to kill the Iraqi people.

“Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror,” he said in his Jan. 22 speech in 2002. “The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens – leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections – then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.”

Bush described Iraq and its terrorist allies as “an axis of evil,” arming “to threaten the peace of the world” and posing “a grave and growing danger.” He called to continue the “war on terror,” otherwise “the price of indifference would be catastrophic.”

Operation Iraqi Freedom began on March 20, 2003 without any formal approval of the UN. An allied group of 100,000 men was deployed in the region before the invasion. It was supported by more than 60 ships and over 400 airplanes and helicopters.

Shortly after the invasion in Iraq, President Bush reiterated his arguments to justify the military campaign in his Sept. 7 Address to the Nation in 2003. 

“For a generation leading up to the attack on September 11th, 2001, terrorists and their radical allies attacked innocent people in the Middle East and beyond, without facing a sustained and serious response,” he said. “Since America put out the fires of September the 11th, and mourned our dead, and went to war, history has taken a different turn. We have carried the fight to the enemy.

“This work continues. In Iraq, we are helping the long-suffering people of that country to build a decent and democratic society at the center of the Middle East. Together we are transforming a place of torture chambers and mass graves into a nation of laws and free institutions. This undertaking is difficult and costly – yet worthy of our country, and critical to our security.”

Source: Wall Street Journal

Libya: Three weeks 

The Libyan Civil War, or Libyan Revolution, was a 2011 armed conflict between forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and those seeking to oust his government. The protests against Gaddafi and his regime fueled the situation in the country and turned into a full-fledged civil war.

It took three weeks to build a coalition against Gaddafi. On February 28, 2011, British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke of the possibility of using force to put an end to the civil war in Libya.

Initially, he described the intervention as “the evacuation of British nationals from Libya” and “the actions we are now pursuing against Colonel Gaddafi.” Yet, he then outlined the goals of the campaign more clearly: He called for “an immediate end to the violence and the killing of protesters, access for international human rights monitors, lifting of restrictions on the internet and media and an end to the intimidation and detention of journalists.” 

“And we do not in any way rule out the use of military assets,” he said calling for intervention. “We must not tolerate this regime using military force against its own people… For the future of Libya and its people, Colonel Gaddafi’s regime must end and he must leave.”

The U.S. authorities echoed this. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeatedly said that "nothing is off the table so long as the Libyan government continues to threaten and kill Libyans."

Likewise, U.S. President Barack Obama expressed his concerns and readiness to act.

“The United States and the entire world continues to be outraged by the appalling violence against the Libyan people,” he said. “The United States is helping to lead an international effort to deter further violence, put in place unprecedented sanctions to hold the Gaddafi government accountable and support the aspirations of the Libyan people for [freedom, democracy and dignity must be met].”

Source: / Listitude

With the number of victims among civilians growing in clashes with Gaddafi’s forces and numerous violations of the ceasefire by both sides, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution N1973 on March 17. The document established a no-fly zone over Libya.

The first strikes against Libyan targets were made on March 19, with 20 combat aircraft and 10 ships taking part in these actions.

Syria: How long will it take to resolve this new crisis?

With increasing tensions in Syria and alleged reports that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons, inflicting a significant death toll on its own civilians, the West seems to be growing more decisive to start another military intervention. In a recent speech, U.S. Secretary of Sate John Kerry notes:

“What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality,” he said at a recent press conference in Washington. “The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard, it is inexcusable.”

“But make no mistake: President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people,” he added. “Nothing today is more serious, and nothing is receiving more serious scrutiny.”

With President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron discussing the possibility of military intervention in Syria, it remains to be seen what will be the consequences. So far, both are convinced that the Assad regime used the chemical weapons despite the lack of evidence and thorough UN investigation.

Source: CNN

According to a BBC report citing a Downing Street spokesman Obama and Cameron agreed they were "in no doubt that the Assad regime was responsible" for the chemical attack.

"Regime forces were carrying out a military operation to regain that area from the opposition at the time; and there is no evidence that the opposition has the capability to deliver such a chemical weapons attack," a Downing Street spokesman told BBC.

The article uses materials from Kommersant, Global Center on Globalization, Newsweek, University of Virginia’s Miller Center, Time magazine, BBC and the Presidential Rhetoric website.