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Kelly M. Greenhill - “Perceiving Wolves in Sheeps’ Clothing: Unintended Consequences of Coercive Humanitarian Interventions

Kelly M. Greenhill - “Perceiving Wolves in Sheeps’ Clothing: Unintended Consequences of Coercive Humanitarian Interventions

February 14, 2020 - 11:30am to 1:00pm
Encina Hall West, Room 400 (GSL)

Security dilemma logic posits that actions taken by a state to increase its own security may prompt reactions from other states that lead to a decrease rather than an increase in the original state’s security. But what about actions undertaken not to enhance a state’s own security, but rather in pursuit of moral objectives, such as protecting another state’s citizens against human rights depredations? Drawing upon evidence from Kosovo and Libya, among other recent cases, I show how and why even foreign policy actions that are largely “non-realist” by design and in intention can inadvertently trigger more threatening (re-)assessments by third party observer states of the intentions and/or capabilities of an intervening state. I argue that this is the case for two key reasons. First, in security environments where state-to-state combat engagements are rare, humanitarian military missions can provide valuable intelligence, not otherwise readily attainable, about new capabilities and their uses. Second, because coercive humanitarian interventions are frequently marked by mission creep, over time gaps between stated rationales for—and objectives of—military action and observed in-theatre behaviors are increasingly lain bare, raising fundamental questions both about an intervener’s current credibility and future intentions. Moreover, because of the self-exculpatory and attribution error-fraught manner in which states tend to view their own behavior, intervening states may fail to comprehend the magnitude (or even the existence) of the reassessments their actions have precipitated, with further deleterious effects.


Kelly M. Greenhill's research focuses on foreign and defense policy; the politics of information; the use of military force; and what are frequently called "new security challenges," including civil wars and insurgencies, the use of migration as a weapon, and international crime as a challenge to domestic governance. In addition to her Ph.D. from M.I.T., Greenhill holds an S.M. from M.I.T., a C.S.S. from Harvard University, and a B.A. (with distinction and highest honors) from the University of California at Berkeley. Outside of the Department, Greenhill also serves as Director of the International Relations Program here at Tufts, as a Research Fellow and Chair of the Conflict, Security and Public Policy Working Group at Harvard University's Belfer Center and as Associate Editor of the journal International Security.

Greenhill is author of Weapons of Mass Migration: Forced Displacement, Coercion and Foreign Policy (Cornell Studies in Security Affairs), winner of the 2011 International Studies Association's Best Book of the Year Award; and co-author and co-editor (with P. Andreas) of Sex, Drugs and Body Counts: The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict (Cornell); (with R. Art) of The Use of Force: Military Power and International Politics (R&L); and (with P. Krause) of Coercion: The Power to Hurt in International Politics (Oxford). Greenhill's research has also appeared in a variety of other venues, including the journals International Security, International Studies Quarterly, Security Studies, Civil Wars, Political Science Quarterly, European Law Journal and International Migration; media outlets such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Foreign Affairs and the British Broadcasting Company; and in briefs prepared for argument before the U.S. Supreme Court and for use by other organs of the U.S. government. Greenhill is completing a new book, a cross-national study that explores why, when, and under what conditions, "extra-factual" sources of political information—such as rumors, conspiracy theories, myths and propaganda—materially influence the development and conduct of states' foreign and defense policies. The book is provisionally entitled Fear and Present Danger: Extra-factual Sources of Threat Conception and Proliferation.

Greenhill's research has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Social Science Research Council, the MacArthur Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Eisenhower Foundation and the Neubauer Foundation. She was the 2018 winner of the ISSS Emerging Scholar Award. Outside of academia, Greenhill has served as a consultant to the Ford Foundation, the World Bank, the United Nations (UN) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees; as a defense program analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense; and as an economic policy intern in the Office of then Senator John F. Kerry. She sits on the editorial boards of Security Studies, the Journal of Global Security Studies, the Texas National Security Review, Sage Publications and Peter Lang's migration book series. Before coming to Tufts, Greenhill held pre- or post-doctoral fellowships at Harvard's Olin Institute for Strategic Studies and Belfer Center, Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation, and Columbia University's Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies.