Characteristics of Successful Military Interventions

June 2019 No Comments

Characteristics of Successful Military Interventions”

Speakers: Frederick, B. (RAND); Kavanagh, J. (RAND)

Date: 27 June 2019

Speaker Session Preview

SMA hosted a speaker session presented by Dr. Jennifer Kavanagh (RAND) and Dr. Bryan Frederick (RAND) as a part of its SMA General Speaker Series. During their presentation, Dr. Frederick and Dr. Kavanagh presented their research, which synthesizes the results of multiple RAND Arroyo projects that focus on the characteristics of successful military interventions. Their research focused on three areas: 1) background (Where and when has the US historically intervened? On what scale?), 2) determinants of success (What objectives has the US pursued? How successful have interventions been? What factors influence the likelihood of success?), and 3) operational requirements (How quickly do forces need to be prepared to deploy in interventions? How has deployment duration matched expectations?). Dr. Kavanagh and Dr. Frederick reviewed US military interventions using both case studies and statistical models in their research. Their study looked at the number of interventions by region, as well as the size of interventions by type (i.e., combat intervention, stabilization and irregular warfare, and deterrent interventions). It also identified the key leading indicators of US interventions. For instance, according to the study, a close relationship with the US implies that the US would be much more likely to engage in a large scale intervention in a deterrence scenario; however, it is more likely to engage in a small scale intervention when it comes to an armed conflict or stability operation scenario. The team also analyzed political objectives and the degree of success. Narrow, in-country objectives were successfully achieved most frequently, while regional, broad objectives were successfully achieved least frequently. Furthermore, since the Cold War, clear successes have been somewhat rarer, especially for regional objectives, but mission goals have also typically become more expansive. To conclude, Dr. Kavanagh and Dr. Frederick made five main recommendations: 1) match intervention strategy with objectives; 2) ensure sufficient force size for relevant objectives; 3) pre-intervention planning should be comprehensive; 4) closely scrutinize possible role of third parties; and 5) extending an intervention, without some other change in strategy, should not be assumed to increase chances of successfully achieving objectives.

Speaker Session Audio File

To access a recording of this session, please email Ms. Nicole Peterson (

Download Dr. Frederick and Dr. Kavanagh’s Biographies and Slides


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