Conflict prevention as pragmatic response to a twofold crisis: liberal interventionism and Burundi

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Contemporary conflict prevention depends on information gathering and knowledge production about developments within the borders of a state, whose internal affairs have been deemed precarious by external actors. The international community, especially the United Nations (UN), calls this early warning and early action. However, for governments whose affairs are considered in need of monitoring, preventive endeavours—and the knowledge production they entail—can be seen as ‘early aggression’. In this article, we argue that seeing knowledge production as having power effects reveals contemporary conflict prevention as an interventionary practice. Through an analysis of the international community's preventive diplomacy vis-à-vis Burundi (2015–2016) we highlight three unintended power effects: privileging the UN's knowledge production created resistance to international involvement from the Government of Burundi, it led to a change in patterns of violence and to a backlash against the institutionalization of international monitoring beyond Burundi, and it enabled arguments for further, more forceful, intervention possibilities. This framing enables us to understand the recent return to conflict prevention not as a retreat from liberal interventionism, but as a pragmatic response to its purported crisis. Crucially, although conflict prevention falls short of military intervention, it nonetheless leaves important interventionist footprints.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Affairs
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)363-380
Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2018

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