Recently, there's been a lot of media coverage of some countries intervening in other countries' issues, including intervening in Wars (Syrian Civil War). For example, the US has had many conflicts and wars in the past (too many to list here), and there are still many ongoing.

I'd assume that those wars are costly, and these countries have been criticized several times for many of these wars (Vietnam War). There must be a reason for countries like the US to continue these costly and controversial wars. I've heard reasons like "these countries want to help other countries", but I believe that there must be some ulterior self-serving motivation behind it all. What is the benefit to these countries when they intervene in other countries' issues, especially in the form of wars?

I'd assume that there will be different reasons for different conflicts that happened in the past. I'm looking for overarching answers that may cover many of these conflicts.

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    Wow three down votes on this question? Has it something to do with not being pro-western question? I've noticed every question on these forums that is not pro-western are either down voted or put on hold. Great question!
    – Noah
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 1:01
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    Don't neglect the public choice theory aspect - it isn't necessarily the entire nation collectively deciding to go to war, but individual politicians who have motivations of their own. Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 17:29
  • Too broad, could (and does) fill many books.
    – James K
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 15:38

4 Answers 4


What you are describing is a political events based on ideological values and norms which you consider important. Politicans, strategists and military planners often work on timescales far in advance of the average voter or world citizen; attempting to shape the world on a micro, macro and international level. This requires frequent deviations from stated values.

The interventions you speak of are known as Realpolitik.


Realpolitik (from German: real "realistic", "practical", or "actual"; and Politik "politics", German pronun­cia­tion: [ʁeˈaːlpoliˌtɪk]) is politics or diplomacy based primarily on considerations of given circumstances and factors, rather than explicit ideological notions or moral and ethical premises. In this respect, it shares aspects of its philosophical approach with those of realism and pragmatism. It is often simply referred to as pragmatism in politics, e.g. "pursuing pragmatic policies". The term Realpolitik is sometimes used pejoratively to imply politics that are perceived as coercive, amoral, or Machiavellian.

The policy of Realpolitik was formally introduced to the Richard Nixon White House by Henry Kissinger. In this context, the policy meant dealing with other powerful nations in a practical manner rather than on the basis of political doctrine or ethics.

Realpolitik is distinct from ideological politics in that it is not dictated by a fixed set of rules, but instead tends to be goal-oriented, limited only by practical exigencies. Since Realpolitik is ordered toward the most practical means of securing national interests, it can often entail compromising on ideological principles. For example, during the Cold War, the United States often supported authoritarian regimes that were human rights violators, in order to theoretically secure the greater national interest of regional stability. After the end of the Cold War this practice continued and still continues to this day.


Realpolitik is closely linked to Containment.

Containment is a geopolitical strategy to stop the expansion of an enemy. It is best known as the Cold War policy of the United States and its allies to prevent the spread of communism. A component of the Cold War, this policy was a response to a series of moves by the Soviet Union to increase communist influence in Eastern Europe, China, Korea, Africa, and Vietnam. Containment represented a middle-ground position between detente and rollback

By engaging an ideological enemy in a neutral territory, superpowers can avoid direct conflict which runs the risk of escalating into a global catastrophe.

Containment can distract and weaken an opponent as they become mired in a conflict far beyond their capabilities or political will (See Russia in Afghanistan, the USA in Vietnam or Iran-Iraq).

Containment has always existed in military strategy, from the tiny scale (Chess) to the regional and beyond. However it came to prominence with the Domino Effect theory. The domino theory was a theory prominent from the 1950s to the 1980s, that speculated that if one country in a region came under the influence of communism, then the surrounding countries would follow in a domino effect. The domino theory was used by successive United States administrations during the Cold War to justify the need for American intervention around the world.

Are all interventions Realpolitik or Containment?

In short; no. The reasons behind intervention can vary widely and rely largely on your prism or viewpoint. The World Bank often consider the International Monetary Fund interventions in foreign economies to be harmful and aggressive despite the IMF feeling that they are imposing long-term benefits. NATO, led by the USA, intervened in Afghanistan for genuine reasons without any kind of economic gain from natural resources.

Humanitarian crises can and do occur and superpowers will take action if possible. For instance, the United Kingdom has not intervened in Zimbabwe despite the crisis because the United Nations strongly condemns former colonial rulers going back into their former territories (and there is no suitable deep water port to launch an assault) so the humanitarian situation is allowed to progress as the world watches.

Most importantly, humans are extremely poor at estimating third and fourth order effects. Extremely extremely poor. Who could possibly predict that the first Gulf War would lead to the destruction of the Twin Towers 10 years later? (Bin Laden took offence at the buildup of Coalition Troops in Saudi Arabia and thus AQ was born) so many interventions may be well intentioned but the variables are just too complex to predict how it will turn out.

Real World Case Study

There is only one true corridor within which to attack the Russian state - via the European Plain. Attacks from the South are buffered by troops stationed across the landstrip of Georgia etc. Attacks from the East are impossible since troops would need to travel over 4000 miles just to reach the mountains before Moscow. An attack can only come through the EU/NATO nations in the European Plain. The weak spot in the Russian suit of armour is the Ukraine.

Russia formerly used Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, East Germany and Poland as buffers to US expansion however the fall of the USSR, free market reforms and the EU have enabled NATO membership to expand ever closer to the Russian border leaving only Ukraine (which formerly included the Crimea) as the last nation before NATO could threaten the entirety of the Russian state.

The Russian Navy is penned in in the North via the GIUK corridor and thusly can only launch from the Black Sea.

Under containment it is now impossible for Russia to allow the Ukraine to adopt true self-determination. It is geo-politically impossible since to do so would be to effectively expose themselves to a military rout.

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Now knowing what you have learned about containment; it is increasingly difficult to see the Ukraine as a sovereign territory; they are simply part of a larger geopolitical game.

Once you see the world through the eyes of realpolitik it can be difficult to reconcile small interactions with the needs of the global order. For instance, Vietnam is now a modern, vibrant free-market economy but it required war to get there. South Korea also. Was the Korean War the correct price to pay for modern freedom and economic progress for millions of people in the modern era?


The stated reasons for a interfering in a sovereign nation affairs can vary widely from the actual reasons which may form part of a larger strategy known only to political parties and military/intelligence services. Such unknown motivations to civilians are typically revealed by academic study many years later, sometimes decades, if at all.

In addition; domestic enemies lie in wait to pounce on political weakness even if the intervention was well intentioned.

  • George Bush intervened in Iraq - the monster! [Democrats]
  • Barack Obama neglected to intervene in Syria - the monster! [Republicans]
  • Russia annexed Crimea which is primarily Russian citizens - the monsters! [EU]
  • Downvoted? WTF? That is hilarious. Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 9:10
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    +1 for extensive study with history and theory to back it up! It seems like every answer and even the question has been downvoted at least once.
    – Hosea
    Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 13:54
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    Re "Who could possibly predict that the first Gulf War would lead to the destruction of the Twin Towers 10 years later?" Who could possibly believe that that was the cause, ignoring some 14 centuries of Islamic history?
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 17:48
  • Whatever else can be said about Nixon, he was probably the most brilliant and effective foreign policy president we've had in a very long time. He played the Soviet Union off against China beautifully. Neither side could afford to let the other get too friendly with the US, for fear of shifting the balance of power. Opened relations with a then closed China, got arms limitations agreements with the Soviets.
    – tj1000
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 0:17

Let's look at some recent military interventions...

1990 Gulf War. The goal was global economic stabilization (oil supply), and to a degree, the prevention of even greater hostilities and more economic destabilization should Hussein have targeted Saudi Arabia. Not really a war of regime change, more regime ejection from Kuwait.

Somalia. This sort of brewed up due to no native government, and attacks on relief efforts. No one was really interested, so the coalition forces walked away when they were not successful in removing the local warlords.

The former Yugoslavia. The goal appears to have been stopping genocide, the Serbs killing the native Muslim population.

Afghanistan. The goal was removing a government that had aided terrorists in the 9/11 attack. The result appears to be a stalemate.

Iraq. The goal is a bit hard to determine - on the surface it was to enforce resolutions on weapons of mass destruction (which Iraq did have, poison gas), although post 9/11 paranoia was probably a factor. The result was to unleash an internal Sunni/Shia or Arab/Persian internal conflict, which finally died down when enough people were killed.

Libya. The goal was to stabilize the oil supply from that area. The result was to leave the country in wreckage, governed by warlords.

Syria. The goal is hard to determine. A situation very similar to Iraq: another Arab/Persian tinderbox, the warring sides held apart by a brutal dictator. Syria has no oil, so economic intervention doesn't come into play.

Two conflicts that met the criteria for the wars listed above, but there was no intervention:

Rwanda. A Huti/Tutsi conflict, with over one million people killed as a matter of genocide. Thanks to the miracle of communications, the world watched this happen.

Crimea. Somewhat similar to the Gulf War situation: Russia occupied Crimea with troops, and held an 'election' to determine if Crimea wanted to become part of Russia. Surprise - with Russian troops all over the place, they did want to become part of Russia.

In both cases, the lack of external economic interests in the affected areas may have been a factor in the lack of a response.

To address the original question - the recent wars of regime change appear to have two motivations: either economic interests on the part of the intervening nations, or to stop genocide. In that respect, only the Yugoslavia situation can be said to have been relatively successful. The rest have either been stalemates, or have left the affected nations in far worse shape than before.


Security, altruism, and business.

Security: Foreign events that are "other countries' issues have a way of eventually affecting non-participating countries. For example, the EU is facing waves of refugees due to the Syrian Civil War. America's involvement in Vietnam was out of concern that the spread of communism would eventually affect America. People at the time remembered that the Russian revolution was a civil war that shouldn't affect anyone else, but it still led communism throughout eastern Europe.

Altruism: Occasionally altruism seems pretty pure, as when Britain acted militarily to end the Atlantic slave trade or when America bombed Serbia to prevent a genocide in Albania. However it seems that most of the time altruism is mixed with other motives. Americans generally want their country to be on the side of good whenever they get involved. They don't always have the wisdom to figure out which is the good side, but they do try.

Business: This hasn't been the case for a while in America, but it used to be a common reason for American involvement overseas. See for example, American actions in South/Central America and Hawaii during the 1800s and early 1900s. These days, when there is a business interest it is usually oil, and oil is primarily a security interest not a business interest. Unfortunately you can't maintain your military without oil, so Americans are willing to use force to make sure they have access to it.


What is the benefit to some countries for intervening in other countries' issue, especially in the form of wars?

Do you really need an answer on this? :)

I will give you a few, not specific to any war or any country or any order of importance.

  1. They want to help: one country may think a particular political system is good for other peoples in other countries, or they want to help the people there to get rid of their current leaders...

  2. They want access to a market or resources; opening markets via military means is quite common. Or to colonize for resources, human or otherwise.

  3. They want to have more influence: putting out a new world order and knocking down anyone opposing it is helpful.

  4. They want world peace: getting rid of anyone who isn't helpful to your cause helps align everyone on the same page, leading to world peace.

  5. They want to save people and avoid a crisis; this has been tried a few times.

  6. They want to drive up demand for weapons: wars are expensive for a country but can be quite lucrative for some, both domestic and overseas. Military industrial complex.

  7. They want to destabilize countries or regions: maybe because those countries or regions aren't nice, or to inhibit their growth, weaken their economy, discourage investments, drive up demand for certain currency, ....

  8. They want to unite their people domestically. Duh.

  9. They want to shift focus: nothing better than a few middles firing away in foreign land when you being impeached, for example...


I'm sure that you can come up with more motivations.

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