Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa
ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 7, Nº. 1 (May-October 2016), pp. 33-54
António Oliveira
Degree in Military Sciences (Infantry) at the Military Academy, currently performs military
advisory functions, Office of the Minister of National Defence, in the 21st Constitutional
Government (Portugal). He served in various units of the armed forces, where he played roles in
the operational components of peace support operations in Kosovo, 1999-2000 and 2005;
evacuation of nationals in Guinea and Congo (1998), and vocational education and training. He
was a professor at the Institute of Military Higher Studies in education of operation areas,
performing advisory functions and training in Angola (2008-9) and Mozambique (2009). He
served as Operations Officer and Trainer of Intervention Brigades (after 2010, Coimbra), being
appointed Commander of the 1st Infantry Battalion of the Intervention Brigade (2012). He was
an advisor in the Office of the Minister of National Defence in the nineteenth and twentieth
Constitutional Governments. Master's in Peace and War Studies in New International Relations,
Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa, and is qualified through the course of Information and
Security Specialisation (Institute of Social Sciences and Politics) and the course Operations of
Peace and Humanitarian Action, taking part in the International Visitor Leadership Programme in
the United States, in the area of conflict resolution. He is the author of Resolução de conflitos – o
papel do emprego do instrumento militar and co-author of A luta armada timorense na
resistência à ocupação 1975-1999. He is a doctoral candidate in International Relations at the
Faculty of Social and Human Sciences from the Universidade Nova de Lisboa.
The end of the Cold War changed the paradigm of the role and scope of military force in the
management and resolution of conflicts. With increasing intervention by the international
community, the new generation of peacekeeping operations has adopted a multidimensional
approach to military force to be used in coordination with other instruments of power,
ensuring a proper strategic framework considering the desired end state.
This new approach and the increasing complexity of conflicts, predominantly intrastate in
nature, have led on the one hand to understandings of the traditional principles of peace
operations being addressed, and on the other to military forces facing diverse challenges.
The most complex is related to the effective use of combat capabilities, as it seems that
there is a lack of political will, after making the deployment of forces, to ensure their
effective use. However, the effective use of force being the most critical element, but
simultaneously more differentiating and characterising of the use of the military instrument,
the management and resolution of conflicts has elevated the range of capabilities of military
forces that goes beyond traditional capabilities combat, showing themselves useful in
support, complement or replacement of non-military capabilities.
Military force; Instruments of power; Conflict resolution; Peace operations
How to cite this article
Oliveira, António (2016). "The use of military force in the management and resolution of
conflicts." JANUS.NET e-journal of International Relations, Vol. 7, Nº. 1, May-October 2016.
Consulted [online] on the date of last visit, observare.ual.pt/janus.net/en_vol7_n1_art3
Article received on 8 February 2016 and accepted for publication on 13 March 2016
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 7, Nº. 1 (May-October 2016), pp. 33-54
The use of military force in the management and resolution of conflicts
António Oliveira
António Oliveira
The international community, including the United Nations, with the support of some
regional organisations such as NATO and the European Union, have increasingly
intervened in the management and resolution of conflicts. Constituting a "third party",
they invest their efforts in the implementation of coercive and non-coercive methods in
order to defuse antagonism among opponents and to promote a lasting cessation of
According to Ramos-Horta (2015: ix), the prevention of armed conflict is perhaps the
greatest responsibility of the international community. But when this prevention is not
possible, the so-called "peacekeepers" are often forced to intervene to help enforce and
maintain a safe environment, preventing the resumption of violence and providing a
safe space for the advancement of political processes.
The characteristics of the current operational environments, along with the multiple
actors involved of which the population is the most important have increased the
complexity of conflicts. Thus, operations involved in their management and resolution
require the execution of an increasingly broad spectrum of tasks by the military.
However, conflict resolution is also done based on non-coercive measures, which
implies that the use of military should be balanced and integrated with other
instruments of power. The traditional use of military forces in the context of conflict
resolution seems to be undergoing rapid evolution, where its action is developed in a
much more complex environment. Thus, as stated by Smith (2008: 429), "the desired
result should be known before deciding whether the military has a role to play in
achieving this result".
In this context, they pose a set of questions that are the basis of decision making for
the use of military force in this context. What are its functions? What is the context for
its use and how does it combine with other instruments of power? What conditions are
necessary and what principles should be respected? Can combat capabilities in
situations of military force be effectively employed?
To answer these questions, in the first topic we dwell on the framework for the use of
armed force in resolving conflicts. A second part deals with the conceptualisation of
operations based on the military approach to this subject. Finally, the text deals with
the use of military means in this context, including the effective use of combat
1 The translation of this article was funded by national funds through FCT - Fundação para a Ciência e
a Tecnologia - as part of OBSERVARE project with the reference UID/CPO/04155/2013. Text translated by
Thomas Rickard.
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 7, Nº. 1 (May-October 2016), pp. 33-54
The use of military force in the management and resolution of conflicts
António Oliveira
1. Military force in the context of conflict resolution
1.1. The functions of military force
The military has always played an important role in international relations. However,
its priorities have been changing, adapting to the evolution of strategic contexts,
successively used first as a means of coercion, then as a deterrent and more recently
as a tool for the prevention and resolution of conflicts (Espírito-Santo, 2003: 235). This
form of use should be regarded not as a succeeding substitution of the context of use,
but as a broadening of the spectrum of use.
In this spectrum, generically, military force can accomplish five strategic functions: to
destroy, coerce, deter, contain or improve (Smith, 2008: 370). These functions will be
performed in isolation or in combination, according to the strategic concept that
achieves the desired political result, and can be developed at different levels,
individually or in a complementary manner (Garcia, 2010: 70), independent of the
activities to execute.
In the context of security and defence in the XXI century, the military runs three main
types of activities: (i) traditional combat operations; (ii) a wide range of "non-
traditional" activities, ranging from humanitarian assistance to special operations
through to the peace operations; and (iii) support activities and interaction with other
instruments of power (Alberts, 2002: 39). This spectrum of usage reflects very
significant changes associated with a growing appreciation of the actions developed by
use of non-military vectors. This trend has become more pronounced and results in
more effective diplomatic, economic and psychological strategies, as well as the
problems inherent to the use of military force (Barrento, 2010: 306).
The conduct of military operations began to be the "art of the possible," implying that
more and more forces adapt to non-military contexts and political, legal, socio-cultural,
economic, technological and geographical constraints (Gray, 2006: 31). Thus, in
addition to the means, the use of military force started to require another fundamental
prerequisite: opportunity (Alberts and Hayes, 2003: 171).
International organisations2 supported the perspective that the use of armed force to
manage international relations and maintain peace is legitimate, appropriate and often
necessary (Zartman et al., 2007: 422) and have progressively come to intervene to
safeguard peace between States as well as within them (David, 2001: 313). The
opportunity for the employment of military forces is created and, thus, they are
increasingly called upon to intervene under the so-called "conflict resolution".
But this new perspective of action also brought qualitative changes in the use of
military force. Objectives on a strategic and operational level are no longer related to
the destruction or imposition of conditions to an enemy and now aim to shape it or
change the will of the population (Smith, 2008: 42) and the warring parties.
Consequently, strategic functions, while retaining their ends, saw contexts change
significantly as they are implemented, especially through the concept of enemy
elimination, a non-applicable concept in the context of conflict resolution.
2 Especially the United Nations, supported and complemented by other regional organisations.
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
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The use of military force in the management and resolution of conflicts
António Oliveira
So, instead of carrying out its strategic functions in a traditional war scenario, the
deployment of the military in this context can be seen as a step by the international
community to resolve differences and confrontations without recourse to war, while
contributing to security in collective terms (Segal and Waldman, 1998: 185).
1.2. The context for use - the integrated approach
In general terms, the strategic objectives defined for an operation aimed at resolving a
conflict are usually related to security, governance and economic development (AJP-01
(D), 2010: 2-12).
In strictly military terms, the final state can be considered achieved when the rule of
law is established, internal security mechanisms regain control and the levels of
violence are within normal standards for the society in the region in question. However,
achieving military objectives and creating a stable and secure environment is no
guarantee of achieving a self-sustaining situation of peace (AJP-1 (C), 2007: 1-8). The
implementation of an operation may help curb violence in the short term, but it is
unlikely to result in a sustainable and lasting peace if it is not accompanied by
programmes designed to prevent the recurrence of conflict (Capstone, 2008: 25). Thus,
military success and reaching military targets should be seen as decisive aspects in
order to achieve the desired overall end state, where it is essential to establish a
dynamic balance with non-military objectives (Alberts, 2002: 48), using the military
instrument in coordination with other instruments of power3.
Fig. 1 - Balance of the instruments of power (adapted from the Smart Power Equaliser)
The relationship between these instruments, as regarded by Gray (2006: 15), is always
contextual, conditioning their application. In the context of prevention, management
3 According to the relevant fields, there are several ways to effect the systematisation of instruments of
power: (I) DIME (diplomatic, informational, military and economic Instruments) in the current doctrine of
the Atlantic Alliance (AJP-01 (C), 2007): 2-18); (ii) DIMLIFE (diplomatic, informational, military,
economic, law and order, intelligence and financial instruments) in US counter-terrorism strategy, which
considers a broader range of instruments; some states do not acknowledge the informational instrument,
considering it both as a component and a requirement necessary for other instruments (AJP1- (D), 2010:
Balance of power
M - Military
E - Informational
D - Diplomatic
E - Economic
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The use of military force in the management and resolution of conflicts
António Oliveira
and resolutions of conflict, the degree of use of each instrument is influenced by
intended coercion level of the actors in the confrontation and uses the military
elements that directly influence this level of coercion4 (Oliveira 2011: 65).
This holistic and synergistic use is commonly called the comprehensive approach” and
is based on coordinated action between various actors - political, diplomatic, economic,
military, non-governmental, civil society and business (MCDC, 2014: 115). Being linked
to the strategic, operational and tactical levels, it is supported by the planning and
direction of the execution (AJP-1 (D), 2010): 2-11), in which the use of different
systems converge methodologically with a combination of multinational and
multidisciplinary solutions (Oliveira, 2011: 65).
1.3. The specific framework for the employment of the military
The use of military force in the management and resolution of conflicts is conditioned
by the appropriate conceptual framework that correctly interprets the operational
environment through the force and its commanders (AJP-1 (D), 2010: 1-10). The
confusion of conceptual and doctrinal division of operations is usually preannouncing of
failure, because the degree of commitment of the military, the elements to engage with
and the terms in which the mandate allows them to act (Jones, 2009: 7) are
preconditions for success.
The use of the military components in this environment requires a deep understanding
of three vectors that are interrelated: (I) the actors involved supporters, opponents
and neutrals in the presence of force; (ii) the operational environment, the different
perspectives, and (iii) the tasks to be performed (AJP-01 (D), 2010: 2-14).
Addressing the relationship between the various vectors, Binnendijk and Johnson
(2004) published some findings of a study 5 that examined a number of interventions in
conflict situations, suggesting that success depended essentially on three controllable
factors: (i) the resources allocated to resolve the conflict; (ii) the volume of military
force used; and (iii) the time allocated for the process of conflict resolution.
Interventions are also dependent on two uncontrollable factors: (i) internal
characteristics and (ii) geopolitical interests of third parties.
These studies were designed with the military instrument as the main variable 6 of the
cases studied, and one of the lessons learned is that there is a strong correlation
between the amount of resources used and the degree of success7 . With the increasing
complexity and multidisciplinarity of operations, this correlation has not been clear and
it became one of the dilemmas of its materialisation. If, on the one hand, a large
volume of forces promotes safety, on the other hand it introduces the risk of
stimulating local resistance to an intrusive foreign presence in the local community. In
another approach, a reduced number of forces minimises the encouragement of
4 The result of the balanced use of different instruments of power can be compared to the sound achieved
through an equaliser, being altered by intervention in the intensity of each of them and the basic sound
selection - the desired level of coercion (Oliveira 2011: 65).
5 Original study by Larry K. Wentz.
6 For a specific analysis of this variable, success in a military perspective is easily measured as it is related
to achieving military objectives, which embody the so-called military end state (AJP-01 (C), 2007: 1-4).
7 This conclusion was being called into question by other studies.
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nationalist impulses against the presence, and can be very effective in maintaining a
stable and secure environment in the territory (Paris and Sisk, 2009: 81). For this
dilemma 8 Some UN force commanders argue that volume is not critical, being less
important to the effectiveness of the force of the command unit and the removal of
caveats introduced in various military contingents (Mood, 2015: 2).
The timing of an operation creates another dilemma: maintaining a presence to prevent
the resumption of hostilities and/or opportunism due to the weakness of local
institutions or withdrawal of forces in order to avoid the danger of local population
resistance to prolonged presence (Paris and Sisk, 2009: 85). According to Binnendijk
and Johnson (2004: 4:05), in this dilemma it is affirmed that the maintenance of
means for a long period cannot guarantee success, though their rapid withdrawal can
precipitate failure. Being variable in each case, the historical cases point to a time
period of five years as the minimum time required to cultivate an enduring transition to
"Peace operations are about people and perceptions" and these operations "will be
developed more and more in this domain instead of on the ground" 9 (Mood, 2015: 1).
Thus, the approach to this dilemma means we must take into account the perception
that the local population has of the presence of international forces. Usually the
"coexistence" between the local population and military force is divided into three
periods: (i) a first, following the violent phase of the conflict, in which the population
considers their presence essential, especially for the creation of security. At this stage
unconditional support is guaranteed and their actions encouraged; (ii) a second period,
when the situation reaches some degree of stability, where the population begins to
question the need for international presence and begins to tolerate it rather than to
unconditionally support and (iii) the third stage, when the perception of security and
non-return of conflict starts to be installed and the population begins to see the force
as an intrusive element to their interests (Paris and Sisk, 2009: 85).
Internal and intrinsic characteristics of the territory where the conflict unfolds,
consequences of culture, the agendas of the various actors and the geopolitical and
geostrategic interests of external actors, usually States, are uncontrollable factors for
those executing an operation.
Studies conducted by Segal and Waldman (1998: 198) concluded that interventions by
the international community were more successful in controlling the conflict when the
actors in dispute had something to gain from the success of their own peacekeeping.
On the other hand, the practice seems to show that the contributing countries' troops
should be involved based on their interests in order to ensure the effectiveness of the
mission (Mood, 2015: 3). It seems to apply a “win-win” relationship between local
actors and multinational forces that represent their states of origin.
Given the intangibility of certain factors, evaluating the success of an intervention
never reached a base that satisfies diverse actors. According to Diehl (1993: 36), the
two general criteria have to do with (i) the ability to deter or prevent the use of
violence in the area of operations and (ii) how this intervention facilitates the resolution
of the conflict. They are essentially intangible criteria. However, the degree of success
8 For this dilemma also see (Newman, Paris, Richmond, 2009: 32).
9 Force Commanders' Advice to the High-Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations. Washington:
UN. 2015. Robert Mood.
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being measured can go through the verification of tangible metrics related to the
effects to be achieved at specific points in space and time. Disarmament levels,
demobilisation of former combatants and their reintegration into society, as well as how
local authorities guarantee security, are examples of aspects that are possible to
measure along the course of the operation 10 (Newman, Paris, Richmond, 2009: 29).
2. The military approach to the management and resolution of conflicts
2.1. The classical approach to peace operations
Originally, peace operations involved almost exclusively the use of military forces.
These were interposed between the parties to monitor ceasefires, facilitate the
withdrawal of troops and act as a buffer between countries in very volatile situations
(Newman, Paris, Richmond, 2009: 5). Thus, traditional peacekeeping operations were
established when some agreement was concluded and guaranteed the necessary
physical and political support to enable compliance by the parties (Zartman et al.,
2007: 433).
Between 1988 and 1993, a triple transformation started involving qualitative,
quantitative and regulatory changes regarding the role and scope of peace operations
(Bellamy, Williams, Griffin, 2004: 92). Their field of action has widened and began to
involve the combination of a wide range of tasks (Newman, Paris, Richmond, 2009: 7).
In this context, the UN 11 and NATO12, which together represent the overwhelming
majority of military personnel deployed in "peace operations" (Jones, 2009: 3),
developed a specific doctrinal basis for these operations, which allow an
operationalisation of concepts and a more efficient and flexible approach to them. They
did so by adopting a "classical approach".
This conceptual approach and rules to peace operations are associated with the life
cycle of a conflict: phase of escalation, usually non-violent, its violent phase and the
subsequent return of peace which is also non-violent. The response structure is based
on a sequential design and so, while not competing activities, the use of individualised
mechanisms provided either by the UN 13 or NATO 14 is well typified, allowing the
conceptual framing of the use of military force, based on a generic process that has
been followed as a model15. This assumes, according to the situation, that a type of
operation and the means and measures are to be used along with the framework. At
the same time, to move from one type of operation to another, changes to this
framework can be altered and the mandate and terms of reference of the mission can
even be changed.
Generically, the organisation is based on the following operation types: conflict
prevention, peace enforcement, reestablishment of peace, peacekeeping and
10 Other less tangible effects can also be analysed, such as reconciliation between the parties and the
evolution of conflict resolution (Newman, Paris, Richmond, 2009: 29).
11 Through the Agenda for Peace (A / 47/277 - S / 24111 of 17 June 1992).
12 Through the Doctrine of Peace Support Operations.
13 The reference is still the Agenda for Peace (A / 47/277 - S / 24111 of 17 June 1992) and later the
Agenda Supplement for Peace (A / 50/60 - S / 1995/1 from 3 January 1995).
14 The doctrine in place for the Peace Support Operations is found in AJP - 4.3.1 July 2001 and the AJP -
4.3, March 2005, although as noted above, they are both under review.
15 For a more comprehensive conceptual approach refer to the UN and NATO references above.