Terminating intervention, understanding exit strategy and U.S. involvement in intrastate conflicts

by Ashley J. Tellis

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The term exit strategy is misleading because it elevates exit considerations over and above the demands of proper goal setting and mission accomplishment in limited engagements. Despite this fact, developing an appropriate exit strategy is mandated by the Clausewitzean framework that suggests three components: 1. a clear statement of the political objectives to be pursued; 2. a derivative group of operational goals that must be secured; and 3. a set of fallback options that must be anticipated if the original objectives and goals cannot be attained. Examining six U.S. interventions with a view to understanding whether and how exit strategies were integrated into entry decision-making, this study finds that they have been well integrated only in the case of high-level interventions. They have been mostly neglected in low- and mid-level interventions, even though the latter incur all the potential hazards associated with high-level engagements.

Originally published in: Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, v. 19, 1996, pp. 117-151.

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