Foreign interference in internal affairs: deconstruction of an essentially indeterminate concept

Foreign interference in internal affairs:
deconstruction of an essentially indeterminate concept

Article received: 2022.12.09. Accepted: 2023.01.18

DOI: 10.17976/jpps/2023.02.09

For citation:

Istomin I.A. Foreign interference in internal affairs: deconstruction of an essentially indeterminate concept. – Polis. Political Studies. 2023. No. 2. P. 120-137. (In Russ.). EDN: CRNPDK

The research was funded by the Russian Science Foundation grant № 22-18-00723,


The surge of anxiety over foreign interference in internal affairs among major powers incites growing scholarly interest in this phenomenon. Since the 2000s, the number of academic publications related to it increased exponentially. However, scholars proved unable to advance a unified, generally accepted definition of the concept of interference. This article aims to reveal the origins of such terminological difficulties. It shows that they arise not so much from politicization and value contestation, but for fundamental ontological reasons. The concept of “intervention” is embedded in a system of relations with phenomena that themselves remain unclear, blurred and changeable. In this regard, the article places it into a group of essentially indeterminate concepts. Reliance on such notions contradicts the standards of conceptual certainty that go back to the Socratic tradition. Nevertheless, it fits the growing trend in academic research away from deterministic representations of reality. The concept analysis of the notion lays a more solid foundation for subsequent theoretical and applied studies of foreign interference in internal affairs. The article begins with an examination of the urgency of the debate on interference based on official documents and statements from representatives of leading states. Then, it traces the evolution of approaches to the problem of definition in the theory of knowledge. After that, the author systematizes attempts to define intervention in the International Relations literature. This analysis reveals a tacit consensus about the concept among scholars as well as sources of ontological ambiguity. The final section of the article compares the concept of “intervention” with alternative notions that claim to replace it. Such a comparison discloses its strengths and relevance. A study of the literature on interference demonstrates that essentially indeterminate concepts have a number of epistemological advantages over essentially contested ones which previously received recognition in academia. The former, unlike the latter, relies on a broad consensus in the research community. This situation creates a foundation for the successful development of a research program devoted to foreign interference in internal affairs, based upon a constructive scholarly debate.

foreign interference, foreign intervention, political warfare, terminological clarity, politization, essentially contested concept, essentially indeterminate concept, foreign imposed regime change.


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