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Libya: The difficulty of proving R2P

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COMMENTS

1 April 2011 10:30

Stephanie Koorey is an Adjunct Research Associate at Monash University.

Much commentary on the intervention into Libya has identified — yet again — strategic confusion on behalf of the intervening countries. The US is pushing the case for regime change, France distanced itself, the Arab League is nervous, and Australia has claimed the humanitarian imperative. 

Emphasising the humanitarian nature of the intervention, means Australia is on the safest ground. Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd clearly stated the imperative to prevent another Rwanda, another Darfur, and even another Bosnia. 

There has been debate as to whether we are finally enacting R2P. If we are, we might finally be at a turning point in international relations. This means state sovereignty, previously the bastion of international interactions, can be violated in the name of protecting peoples from massacres, genocides and other grossly brutal behaviour by the host state or its armed forces. 

If this is the case, then there is a strategy — it's R2P.

Or is it' If mass civilian casualties have been averted, it will be tricky to prove it was due to the intervention because, in the humanities at least, it is hard to prove that the absence of something is caused by something else. 

Take the nuclear deterrence argument. Did WWIII not happen because nuclear deterrence worked' Some would say yes, others would argue no. It's a matter of conviction, not verifiable truth, as to whether nuclear deterrence was preventative or not.

Thus, in arguing that this intervention was to prevent another sickening bloodbath, and one which might be avoidable, Rudd is on the moral high ground and he might be correct. It's just his argument cannot ever be proven. This might mean he is also on shaky ground, but when it comes to justifying the use of deadly force against another sovereign power, the high ground might win out against the shaky.

Yet is enacting R2P a truly strategic vision — in that it articulates a clear desired outcome, having envisioned and risk-managed all the pitfalls along the way' We all know the answer is no. And the costs are high — lives will be lost in the quest to do the right thing. 

In the absence of a world government to make clear unified statements on behalf of all the peoples of the world and importantly, with its own armed forces, the strategic foresight that we all desire when committing to deadly force against another sovereign nation — no matter how despotic or irrational — remains nirvanic.

Photo by Flickr user vladdythephotogeek.

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