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Libya & R2P:A perfect storm ?

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COMMENTS

15 April 2011 14:18

Tim Dunne is Professor of International Relations, and Jess Gifkins is PhD Candidate and Researcher, Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, University of Queensland.

Yesterday we argued that the UN intervention in Libya took the doctrine of 'responsibility to protect' (R2P) a stage further than previous Security Council debates. Today we look at the caveats, suggesting that the Libyan case was a 'perfect storm' rather than an instance of norm consolidation.

Several factors contribute towards this cautious assessment. The first relates to the indeterminate character of the resolution in operational terms.

The no-fly zone was authorised to be implemented by member states who have notified the Secretary-General of the Security Council or the League of Arab States.

According to a briefing by Ban Ki-Moon, the UK, the US, Denmark, Canada, Italy, Qatar, Belgium, Norway, Spain, the United Arab Emirates and NATO all sent letters of notification to indicate their involvement. But who precisely was to lead the mission, and according to what terms of engagement' These questions were left unanswered in resolution 1973.

The other reason to be cautious in relation to the intervention in Libya is that 1973 was more contentious than many have inferred. The absence of a veto being cast by a permanent member masks over the extent to which many influential countries refused to lend their support to the no-fly zone.

To be lawful, Security Council resolutions only need 9 countries to vote 'yes', and no vetos. However, the Council places a great importance on unanimity and the vast majority of resolutions are passed with all 15 members voting 'yes'.

To show just how unusual the 10/5 split over resolution 1973 was in the Council, consider that of the approximately 70 resolutions that are passed each year, about 65 of them include every Council member voting 'yes'.

In fact, resolution 1973 on Libya is the only resolution that has been passed by the Council so far in 2011 without the support of every Council member.

Abstentions by China, Russia, Germany, India and Brazil raise a bigger question for forcible civilian protection; what future do such actions have in a world that is not being led by the United States and its western allies'

While Germany can be bracketed for reasons of its societal taboo on the use of force, the same does not hold for rising powers such as Brazil, Russia, China and India (BRIC).

Does this response by the BRIC powers foreshadow an era of non-intervention will be upon us when we transition to a post-American world' If not, where is the leadership on humanitarian protection going to come from'

As we noted in our post yesterday, supporters of R2P see resolution 1973 as further evidence of a deeper normative consensus around the need to use force, as a last resort, in response to actual and potential atrocity crimes.

Rather than viewing it as a precedent that is likely to be invoked at any point soon, there are good reasons for thinking of it as a 'perfect storm' of factors that enabled the Security Council to trigger decisive action.

Military force was clearly necessary to prevent further atrocities which Gaddafi was publically threatening; Gaddafi had made an enemy of the West in the 1990s following several high profile state-sponsored terrorist attacks; he had few friends in the region; and the geo-strategic terrain was favourable to NATO. Gaddafi loudly stated his intentions to engage in atrocities, and he lacked allies in the Security Council to prevent action from being taken against him.

The situation in Libya has put R2P front and centre in diplomacy and security, but the factors that needed to be aligned in order to authorise and implement the no-fly zone may not coincide in other cases.

Accepting this, resolution 1973 remains an unusually quick response from the UN Security Council and it is an advance in terms of operationalising R2P. Circumstances on the ground, not considered in these posts, will also shape the extent to which Libya is seen as a milestone in norm consolidation or a rare moment when pragmatic and ethical horizons merged.

Photo, of RAF Typhoon Aircraft after their first mission over Libya, courtesy of the UK Ministry of Defence.

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