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Libya: Roadblocks on the 'pathway to peace'

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21 April 2011 09:24

Our two previous posts on Libya examined whether the UN Security Council resolutions authorizing 'all necessary measures' to protect civilians constituted a change in diplomatic support for R2P. 

Today we consider an important tension that has arisen in relation to the statement on 14 April by the leaders of the US, UK and France. In setting out their vision for 'Libya's pathway to peace', have the 'big three' linked civilian protection to regime change?

President Barack Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron, and President Nicolas Sarkozy noted that resolution 1973 does not enable the removal of Muammar Qadhafi by force. They went on to add: 'But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Qadhafi in power'.

The day after the 'pathway to peace' statement, NATO's Secretary General Anders Rasmussen was quick to stress that the conduct of the operations was 'in strict conformity with both the letter and the spirit of that resolution'.

Russia, as both a permanent member of the Security Council and the BRIC power that has been most forthright in criticizing the intervention, took a very different view. NATO's action, according to President Dmitry Medvedev, is 'a military operation' that is outside of 1973.

Medvedev is mistaken in his assessment of the resolution, which explicitly permits 'all necessary measures' to be used both to protect civilians and to enforce a no-fly zone. Yet there is no doubt that the joint statement by leaders of the 'big three' will have gone down badly in the capitals of the other BRIC's.

To calibrate how seriously we should take this roadblock to the Libyan intervention, it is useful to turn down the diplomatic volume and consider the different philosophies of intervention which are informing the positions of various leaders and countries.

In a recent post on the London School of Economics website, Professor Chris Brown brings these contending approaches to the fore. The mandate of liberal interventionists to protect civilians can sound neutral, Brown argues, but the politics of the situation is such that the NATO's intervention entangles western powers in a struggle between the regime and its opponents.

Neo-conservatives understand the linkage between protecting human rights and regime change more clearly. If a corrupt regime is the cause of humanitarian suffering, then it must be toppled. International legality is not regarded as being of significance to neo-cons; what gives interventions their legitimacy is whether the action represents the will of the concert of democracies.

Knowing there is no consensus for regime change outside this narrow base of western countries, nor a legal mandate, liberals are left to hope that the fall of Qadhafi is an effect of the actions being undertaken in accordance with resolution 1973. It cannot be the goal.

Obama, Sarkozy, and Cameron would do well to reflect on where they stand in relation to these two philosophies of intervention. To date, the United States has shown a welcome determination in the Libya to avoid the mistakes of the 2003 Iraq War.

Going forward, without a further Security Council resolution, any military action beyond the robust enforcement of a no-fly zone raises the specter of the war against Saddam's Iraq. Moreover, the influential powers who abstained in the vote on 1973 will be vindicated in their caution.

A resolution permitting ground troops is likely to be sought and unlikely to be granted. As politically unsatisfactory as it sounds, acting strictly within the boundaries of what has been agreed is preferable to a high risk re-definition of the mission that could set back the cause of civilian protection.

Photo by Flickr user kitakitts.

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