Syria Sanctions failed b/c of R2P Overreach in Libya – get out Nato

In the last 6 weeks, I warned that if NATO kept the operation in Libya rolling, it would tarnish the responsibility to protect doctrine (R2P). R2P says external military force can be used to prevent massive human rights abuses, like Srebrenica or Rwanda. In Libya, an R2P intervention was justified, because Gaddafi and his sons talked about ‘rivers of blood in the streets’ and hunting the rebels ‘like rats, allay by alley.’

But after the fall of Tripoli, it was clear that Gaddafi was not longer a massive human rights threat in Libya. The National Transition Council clearly no longer needed NATO assistance. The NATO mission was no longer necessary in what is now a fairly traditional civil war. A focused, limited, and coherent R2P doctrine is the best antidote to the ‘its an internal affair’ siren song used by oppressive states like China or Sudan to prevent outside scrutiny of their illiberalism. Here was an intellectually defensible wedge against using ‘sovereignty’ as all-purpose excuse to brutalize your own people.

Hence, keeping the NATO mission going past necessity was a sure way to tell everyone that R2P is just another name for “regime change,” Bushism, neoconservatism, etc. R2P would lose its focus and look yet again like western imperialism to non-western states.

And that is what we got this week when the UN Security Council voted against sanctions on Syria. The BRICS explicitly noted that Libya’s R2P vote turned into regime change, and that they didn’t vote for that or want that. The more we stay in Libya, the less it looks like R2P and the more it looks like Iraq-light.

No wonder no one trusts us. Despite all of our angst and hand-wringing about Iraq, as soon as we won another war, our neocon, ‘inside every g—, there is an American struggling to get out (video above)’ instinct came roaring back. But all the western victory laps do is undercut R2P as real human rights-protecting mechanism because no one will vote for it in the future, now that they’ve seen Libya. Another opportunity for better global governance squandered by neocon arrogance…

Filed under: International Relations Theory, Middle East, West

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University





Re: Syria Sanctions failed b/c of R2P Overreach in Libya – ...

Hi Robert.

I'd say I have to thoroughly disagree with your stance on the R2P doctrine and of its current application in Libya.

UN Resolution 1973 makes it clear that the military action in Libya is about protecting Libya’s civilian population from attacks by its own government and not concerned with occupying or dismembering the country. On February 22 2011, Qaddafi pledged to “cleanse Libya house by house” of antigovernment protesters, and thereafter promised to “have no mercy and no pity” in Benghazi, the opposition movement’s stronghold. These remarks certainly did him no favours. Considering the fact that before authorizing military intervention the international community took numerous other steps to dissuade Qaddafi from committing further atrocities, including imposing an arms embargo, a travel ban, and an asset freeze, the humanitarian intervention, under the R2P, seems indeed justified.

The question becomes, then, until what point is the intervention legitimate? It needs to be acknowledged that in a civil war, no side can claim to have clean hands. Unfortunately, the notion that any country could impartially intervene on behalf of civilians is, Stewart Patrick says, a delusion. “Using military force to protect beleaguered civilian populations invariably means taking sides [...]” (2011). The likely result of any application of R2P if a regime is committing mass atrocity crimes against its own population, is that this very regime can hardly be left in control of them after an intervention brings the immediate commission of those crimes to a halt. The “responsibility to protect” implies a responsibility to rebuild once the shooting stops, to quote Patrick once again. Although Resolution 1973 explicitly rejects foreign occupation of any part of Libyan territory, stabilizing the country for the long term will likely require a multinational peacekeeping force.

From what I  could understand from your stance, however, you're basically saying that once a dictator murderer is ousted out of power (but there is still a strong possibility for a comeback unless there is a continuous military presence), then everybody should just pull out and hope things will get better? And what if things do not get better and atrocities keep being committed? Then what would be the whole point of the R2P doctrine in the first place? How do you expect things to get better if the foreign forces stationed in Libya suddenly pull off? And what exactly is wrong with a regime change, especially when this is what everybody wants, including the Libyan population and the Arab League?