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Op-Ed: A Victory for the Responsibility to Protect
Lloyd Axworthy and Allan Rock
The Ottawa Citizen
25 October 2011
(…) In a fortuitous coincidence, last week's liberation of Libya occurred exactly a decade after the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle was proposed by the Canadian-initiated International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS). The successful UN mission in Libya was a historic development for R2P - the high-water mark in a process that began in the late 1990s with the objective of protecting civilians from genocide through international action, and that has been building steadily since.
Cynical and short-sighted commentators have suggested in recent days that the Libyan intervention was a "one-off," or motivated simply by western lust for oil. We argue just the opposite. What happened in Libya demonstrated R2P in action and proved that the principle can be applied effectively. While far from flawless, the Libyan intervention showed tyrants that we are collectively capable of standing up to them while respecting international law, and taught lessons to be applied in future such cases. (…)
Libya has been the first real test case. When Moammar Gadhafi threatened the slaughter of his own people ("home by home, alley by alley"), the UN invoked R2P and authorized international intervention last March to protect civilians "by all means necessary" under Resolution 1973. (…)
(…) We need to discuss the line separating, on the one hand, defensive military action to protect populations from murderous attacks (potentially requiring the disabling of a tyrant's command and control capacity), and on the other, going on the offence to effect regime change (which is beyond the R2P protection mandate). Given the infinite variety of circumstances that can arise on the ground and the complicating effect of the "fog of war," this complex issue should be debated by UN member states before the next crisis arises, to identify governing principles and better prepare us to make subtle but important distinctions in the proper use of force. (…)
Finally, there is the question of what to do about Syria. It clearly calls for an effective R2P response. And in Syria we can demonstrate the non-singular nature of the Libyan intervention. Reports are that sanctions are beginning to bite, but the international community - particularly at the UN - is not meeting its responsibilities. Every diplomatic effort must be made to overcome the recalcitrance of China and Russia. Canada can play a helpful role here, deploying our highly effective foreign service in concert with key allies. (…)
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