The International Action in Libya: Revitalizing the Responsibility to protect
Institute for National Security Studies
Benedetta Berti Gallia Lindenstrauss
5 April 2011
The success in passing Resolution 1973 in the UN Security Council (UNSC) on March 17, 2011 calling for the use of all necessary means short of occupation to protect the civilian population in Libya can be seen as a regeneration of the evolving norm of the “Responsibility to protect” (R2P). While this norm has been thoroughly debated over the last decade, Libya is the first instance where the norm has been backed by a UNSC Chapter VII resolution and used as grounds for intervention in an ongoing crisis. (...)
How do the current UNSC-authorized, NATO-led operations in Libya relate to the parameters of legitimate intervention under the emerging R2P norm?
The basic requirement to trigger intervention under R2P is a given state’s lack of ability or willingness to meet its duty to protect its civilian population, a requirement certainly met in the Libyan case, where the state regime is also the main perpetrator of the crimes against the civilian population.
Qaddafi’s use of force in Libya since the beginning of the protests far exceeded the level employed by his regional counterparts. Amidst reports of widespread brutality against the civilian population, the dictator further strengthened the perception of an impending humanitarian catastrophe by promising to “crush the cockroaches” who had dared to rise up against his regime. At the same time, the public resignations of Libyan ambassadors and the demands of the Libyan ambassador to the UN to stop the ongoing “genocide” also supported the notion that the regime had lost its domestic legitimacy, and that the level of violence in Libyawas significant enough to prompt a reaction by the international community. (...)
(...)The other three main requirements of R2P intervention (proportionality, intention, chances of success) are harder to assess, but there is reason to believe that they too are met by the current operations.
Although the process of assessing intention and proportionality in international law is open to dispute, the mandate of the military operations in Libya is specific in terms of the objectives of the mission (protecting civilians and enforcing sanctions), while explicitly “excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory,” thus seemingly meeting those criteria. In addition, the regional support for the mission (voiced by the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the Gulf Cooperation Council), and the calls from Libya’s rebel leaders to actively intervene heighten the legitimacy of the military operations. However, in the longer term, whether the mission and the rules of engagement will remain within these parameters is ultimately contingent upon the military reality on the ground, thus making it impossible to predetermine whether the intervention will stay within the “proportionality” requirement.
The most problematic criterion to assess in looking at the R2P standards is perhaps the reasonable prospects for success. While news reports refer that NATO’s own assessment is for a 90-day operation followed by a Bosnia-styled multinational peacekeeping force, the feasibility of such a plan is far from certain. Specifically, it is yet unclear how the mission will manage to attain its goals (protecting the civilian population) without having to expand its mandate (regime change) and becoming entangled in a civil war scenario.
Despite the uncertainties of success of the current military operations, the UN-authorized intervention is clearly reflective of theR2P standards, and it has had the impact of revitalizing this emerging norm and putting it back on the map.
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