Beyond Libya: A World Ready to Respond to Mass Violence
Five months after the first NATO airstrikes opened Operation Unified Protector, the Gaddafi regime has collapsed.
The battle began with the Colonel’s declared intent to “cleanse” Libya of its protesting “vermin.” And with every rebel advance or retreat, observers remain poised to call the Libyan campaign either a victory or defeat for international efforts to protect civilians from governments that turn against them.
The decision to authorize force to counter Gaddafi’s explicit threats was steeped in the rationale of a political principle known as the Responsibility to Protect, or R2P. Its final outcome will undoubtedly impact the way global leaders view their self-professed responsibility to protect civilian populations from genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and war crimes.
But Libya is far from the only data point tracking the progress of global policies to prevent and respond to mass violence.
R2P has motivated direct international engagement in crises as diverse as Kenya, Guinea, Kyrgyzstan, Ivory Coast and South Sudan. Key global and regional leaders have recently ratcheted up pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, calling for him to step down.
Maligned as “interventionist” by some, heralded as a positive step forward in atrocity prevention by others, R2P is proving to be transformative.
The United Nations, a product of the experience of two world wars, was created to prevent violent conflict between nations, not within them. For much of its existence and within very recent memory, insistence that the UN could not intervene in any matter that was “essentially within the jurisdiction of any state” kept state-generated violence against civilians off the agenda of the UN Security Council.
Such arguments, however, have been merely marginal to debates over threats to civilians in Libya and Syria. UN member states have questioned whether and what kind of action the Security Council should take to counter such threats, but never the basic right of the council to do so. “It’s not your business” is no longer a viable argument when it comes to internal violence targeted at civilians—a recent and striking shift in the history of global politics for which R2P deserves its share of credit.
Far from a checklist that mandates uniform action, R2P is a dynamic policy framework that is meant to twist, bend, and adapt as best it can to the complex realities of the world it hopes to improve.
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