Member Sign In
International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect
PDF Print E-mail
Has R2P Worked in Libya?
Ramesh Thakur
The Canberra Times
19 September 2011
 
The 'responsibility to protect' tries to strike a balance between unilateral interference and indifference 
 
The United Nations was neither designed nor expected to be a pacifist organisation. Its origins lie in the anti-Nazi wartime military alliance among Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union. The all-powerful UN Security Council is the world's duly- and only- sworn-in sheriff for enforcing international law and order. (…)
 
Increasingly, the principal victims of both types of violence were civilians, and the goals of promoting human rights and democratic governance, protecting civilian victims of humanitarian atrocities and punishing governmental perpetrators of mass crimes became more important.
 
The responsibility to protect (R2P), first articulated by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty in 2001 and endorsed unanimously by world leaders in 2005, spoke eloquently to the need to change the UN's normative framework in line with the changed reality of threats and victims.
 
R2P attempts to strike a balance between unilateral interference and institutionalised indifference. It was designed to help the world to be better prepared- normatively, organisationally and operationally- to meet the recurrent challenge of military intervention when atrocities are committed and something can be done by outsiders to save strangers at acceptable costs and risks: institutionalised non-indifference, if you will. 
 
R2P's preventive and rebuilding pillars involve strengthening a state's capacity to handle its own law and order problems. The world's comfort level is much greater with action under Pillar One (building sate capacity) and Pillar Two (international assistance to build state capacity) than Pillar Three (international military intervention). But, to be meaningful, the R2P spectrum of action must include military force as the sharp-edge option of last resort. By its very nature, including unpredictability, unintended consequences and the risk to innocent civilians caught in the crossfire, warfare is inherently brutal: there is nothing humanitarian about the means. Still, under contemporary conditions the fundamental question cannot be avoided: under what circumstances is the use of force necessary, justified and required to provide effective international humanitarian protection to at-risk populations without the consent of their own government? Without R2P, the intervention is more likely to be ad hoc, unilateral, self-interested and deeply divisive.
 
That was a key difference between Kosovo in 1999, Iraq in 2003 and Libya this year. In the Balkans, it took NATO almost the full decade to intervene with air power. In Libya, it took one month to mobilise a broad coalition, secure a UN mandate, establish and enforce no-fly and no-drive zones, stop Muammar Gaddafi's advancing army and prevent a massacre of the innocents in Benghazi. (…) The decisive factor for many was the highly credible threat to hunt down opponents alley by alley, house by house, room by room, with no mercy or pity.
 
The jury is still out on whether international military action in Libya will promote consolidation or softening of the R2P norm. The Libyan people's euphoria and NATO's relief over the successful military campaign to remove Gaddafi is likely to temper criticisms of the manner in which NATO rode roughshod over UN authorisation to protect civilians. (...)
 
That said, we should not be naive about what may be required in particular circumstances. Already in 2003, as Commissioner for the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, I wrote that ''If defeat of a non-compliant state or regime is the only way to achieve the human protection goals, then so be it.'' In Libya, the West's strategic interests coincided with UN values. This does not mean that the latter was subordinated to the former. (…)
 
The outcome is a triumph first and foremost for the citizen soldiers who refused to let fear of Gaddafi determine their destiny any longer. It is a triumph secondly for R2P. NATO military muscle deployed on behalf of UN political will helped to level the killing field between citizens and a tyrant. It is possible for the international community, working through the authenticated, UN-centered structures and procedures of organised multilateralism, to deploy international force to neutralise the military might of a thug and intervene between him and his victims with reduced civilian casualties and little risk of military casualties.
 
But the ruins of Libya's political infrastructure and parlous state of its coffers mean that the third component of R2P - the international responsibility to rebuild - will also come into play. (…) The willingness, nature and duration of outside help will also help to shape the judgment of history on whether Western motivations were primarily self-interested geopolitical and commercial, or the disinterested desire to protect civilians from being killed.
 
As with the war itself, however, the lead role will have to be assumed by Libyans themselves, while the international community can assist without assuming ownership of the process or responsibility for the outcome.
 

 

Browse Documents by Region:

International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect
c/o World Federalist Movement - Institute for Global Policy
708 Third Avenue, Suite 1715, New York, NY 10017
Contact