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…
The world has always been split on the issue of sovereignty, by extension the interpretation of the responsibility to protect. The nations that have the least representative governments and the most oppressive political systems are the same nations that see R2P as a vehicle for intervention and some kind of regime change. The other side of this arguments is the battle between the older and more established powers and the new emerging powers, following the US and the west on this issue would have made them look weak as such that was the card that Syria could rely upon. As someone who has lived under several bad reduxes of imperial governments, I like the threat of R2P hanging over the heads of these tin pot dictators because as people who came to power through violence it is only the threat of violence that normally causes them to change course.
I agree with that. I also like the idea of R2P hanging over the heads of the world’s nasties. It is a useful tool. But for it to stay useful, it needs to be limited and coherent. This is my concern about Libya. R2P in Libya is morphing into regime change all over again…
Thanks for reading.
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