Humanitarian (i.e., military and/or otherwise) Intervention in Libya? (Updated through March 7, 2011)
“Rarely, if ever, do I advocate U.S. intervention in the affairs of other nations. But President Obama should be supported if he calls for Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi to step down and asks the United Nations to intervene, if necessary.
There are two criteria that matter to me. The first is whether the leader in question is unleashing official violence against a popular movement, as was the case in China during Tienanmen, Chile’s armed forces against Salvador Allende, and Mexico during the Tlotelcolco massacre when U.S. strategic partnerships outweighed the value of human rights. The second is taking the opportunity to clear the name of the United States after decades of being sullied by spending our tax dollars and reputation on murderous regimes.
An immediate declaration that the Libyan regime has gone too far, coupled with a call for global support of the Libyan resistance, will have a serious impact on the balance of forces and be long remembered when people, including our own children, ask which side we were on during this rising of the Arab nation. Declaring such a principle – that the U.S. will not support dictators and monarchs who open fire on their own people – should be the guide to policy in other countries in the weeks ahead.
President Obama is quoted as seeing in the Egyptian revolution an opportunity for an alternative narrative to that of al Qaeda, that peaceful mass democratic uprisings are possible against Arab dictatorships. Here is his chance to prove it.”
There’s a nice (and a bit more nuanced) discussion of the issues and options regarding “humanitarian intervention” at the Jadaliyya blog by Asli Bali and Ziad Abu-Rish here.
Steve Negus has also weighed in on the question of intervention at The Arabist.
And now Issandr El Amrani adds his thoughts at The Arabist as well.
At Slate, Shadi Hamid appears to dismiss the possible problems and blowback effects of intervention in arguing that it is
“time for bold, creative policy-making. For starters, NATO should quickly move to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, both to send a strong message to the regime and to prevent the use of helicopters and planes to bomb and strafe civilians. The United States and European allies should freeze the assets of senior Libyan officials and consider other targeted sanctions. Meanwhile, the international community should also let it be known that any individuals involved in perpetrating atrocities will be prosecuted before the International Criminal Court, while regime figures who defect to the opposition will be granted amnesty.”
Background reading (alas, those entrusted with unenviable task of making timely decisions about such matters don’t have the luxury to read this material at present but one would hope at least some of them are familiar with the arguments contained therein):
For a principled discussion of humanitarian intervention from the perspective of philosophy of law and legal theory, see Allen Buchanan’s book (specifically, ‘humanitarian intervention’ in the index), Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination: Moral Foundations for International Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).
· Arend, Anthony Clark and Robert J. Beck. International Law and the Use of Force: Beyond the UN Charter Paradigm. New York: Routledge, 1993.
· Chatterjee, Deen K. and Don E. Scheid, eds. Ethics and Foreign Intervention. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
· Chesterman, Simon. Just War or Just Peace? Humanitarian Intervention and International Law. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
· Fletcher, George P. and Jens David Ohlin. Defending Humanity: When Force is Justified and Why. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
· Fox, Gregory H. Humanitarian Occupation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
· Greenwood, Christopher. Humanitarian Intervention: Law and Policy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2001.
· Harriss, John, ed. The Politics of Humanitarian Intervention. London: Pinter, 1995.
· Holzgrefe, J.L. and Robert O. Keohane, eds. Humanitarian Intervention: Ethical, Legal, and Political Dilemmas. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
· Jokic, Aleksander, ed. Humanitarian Intervention: Moral and Philosophical Issues. Orchard Park, NY: Broadview Press, 2003.
· Tesón, Fernando R. Humanitarian Intervention: An Inquiry into Law and Morality. Ardsley, NY: Transnational, 3rd ed., 2005.
· Welsh, Jennifer M., ed. Humanitarian Intervention and International Relations. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
I’m acquainted with, and therefore partial to, the titles written or edited by Chatterjee, Chesterman, Holzgrefe and Keohane (which has a chapter by Buchanan), and Jokic.
If, as Juan Cole has posted today at Informed Comment, it is true that 90% of Libya is in the hands of the rebels (I’m uncertain as to how he arrived at this figure, as it is not based on the article from the Los Angeles Times he cites), I’m skeptical about the more vigorous proposals for (i.e., some form or forms of direct military) intervention.
Updates: Helena Cobban prefers an “incapicitation mission” to a “decapitation mission.” And (2/27/2011), Jonathan Wright sensibly argues that the “U.S. also needs to show some self-restraint:”
“It’s a very bad idea for the United States to intervene in Libya and I have no doubt that no one credible in the Libyan opposition will accept such an offer. ‘We’ve been reaching out to many different Libyans who are attempting to organize in the east and, as the revolution moves westward, there as well. I think it’s way too soon to tell how this is going to play out, but we’re going to be ready and prepared to offer any kind of assistance that anyone wishes to have from the United States,’ said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The last thing any Arab rebellion (and that is what we have in Libya) needs is the kiss of death that any association with the United States would bring. If the US administration is reacting to domestic pressures, as it did in the case of its decision to veto the UN Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements, then it should resist the temptation. Even the vague offer could do damage. Who is giving advice to these US officials, and what is driving them?”
At Jadaliyya, Ayça Çubukçu is worried about the prospects of UNSC sanctioned intervention in Libya, the larger argument with the axiomatic premise that the “UN Security Council does not have [the] authority speak in the name of humanity or the international community.”
March 3, 2011: “The Libyan Conundrum: Don’t let him linger,” at The Economist:
[....] “It is vital for the lengthy and difficult reconstruction of Libya that Libyans themselves depose Colonel Qaddafi. The idea of putting Western soldiers’ boots on Libya’s sandy soil is thus still out of the question. But a no-fly zone could save thousands of Libyan lives, just as an earlier one saved Kurds in Iraq. Even then, it is fraught with technical difficulties, it cannot fully protect the Libyan rebels against Colonel Qaddafi’s machinegunners and it is liable to ‘mission creep’ (see article).
That makes it still more important for international involvement to have the backing of the Arab and Muslim world, especially the section of it that stands for progress and justice. This test is less clear-cut than it might be. The 22-member Arab League is in mealy-mouthed disarray; its secretary-general, Amr Moussa, is himself bidding to become Egypt’s next president. The autocrats of the Gulf, especially in Saudi Arabia, are looking askance at the democratic upheavals all around them. Moreover, the Libyan situation is so fluid that no one knows which leader or what coalition of political forces may come to the fore or win legitimacy in the global arena. Among Libya’s opposition, most people, though by no means all, seem ready to accept Western help.
As in all such mind-bending crises, it is best that the UN Security Council validates whatever course is pursued by the world’s beefiest governments, still inevitably led by the West, which, in turn means the United States, backed by Britain and France, its hardiest allies with a modicum of military muscle. The Americans are fearful of becoming embroiled in yet another distant venture. Among the Europeans, only Britain and Italy seem readier for a more robust involvement (see Charlemagne). China and Russia, though they voted for UN sanctions on Colonel Qaddafi in the Security Council, presently balk at a no-fly zone, let alone armed intervention by troops. Turkey, a key member of NATO in Mediterranean or Middle Eastern affairs, is so far dead against, too. So, for the time being, it seems, are the majority of Arab governments.
But if the Libyan regime starts killing people in their thousands—and especially if it uses helicopter gunships or aircraft—diplomatic reluctance should melt away. Too often the world has dithered open-mouthed as evil men have slaughtered Darfuris or Rwandans with impunity. Outsiders, led by the UN, must help Libya’s emerging transitional councils with humanitarian aid. The UN Security Council may yet have to be persuaded to restore peace by invoking the ample power of Chapter VII. And if that proves unattainable, the widest possible coalition of the willing, ideally including Libya’s Arab neighbours, must protect Libyan civilians by arming the opposition and defending them from aerial attack.”
March 7: Richard Falk argues against the bipartisan call in congressional quarters and elsewhere inside the Beltway for intervention, particularly in the form of establishing a “no-fly zone:” “Will We Ever Learn? Kicking the Intervention Habit.”
I agree with Allen Buchanan’s argument in Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination...(2004) that “under certain conditions a willingness to violate existing international law for the sake of reforming it [analogous to the use ‘civil disobedience' in municipal law] can be not only consistent with a sincere commitment to the rule of law, but even required by it.” It follows, for example, that we might explore the “possibility of developing a rule-governed, treaty-based regime for humanitarian armed intervention that bypasses the UN Charter-based law” that Falk cites as part of his argument. But Buchanan importantly qualifies his proposal by emphatically reminding his readers that
“[v]iolations of fundamental rules of existing international law, such as the prohibition of preventive war and against any use of force that does not qualify as self-defense and lacks Security Council authorization, are irresponsible, unless they are accompanied by a sincere effort to construct superior international legal structures to replace those they damage or render obsolete.” [emphasis added]
It is just this condition, namely, “the sincere effore to construct superior international legal structures” that I think is conspicuously absent today and makes Falk’s argument all the more persuasive.
[Image: Residents stand on a tank holding a pre-Qaddafi era national flag inside a security forces compound in Benghazi, Libya on Monday, Feb. 21, 2011. AP Photo/Alaguri]