Libya and The Responsibility to Protect (Part 3)

Just to add to what is apparently becoming a running series here on UN Dispatch, two new interesting takes on the role the Responsibility to Protect and Libya.  The first is from Jonas Claes, program specialist at the United States Institute for Peace Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention: Says Claes:

What would appropriate “R2P action” look like in this case? And how can the principle be used to alleviate the suffering of the Libyan population?

First of all, R2P does not merely allow for the use of reactive or coercive tools. The principle emphasizes the primacy of prevention and capacity building through supportive measures. The ideal course of R2P action would have prevented the occurrence of mass atrocities against protesters in the first place. The full panoply of options has now become available since the regime and the international community failed in their responsibility to prevent, mass atrocities appear to be ongoing, and the crisis constitutes a clear threat to international peace and security. The considered options include both coercive and supportive measures aimed at managing the immediate crisis and preventing the escalation or recurrence of the atrocities.

Initially the United Nations, the United States, and other regional players and institutions merely condemned the violence and discussed the option of coercive measures with minimal short-term effects. Over the weekend a Chapter VII resolution was unanimously adopted by the Security Council imposing an arms embargo, travel bans, and asset freezes, and referring the situation to the International Criminal Court. The European Union went a step further endorsing even harsher sanctions. The international community will surely consider other tactics besides compellence and isolation, including covert action. Alternative policy options include setting up safe havens and no-fly zones, co-opting key figures still loyal to Qaddafi to facilitate the transition process and further undermine the regime, or even military intervention through NATO. The appropriateness of these options will surely remain food for debate among international diplomatic circles as the atrocities persist and pressures to act upon the 2005 commitments rise.

The explicit invocation of R2P within a Chapter VII resolution is a significant, perhaps even historic breakthrough in our stated commitment to end mass atrocities. But it is of monumental importance that the international community goes beyond condemnations urging the Libyan regime to halt the atrocities and lives up to its commitment of readiness to take “timely and decisive action”. A repeat of the 2010 Kyrgyzstan scenario, where the international community was unable to develop an effective response to halt the atrocities or take measures to prevent its recurrence, could not only endanger the lives of many Libyans, but also undermine the development of R2P as a norm as well as the credibility of the United Nations.

Also, some analysis from Ron Capps of Refugees International, who has much experience in the region as a former U.S. intelligence officer:

At the 2005 World Summit, international leaders agreed to a principle known as the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). This commits states and the international community to protect civilians against ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. At least in theory, the U.S. and the rest of the international community have a responsibility to step in and provide protection for the Libyan civilians that Qaddafi is attacking.

The U.S. military has moved some assets into the Mediterranean Sea to be closer to Libya in case they are needed. But it seems quite unlikely the U.S. will make any bold military moves. The Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs have both made statements signaling their concerns over a possible military intervention.

So why isn’t the U.S. taking action? It’s a good question. For one thing, military options are limited. The U.S could try to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to keep Qaddafi from bombing his own people, but that’s not as easy as it might seem. Libya has a very effective air defense network – said by some to be the second best in Africa – and it’s unclear who controls it right now. The U.S. would have to destroy or at least significantly degrade that before it could effectively control the skies over Tripoli and Benghazi.

The U.S. could make a few targeted airstrikes against military targets in order to cripple Qaddafi’s ability to wage war. This would be slightly easier and would actually be a pre-cursor attack to establishing a no-fly zone.

But both of these actions are acts of war. The U.S. would need international authorization to commit to these steps, in the form of a UN Security Council Resolution. The U.S. would also be committing its military to violent regime change in another Muslim nation. The potential backlash is impossible to gauge.