Lesson of Balkan Crisis for Libya

The Libyan case has presented a crucial policy question as how existing international law and practice including the Charter of the UN can be modified to allow timely and consistent intervention. When one talks of consistency it seeks to restrain the so-called enthusiasts of the principle of Responsibility to Protect to rush to invoke it. Worryingly a trend of employing the contestable doctrine evidenced in NATO-led air strikes against Libya to implement UN resolution 1973 looks like increasing. Small wonder that Nicholas Kristof, who writes for the New York Times, has argued that countries intervene when they can.

The western media is overwhelmingly euphoric at the invocation of R2P in permitting the use of force to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya backed by UN resolution although civilian casualties seem to be a matter of concern as the military campaign drags on. Whether the news of mounting civilian victims of UN-authorized coercive action will ultimately put a strain on coalition partners sooner rather later is too early to conclude although issues of goal and exit strategy related to Operation Odyssey Dawn have started causing fissures among them. At the moment the hurriedly-convened NATO meeting at Brussels has resolved the leadership debate following which the U.S. is shifting its lead role to other partners.

Nevertheless the American administration will still be supplying bulk of military logistics to ongoing enforcement of no-fly zone and is ironically becoming the final voice about mission objectives and exit strategy. President Obama is burdened as the French and the British leaders about determining goals of no-fly zone. UN resolution does not go beyond protecting the population of Libya. It is difficult to read Obama about what he thinks to do after air-exclusion zone is fully enforced in Libya. If the French espousal of the policy of Qaddafi’s ouster reflected in its desire to see rebels run a parallel government in Benghazi is any guide, the coalition is likely to show divisiveness.

Such chasm in position of coalition force has resemblance to Bosnia in early 1990s when vacillation of president Clinton and lack of leadership of military campaign by the Europeans played a no less role in prolonging crisis finally leading to 1995 Srebrenica massacre of about 8000 Muslims and Croats by Serb forces. Comparatively Kosovo presents a telling lesson for the present coalition engaged in the Libyan intervention in the sense that military action costs more lives than it is intended to save. In Kosovo  more people died after eleven week-long NATO bombing began on March 24, 1999. The casualty figures coming out of Libya are sketchy but it may rise as crisis continues because Colonel Qaddafi is not relenting so easily.

Dwelling on Obama’s predicament regarding mission goals, Joseph W. Ralston, a retired U.S. Army General, has rightly questioned,” We should never begin air operation without knowing how we stand down. We did a no-fly zone over Iraq for 12 years and it did nothing to get rid of Saddam Hussein. So why do we think it will get rid of Qaddafi?” It is hoped that Ralston’s timely warning of insurmountable challenges concerning Libya will not go unheeded before it is too late.

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