Double Irony of R2P Principle

As time drags on with extended NATO air strikes the crisis in Libya slowly turns into a protracted war. Ironically, this is the situation the so-called humanitarian interventionists wished to jettison. The responsibility to protect, as a principle invoked to save civilians from the state atrocities, has now become more questionable. It has been evidenced in the Libyan example that more lives have either been lost or likely to be perished because the end of conflict in not in sight. Double irony is exhibited in applying R2P principle.

President Obama was seen trying to defend the fateful application of R2P in Libya during his visit to the United Kingdom saying that quick solution to the said war is not expected. His defense may have been influenced by his desire to appeal to the British audience as Britain is another important ally in the coalition assembled against Libya. Nevertheless, as Colonel Qaddafi appears more defiant to cede power determined to fight to the last, the NATO coalition faces a dilemma whether to stick to the mandate of resolution 1973.

On March 17, 2011 the UN Security Council adopted the above resolution authorizing the use of force to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya. The purpose of air-exclusion zone is to protect the Libyans whether they are opponents or the loyalists.  Admittedly, the Qaddafi supporters have been targeted by the NATO forces. This is morally wrong on the part of the advocates of muscular humanitarian intervention, who have championed the cause for protecting the populations in Libya.

Humanitarian interventions have been launched in the past without UN’s blessing. Those interventions have hardly been justified not only lacking legitimization but also because of the failure to save lives. The 1999 Kosovo intervention fits perfectly in this example. The Libyan case is unique in experimenting R2P principle with UN endorsement but in terms of protecting the Libyans it has even disappointed the enthusiasts of the new formula.

Discouragingly, the situation in Libya after intervention has not improved. The crisis has prolonged. No dialogue has yet taken place to establish a ceasefire. If Qaddafi has to be ousted forcefully the land invasion is inevitable. Such invasion is not mandated by resolution 1973. More elastic interpretation of that resolution will likely be resisted. The permanent members like Russia and China have objected to NATO in exceeding the resolution’s mandate by taking sides in the conflict.

Disagreement over the implementation of UN mandate in Libya has impacted future action by the UN  to punish Syria for its alleged oppression in democracy movement. The supporters of R2P like Britain and France have been forced to review their resolution to be tabled before the Security Council regarding Syria.

In view of above reality the skeptics of R2P feel that their case is strengthened. Little wonder that an advocate-turned critic of humanitarian intervention like David Rieff says, “For those of us who feared that R2P was just a warrant for war, our fears have been vindicated”.

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