Is Libya’s War Whimsical?

Writing for Foreign Policy, Stephan Walt has recently asked whether the humanitarian intervention in Libya is a war of whims. Popularly known there are two wars viz War of Necessity and War of Choice. War of Necessity involves strategic interests whereas War of Choice is less linked to a country’s vital national interests. According to Walt the Libyan war of whims is one which is launched by powerful states or a coalition of states when they think they can do it.

The proponents of humanitarian intervention sought justification in perceived fear of bloodbath in Benghazi, a stronghold of Qaddafi’s opponents. Besides this those who supported the misadventure also rushed to connect the turmoil in Libya to Arab awakening. They seemed triumphant in the passage of resolution 1973 in March, 2011 invoking the long-contested principle of Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

After almost four months of UN’s endorsement of the above principle to implement in Libya, the ground reality is gloomy. The war has no sign of ending with Qaddafi forces appearing as ever defiant to NATO’s aerial campaign while the coalition forces are desperate with prolonged civil war. Such desperation is explicit in the statement of French Defense Minister Gerard Languet: “Time had come for the rebels to get round the table and negotiate with the regime”.

Comparatively the NATO’s bombardment in Libya has surpassed its previous action in 1999 Kosovo war and thus the hopes of quick results have been dashed. Against such backdrop the statement of new American Defense Secretary Leon Panetta with regard to NATO mission sounds painful. He has said: “A lot of these countries could run through their missiles within 90 days and patience has begun to dwindle along with stockpiles”.

In this vein comes the appeal of the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the members of Libya Contact Group when she said that “they all should speak with one voice”. More revealingly she has announced on July 15 that the U.S. has recognized the opposition government in Libya which is Transitional National Council (TNC), based in Benghazi. Support of Libya Contact Group toward such recognition nevertheless, U.S. decision has been subjected to criticism.

A few pertinent questions have been raised attributable to recognition. Will this recognition not conflict with the Qaddafi regime which is still in control of Tripoli? Can such recognition be legally tenable as the authority of opposition government is confined to certain areas of Libya? What will happen to the status of an international treaty like Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations? It will take time before clarity is provided to these unavoidable questions.

At a time when the NATO coalition struggles to maintain consensus vis-à-vis Libya’s intervention, the swiftness of U.S. decision to recognize TNC demonstrates Obama administration’s desire to unfreeze $30 billion Libyan assets so that funds could be diverted to the rebels. As more deaths occur on both sides ie Qaddafi regime and the opposition, critics of humanitarian intervention concur with Stephan Walt when he satirically compares Libya’s NATO mission with a war of whims.

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