As Libyan leader Qaddafi’s ouster is almost guaranteed with opposing rebels holding sway over most part of the country countenanced by NATO forces, a relevant question has been asked by a Harvard Professor, Stephan M. Walt whether Foreign-Imposed Regime Change (FIRC) can be considered as a good policy option for the powerful members of the international community. Opinion in this regard is not unanimous.
Stewart Patrick of Council on Foreign Relations and also an author of a forthcoming book “Weak Links: Fragile States, Global Threats, and International Security” argues in favor of humanitarian intervention as applied to Libya, a phenomenon described as FIRC. To him enforcement of the Libyan model of humanitarianism by the Obama administration is justified on two grounds. The first is the global clout combined with superior military strength of America that helps it employ such policy more successfully. Secondly, Patrick views the justified application of Responsibility to Protect (R2P), a doctrine of humanitarian intervention endorsed by the UN but with caveats, if done selectively as president Obama has adhered to.
Stephan M. Walt, however, does not support the FIRC as a prudent policy option for outside powers to cause regime change in weak states where it is believed that the country’s leader is misbehaving. It is because country’s sovereignty is regarded as the most stabilizing element and interventions by whatever names they are called always result in its erosion. The 1999 Kosovo humanitarian intervention often cited by NATO-led western powers as being successful, is no exception viewed from the lens of then Serbia’s sovereignty.
Stewart Patrick looks euphoric in seeing the impending fall of Qaddafi regime attributed to the military action by NATO, which the latter claims legitimate with endorsement from the UN Security Council through its resolution 1973. He contends that Libya is an unambiguous case of Responsibility to Protect norm. This idea (R2P) of intervening to save lives from the state-sponsored atrocities has been subjected to severe criticism as there is no evenhanded application of the doctrine worldwide. The most appalling cases of mass murder and widespread rape that occurred in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s could not attract the norm of Responsibility to Protect. This exemplifies double standards on the part of western powers.
The obvious reason for international community’s failure to protect the Rwandans and the Bosnian Muslims is the fact that humanitarian imperative is a strong and global impulse. More importantly, statecraft i.e. managing inter-state relations is still constrained by geo-political considerations, resources and political will.
In the opinion of Stewart Patrick expressed in his most recent commentary on the Libyan intervention, timing is equally important for success credited to NATO and its Arab allies. Multilateral coverage provided by UN’s authorization resolution got a further boost from Muslim nations belonging to Arab League, Organization of Islamic Conference and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Coincidently, the enforcement of no-fly zone began with the Arab countries’ reeling from Arab Spring with acute awareness of the vulnerabilities of their regimes. All of the above countries supported the use of all necessary means to enforce no-flight zone over Libya.
Happily for the western powers the two permanent members of the UN Security Council viz China and Russia declined to use veto to block the passage of UN authorization resolution 1973, though both of them have remained averse to the use of force against a member country, did not find any of their vital national interests at stake in Libya.
It is hard to underestimate the role of geography in policy options adopted by countries and more so the powerful ones. Libya’s location on Europe’s doorstep motivated NATO and European Union countries to employ their resources to intervene in Libya on humanitarian grounds. Growing unrest in the neighborhood could effect the regional stability through refugees. Hence, preemptively the refugees flow could be thwarted by helping an unpopular regime collapse and restore normalcy. Whether, stabilization would be achieved in the wake of Qaddafi’s fall still remains uncertain.
In the aftermath of the application of UN Security Council resolution 1973, president Obama had articulated U.S. vision of humanitarian intervention and in that vein he had spelt out the conditions that need to be met if military action is to be employed for the protection of civilian victims of genocide and other crimes against humanity. Since then it has become the Obama Doctrine.
In further elaboration of this doctrine the Obama administration released Presidential Study Directives on Mass Atrocities (PSD-10) on August 4, 2011. This directive defines prevention of mass atrocities as both ”a core national security interest or a core moral responsibility of the U.S.
Such explanation of the elements of mass atrocities nevertheless, the strategic interests have been prevailing upon all other options. The U.S. has also been at times accused of applying hypocrisy in the name of humanitarian intervention. In the Arab Spring itself there are countries where the U.S. administration has been seen silent to ongoing protests leading to killing of civilians by the state forces and whereas in some others it is seemingly proactive in pressurizing the country’s leaders to concede to popular demands. Obviously, Bahrain has escaped criticism for its forceful handling of peaceful demonstrations and Syria is constantly being reprimanded at its urging. The definition of mass atrocities is subjective and powerful countries including the only existing superpower will likely maneuver in enforcing FIRC.
The Libyan example is a test case for humanitarian intervention but it is difficult to claim triumph now without knowing whether the number of persons killed in NATO-led military action surpasses those supposedly killed by loyalists of the Libyan leader Qaddafi. It is a fact that the Libyan operation has unexpectedly prolonged requiring the adherents of intervention to continue bombing the cities in the country and resultantly killing more civilians. The military operation began in March, 2011.
If Iraq is any guide, Foreign-Imposed Regime Change seldom produces desired results. The festering insurgency in Iraq that followed the hanging of Saddam Hussein after the fall of Baghdad is a stark reminder for those who may have been emboldened to repeat the Libyan norm elsewhere.