As exemplified by the Libyan case resulting in the killing of the country’s leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, an intense debate has reemerged whether war is justifiable to make peace. In the aftermath of NATO-led and UN-authorized use of force to save the civilian lives in Libya, both critics and adherents of humanitarian intervention have been presenting opposing views.
With the passage of resolution 1973 by the UN Security Council on 17 March, 2011 which sanctioned a no-fly zone in Libya, supporters of humanitarian intervention have expressed triumphalism. Their contention is that that the Libyan example constitutes the first ever endorsement of the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P), though some of them have argued that the 2005 UN World Summit had given approval to this notion. However, legitimization of the so-called Responsibility to Protect doctrine has been obtained after the adoption of above resolution. A few notable abstentions connected to resolution 1973 such as from Brazil, China, Germany, India and Russia underscore fissures on the rationale of R2P among the members of the UN Security Council, both permanent and non-permanent.
Humanitarian intervention has a short history. At times it has been launched on shaky grounds too. Humanitarian intervention is considered to be ill-conceived enterprise. Henry A. Kissinger, a doyen of American foreign policy, has warned against intervening when there are not vital strategic interests at stake. The most popularly advanced argument of the supporters of humanitarian intervention is the safety of the civilians who are victimized by their own governments.
The recent history testifies that the international community has stood by even when some of the worst atrocities were committed by the states. The cases in Somalia, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Bosnia, and Darfur in the Sudan fit in this accusation. The world community including the UN was found unwilling either to intervene or to sustain a commitment with a robust force. It needs no further explanation that “Operation Deliberate Force” codenamed after NATO’s aggressive air campaign involving almost 60000 force targeting the Bosnian Serb army was launched only after 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
Notwithstanding this, Charles Homans has claimed in his recent write up, “Just what is a just war”? carried by Foreign Policy that the international community had practiced the doctrine long time ago. According to him the Dutch legal philosopher, Hugo Grotius had argued in favor of humanitarian intervention back in 1896. “On the Law of War and Peace” Hugo Grotius has said that” intervening to help a people constitutes a just war”.
The effort made by a Polish Jewish legal scholar, Raphael Lemkin in 1933 for international legal protection from ethnically-motivated mass killings shows that humanitarian intervention was in vogue in the past. Such killings were tragically repeated in Rwanda in July, 1994 when ethnic Hutus killed 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and in July, 1995 in Srebrenica when Bosnian Serbs killed 8000 Bosnian Muslims.
Charles Homans has even argued that Raphael Lemkin played a key role in 1948 persuading the United Nations to adopt the “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” unanimously, which the U.S. ratified only in 1988. Analogies have been drawn in the history of Responsibility to Protect between the 1971 Indian intervention in then East Pakistan, Vietnam’s 1979 invasion in Cambodia, and Tanzania’s role in Uganda’s regime change in 1979 as precursors to future interventions.
Through his book “Sovereignty as Responsibility”, Francis M. Deng, who also served as UN’s Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide, has argued that “sovereign states are defined not by the inviolability of their borders but by their obligations to protect their citizens”. He does not subscribe to the long-held notion that a country’s sovereignty is inviolable.
Majority of the UN member states have maintained their reservation on the justifiability of the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, which they believe is euphemism for introducing regime change in weaker but strategically-vital countries seen from the lens of the powerful developed countries.
In the opinion of Jon Western and Joshua S. Goldstein, international norms now enshrine civilian protection and levels of violence have been reduced, however, they argue through their essay “Humanitarian Intervention Comes of Age” carried by Foreign Affairs (November-December, 2011) that political and military relations constrain humanitarian interventions. Such constraints are no less exhibited in ongoing people’s protests in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen. Among these three the Syrian example has become more glaring where the UN Security Council fails to gather the required votes to reprimand the country’s regime similar to Qaddafi’s despite continued pressure from some of the western countries to invoke the notion of Responsibility to Protect. The Libyan regime change prompted by the imposition of no-fly zone over the country, which received legitimization from the UN, might have boosted the morale of the advocates of R2P norm.
Both Jon Western and Joshua S. Goldstein have enumerated a list of lessons learned from the past experience of humanitarian intervention, the most recent instances of which are Cote d’ Voire and Libya. According to them, the lessons are as follows:
The interventions that respond the most quickly to unfolding events protect the most lives.
Access to enough military power and diplomatic muscle to back up is imperative.
Interventionists need to be sensitive to domestic opposition and intervention should be designed to withstand pressure for withdrawal.
Support from broad coalition of international, regional and local actors is necessary.
In an essay ”The True Costs of Humanitarian Intervention” that appears in November-December, 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs, Benjamin A. Valentino presents an alternative option to the use of military force for saving civilian lives. In his view we can help more people survive by employing much lower moral, political, and economic cost. He prudently suggests that the international community should invest in international public health, send relief aid to victims of natural disasters and famines and assist refugees fleeing violent conflict. The amount expended on 220 Tamahawk missiles fired by the U.S. military into Libya is around $1.4 million. This is just a symbolic presentation of expenses incurred in launching humanitarian intervention in Libya where most of us do not know the exact figure of people killed by NATO’s military action. The more frequently ignored costs of humanitarian intervention have been the foregone opportunities to which the resources for a military mission might have been wisely utilized.