A lively debate has ensued in the aftermath of the application of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in Cote I’voire and Libya in early 2011. Arguments for and against international humanitarian intervention have been presented by supporters and critics. Despite long history of humanitarianism the international community has attempted to define the contours of such intervention more clearly since 2001, when International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty was formed.
In December, 2001 the above commission co-chaired by Mahmud Sahnoun and Gareth Evans produced a set of guidelines to embrace R2P. The recommendations also contained certain conditions which need to be met for launching international humanitarian intervention. The most notable preconditions include “proportionality” and “last resort”. In the wake of the Libyan intervention which has been projected both as a success and failure, Gareth Evans in his commentary “Responsibility While Protecting” (RWP) has observed that in the Libyan case not all the preconditions of foreign intervention were fulfilled. That is why the NATO-led intervention has faced criticism from growing members of the UN.
Viewed from this prism one can hardly agree with the Dutch legal philosopher, Hugo Grotius. In his 1625 book “On the Law of War and Peace” he has said “intervening to help a people constitutes a just war”. The proponents of international humanitarian intervention have tried to justify the military strikes against Libya in 2011 for protecting the civilians. Whether these civilians were the supporters or opponents of then Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi has remained a debatable question. The killing of the Libyan leader resulting in regime change has become the most contestable issue in the recent times casting a pall on future prospects of humanitarian intervention.
One of the casualties of this controversy has been the freedom protests in Syria where thousands have lost their lives but there is no sign of accommodation from the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The UN has failed to agree on a plan of action to force the regime to delegate power. Arab League has presented a power transition plan for diffusing the situation which has not yet been supported by all members of the UN Security Council.
Question has been raised if overreaching of NATO forces in Libya is the sole reason for failure on the part of the UN Security Council to achieve consensus for resolving crisis in Syria. Humanitarian intervention has a painful history of hypocrisy. Interventions are easily agreed in some cases while the international community has ignored them in other examples despite mass atrocities, the oft quoted justification for intervening militarily.
Micah Zenko has elaborated a few examples of turning down requests for humanitarian interventions through his article carried by “The Atlantic” entitled “Intervention, Please: No Fly Zone Requests You Don’t Hear About”. He has rightly categorized the cases of mass atrocities in the South Sudan, Somalia and Cambodia in the recent past where requests for international humanitarian interventions were made but of no avail.
More troublingly, even Arab League’s request for the imposition of No Fly Zone (NFZ) in Israel in 2011 advocating to protect the Arabs in Gaza Strip which the Israeli Air Force was bombing in retaliation for rocket and mortar attacks on southern Israel was completely unheeded. It is unfair to hear the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dubbing the Arab League’s request for NFZ in Libya as an event of historic importance at a time when the pan-Arab institution asks for same sort of international military support for the Gaza Strip which was ignored by the U.S. and the entire international community.
Micah Zenko opines that there are three big reasons why the intervention requests on behalf of South Sudan, Somalia and Cambodia were not entertained internationally. They were not in anyone’s interest. They required greater resources to achieve a lasting impact than were available. They were the wrong military missions to achieve the intended military and political objectives.
His analysis is correct seen against the backdrop of stalemate in agreeing any forceful international action against the Syrian regime. The Syrian case does not attract the attention of resourceful military powers of the world at par with Libya. The swiftness of adoption of a UN Security Council resolution concerning Libya compared to dilly dallying in the Syrian example only substantiates the suspicion that western powers’ interests are not at stake in Syria as in Libya.
Additionally, the Libyan model where foreign intervention under NATO’s leadership helped oust country’s leader Muammar al-Qaddafi has been a serious issue of rift between members of the UN Security Council. According to Syria expert Andrew J. Tabler, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Laprov has declared that Moscow will not support any Security Council resolution aimed at changing the leadership in Syria.
Conforming to his prediction the UN Security Council acted on a resolution critical of Syria which both China and Russia have vetoed on February 4, 2012. The U. S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed sheer disappointment over the veto that has prevented the Security Council from talking any credible action against Syria. She has been joined by other western countries including France in echoing frustration in this regard.
The Russians oppose any repetition of the Libyan example where UN-sanctioned military authorization overreached by toppling the regime which was not within the mandate of the UN Security Council resolution 1973. They have been supported by the countries grouped under BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), which contend that foreign intervention should not aim at regime change.
Edward Luttwak has argued that humanitarian interventions “artificially freeze conflicts”. His argument is substantiated by the post-intervention situation in Iraq and more recently in Libya where political stability is a far cry.
Against this reality the initiation by Brazil in further refining the preconditions of humanitarian intervention under the cloak of Responsibility to Protect deserves due consideration by the members of the UN, which in 2005 World Summit had finally endorsed R2P only after adding some caveats. Requirement of “proportionality”, “last resort” and “balance of consequences” will provide narrow guidelines for military interventions on humanitarianism and reassure the world community that application of R2P is no euphemism for regime change.