I have repeatedly said that the intervention in Libya would not scare other despotic rulers into treating protests peacefully and would actually demonstrate the inability of the west to intervene elsewhere (see here and, most recently, the comment section here.) Not only did Libya demonstrate hoe intervention can be dragged out – “Days not weeks” quickly turned into months – but it also revealed the amount of discord between the US and its NATO allies as well as with the rest of the international community. Turkey and Germany were the major NATO members to reject the intervention while Russia and China have pretty much guaranteed a veto to any future intervention.
So for anyone who thinks that Libya is only the beginning of western interventions (I’m looking at you Larison) you might need to think again. Any future intervention would come without the all important UN mandate. US actions in Iraq showed the consequences of not having UN backing and the intervention in Libya demonstrated how necessary that backing is.
Shashank Joshi highlights this by explaining the economic considerations of developing countries. Not only will important countries (BRIC plus Turkey, let’s say) reject intervention out of fear of setting precedents of international involvement in domestic affairs, but they will veto further interventions due to economic considerations as well:
But have those who gathered in the halls of Old Europe missed a darker lesson lurking beneath their victory? It is surely a warning sign that every major rising power, every aspirant to a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council except docile Japan, opposed the exhortations of London and Paris to go to war. That applies not just to the two Asian giants, India and China, but even to Germany, the economic linchpin of Europe, and a diplomatically energised Turkey, whose influence in the Middle East is at its highest since the days of the Ottoman Empire…
When asked about a no-fly zone back in March, Turkey’s prime minister lambasted the West’s use of Libyans as “pawns in oil wars”. Vladimir Putin hit out at the “medieval calls for crusades”. Brazil lamented the illegitimacy of a war championed by “an old world order”. China’s state-controlled press declared that “the air attacks are an announcement that the West still wants to dominate the world”.
Just as Iraq cast a pall over the idea of intervention, Libya will give a fillip to those who see the campaign as a template that can be applied elsewhere in the Muslim world. But a world in which a small group of former colonial powers can run roughshod over the interests of poorer countries has few takers in the capitals of the rising powers. And their resistance will not remain passive – China, for example, is already well practised at coercive diplomacy. Last year, after a naval spat with Japan, it simply cut off the supply of rare earth metals. The next time that China is unhappy with Nato intruding into its markets, can we be so sure that it will meekly follow behind Russia and abstain in the UN Security Council? There are other sticks to wield beyond a veto: China holds more than a trillion dollars of US debt. As Hillary Clinton asked in 2009: “How do you deal toughly with your banker?”
The growing web of constraints on the West can be seen in Nato’s reluctance to step in to stop the carnage in Syria (although there are, admittedly, plenty of other reasons for inaction). Neither India nor China will stop buying oil and gas from Damascus, as the US demanded last month – why should they sever their economic lifelines for the slender hope that Syria will turn into a democracy? Turkey, which has considerable sway over its neighbour, will hedge its bets to the end rather than prematurely burn any bridges. Syria sits at the very heart of the Arab world, and most regional powers would sooner see President Assad level every one of his cities than welcome a major Nato operation in the Levant.
If economic considerations and a fear of setting precedents were not enough to push Russia, China et al. towards the intervention veto, the evolution of the Libya intervention/regime change operation certainly breaks that camel’s back. The Russian opposition to the western UNSC resolution on Syria and the submission of the competing Russian resolution is proof enough that – as Joshi says – “Libya is one of [the pro-interventionists’] last hurrahs.”
Photo from Rising Powers (*I just found this blog – though it concentrates on the rising powers and not the Middle East specifically, it is a great read – check it out*)