The End of the Responsibility to Protect?


Did NATO kill the R2P in Libya

My new piece is up at Foreign Policy Journal:

Critics of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and interventionism in general have long accused international humanitarian action of being a form of imperialism cloaked in humanitarianism. The BRIC/IBSA countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa; hereafter referred to as BRICS) are beginning to unite around this skepticism, countering western enthusiasm. The first four BRICS countries refused to vote in favor of the decision to intervene in Libya due to a desire to pursue policies of non-intervention. When NATO used the UN mandate in Libya to justify regime change, BRICS countries only hardened their support for non-intervention, with South Africa joining the quasi-alliance in the UN. After the recent resolution condemning Syria failed to pass through the UN Security Council, it seemed clear that for many politicians in BRICS countries, humanitarian intervention has become no more than an inappropriate violation of national sovereignty. Consequently, though the intervention in Libya can be considered a success, it has created a general cloud of suspicion surrounding western humanitarian efforts that will continue to be an obstacle to the implementation of the R2P doctrine elsewhere

The R2P in Libya

In the early weeks of March, it seemed as though the rebel army in Libya was going to be crushed by Muammar Qaddafi’s troops. Rebel forces were surrounded in Benghazi when the Security Council passed Resolution 1973authorizing a No-Fly Zone (NFZ) over Libya in order to protect the civilian population. Though the UN mandate specifically outlined a humanitarian mission to protect the Libyan noncombatants, NATO officials quickly made the decision that Qaddafi must be forced from power. Thus, the mission quickly morphed from the more passive act of enforcing a NFZ to a more offensively minded regime change operation. In conjunction with the rebel forces, NATO air strikes brought down the Qaddafi government. The night that Qaddafi’s compound was overrun, in fact, NATO airships repeatedly struck Tripoli to facilitate the rebel advance. Even today, with Qaddafi on the loose, NATO missiles are still aiding the efforts of the National Transitional Council.

The Obama administration attempted to use the Libyan example as a way to redefine the way in which the United States formulates its foreign policy. The President and his advisers invoked the Responsibility to Protect to defend the decision to intervene in Libya and later released the Presidential Study Directive on Mass Atrocities that defined preventing potential massacres, like the one in Libya, as “a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.” For supporters of R2P, the presidential directive was evidence that the United States was reformulating its approach to atrocities around the world and institutionalizing R2P into American foreign policy.

Moreover, the Obama administration required a multilateral approach to the intervention in order to differentiate American actions in Libya from the unilateralism that came to define the foreign policy of George Bush. President Obama insisted that international action be requested by local forces, approved by the Arab League and legitimized by the UN. Additionally, the insistence that European allies take the lead facilitated the rise of Obama’s ‘lead from behind’ mantra.

For interventionists in the United States and Europe, the military action in Libya was considered a success: Qaddafi was removed from power without setting the boot of a western soldier on the ground. For the Obama administration, multilateral humanitarian intervention had become the norm.

History might look back favorably on the NATO decision to ensure the fall of the Qaddafi regime. Diplomatically, however, the decision to intervene in Libya and the subsequent expansion of NATO activities outside of the UN mandate were highly controversial. Brazil, Russia, and China all abstained from the original mandate (along with Germany); South Africa voted in favor, understanding that the resolution would be used only to protect civilians and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Those states that were skeptical about the intervention were further antagonized by NATO’s decision to pursue regime change in Libya. Though NATO officials reiterated their belief that the mission held true to the UN mandate, Russian officials openly accused the alliance of overstepping its authority and pursuing regime change in Tripoli. As the NATO mission morphed into an offensive aiming at regime change, South African officials expressed frustration at the notion that NATO had adopted its own agenda; China consistently reiterated its support for maintaining the integrity of Libyan sovereignty and for finding a peaceful solution to the crisis; Brazil and India remained more muted in their criticisms, but have nonetheless took stands against the NATO air strikes. It is unsurprising, then, that the same countries that criticized NATO’s mission creep in Libya were hesitant to cooperate with western powers regarding Syria.

Read the rest over at FPJ

Photo from Ethical Comment


3 thoughts on “The End of the Responsibility to Protect?

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