Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Libya: Criteria for Intervention

Update: A touching piece by Kristof, apparently the Libyian like the intervention. And a more in-depth analysis by the Economist. A measure of the amount of support that Gaddafi retains.

It has been a nervous week for those of us watching Libyia - I have refrained from commenting about it till now because I simply did not feel informed enough, and while I am still far from an expert, a heated discussion with a friend today was enough to prompt me into writing what I am fairly certain about.

When people ask why there has been an international intervention in Libya, but not in say Cote d'Ivoire, it normally ends in a messy discussion about vested interests, practicalities and the imperfections of the international community. In this post I will try to lay out some of the justification and reasoning behind current action in Libya.

...all necessary measures... to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.
This was adopted under Article 42 of Chapter VII of the UN Charter which provides: 
Should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations.
However `maintain or restore international peace' is a slightly vague criteria. What we need to have is a set of criteria about what justifies international intervention...Oh wait, we do. The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty published a report in 2001 called the Responsibility to Protect, which unfortunately was far from perfect, and was not universally adopted, but it provides a starting place for thinking about how justified the current action in Libya is. The Report requires that requests for military intervention must satisfy six criteria, my comments are in pink

  1. Just Cause:
    1. large scale loss of life, actual or apprehended, with genocidal intent or not, which is the product either of deliberate state action, or state neglect or inability to act, or a failed state situation; or Gaddafi has been referred to the International Criminal Court for War Crimes investigation. Gaddafi has said “Those who don’t love me do not deserve to live, it will be hell for them” and “Arms deposits are open to arm the people and together we will fight, defeat and kill those who are protesting”, he has not just been killing civillians, but he has promised to continue doing so. He is also insane: "They give them pills at night, they put hallucinatory pills in their drinks, their milk, their coffee, their Nescafe...." By comparison, there were no massacres of civillians in Iraq immediately prior to the intervention there, the genocides there were years earlier. Also worrying reports that Gaddafi forces are using human shields. 
    2. large scale 'ethnic cleansing', actual or apprehended, whether carried out by killing, forced expulsion, acts of terror or rape.
  2. Right Intention: The primary purpose of the intervention, whatever other motives intervening states may have, must be to halt or avert human suffering. Right intention is better assured with multilateral operations, clearly supported by regional opinion and the victims concerned. It is well known that lots of countries have vested interests in Gaddafi, but the operations so far have been multilateral, and just because a country may be happy to see the back of Gaddafi, does not mean that the primary motivation for intervention is not humanitarian. Unlike in Iraq, the USA has only been dragged into helping with the no-fly zone by it's allies, and is trying to give up command asap - but there remains a question of who will be in charge. It is important that the Arab League backed action (reports of it having changed it mind are false, Amr Moussa expressed concerns only over the scope of action, see below). It was pointed out to me that Libya is not a member of the Arab League, but actually a member of the African Union. The AU were silent about Libya before the no-fly zone, but have recently contemned the foreign intervention, given that many African nations are supported by Libyan money, this is hardly a surprise. It is also the Arab countries, Tunisia and Egypt, that will have to deal with the regional instability and refugee flux, not the AU.
  3. Final Resort: Military intervention can only be justified when every non-military option for the prevention or peaceful resolution of the crisis has been explored, with reasonable grounds for believing lesser measures would not have succeeded. The no-fly zone was not imposed immediately, indeed some say it was too late for many Libyans, and no other measures had been shown to have any effect at all for about a month. Gaddafi is insane, he is not open to reasonable negotiation, and has shown no indication that he will ever step down. Libya may also have billions of dollars worth of gold stockpiled that it could use to finance an extended war, or mercenaries - economic actions against Libya would be very ineffective in the short term. 
  4. Legitimate Authority: 
    1. There is no better or more appropriate body than the United Nations Security Council to authorize military intervention for human protection purposes. The task is not to find alternatives to the Security Council as a source of authority, but to make the Security Council work better than it has. The current intervention was mandated by the Security Council, Iraq was not.
    2. Security Council authorization should in all cases be sought prior to any military intervention action being carried out. Those calling for an intervention should formally request such authorization, or have the Council raise the matter on its own initiative, or have the Secretary-General raise it under Article 99 of the UN Charter.
    3. The Security Council should deal promptly with any request for authority to intervene where there are allegations of large scale loss of human life or ethnic cleansing. It should in this context seek adequate verification of facts or conditions on the ground that might support a military intervention. In Rwanda, the Security Council was far from prompt, and the cost was evident. ...
  5. Proportional Means: The scale, duration and intensity of the planned military intervention should be the minimum necessary to secure the defined human protection objective. This is perhaps the most contentious point, many people that supported the idea of a no-fly zone have since condemned the extent of action by the French, British and Americans. Amr Moussa said military operations had gone beyond the no-fly zone and said that the Arab League wanted “civilians’ protection, not shelling more civilians,” however he got into trouble with other Arab Officials for these comments, and has since state his support for the UNSC resolution. Imposing a no-fly zone was always going to involve some bombing, Gaddafi had anti-aircraft missile stations that would need to be taken out. However the UNSC resolution stipulation of `all means necessary to protect civillians' has also extended to the bombing of tanks which were firing upon civillians. This only happened once so far, right at the start by France, and French troops have also aborted missions that were deemed too risky to civilians. Is there a difference between firing upon planes that are attacking civillians and tanks that are attacking civillians? No, but the presumption is that the intervention forces would not actually be firing upon planes, rather just deterring planes from taking off in the first place. Personally, I view attacking land forces in the same light, hopefully we can deter Gaddafi's forces from attacking civillians, but if they continue to do so, I am not opposed to the use of force. Regardless, the most important point is that here no occupying ground force is needed to significantly improve the safety of civillians, the same cannot be said of other current or past conflict regions.
  6. Reasonable Prospect: There must be a reasonable chance of success in halting or averting the suffering which has justified the intervention, with the consequences of action not likely to be worse than the consequences of inaction. Some are claiming success already, without his airforce the fighting is now mostly between armed groups and not against civillians, snipers are Gaddafi's only tool left that can target civillians, and snipers are much less damaging than bombs.

Evidenced above, the Iraq war, which has cast a shadow onto this weeks operations, failed on several of  the criteria for military intervention laid out by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (the most authoritative body I could find in the area), whereas the current Libyan intervention satisfies all these criteria. This is why I personally support international action in Libya. I thoroughly recommend you read Top Ten ways that Libya is not Iraq

That is not to say that the intervention is perfect, for the international community is far from perfect, and they will make mistakes, but I would consider lack of action a much greater failure.

As to why there has not been an intervention in other countries? BahrainYemen and recently Syria have both seen violent crackdowns against unarmed protestors and yet received no international action. One answer might be that the scale of the violence is not enough to statisfy the first criteria or large scale loss of life, another answer is that the international community lacks the capacity to police every violent dictator, but the most likely is that Bahrain and Yemen are US allies, whereas Libya was not.

Cote d'Ivoire, (and many other African nations) are also experiencing violence, but should not expect an intervention for two other reasons: the UN already has a peacekeeping mission there, if there was the will to intervene, it should start with strengthening the current operation. One of the mistakes in Rwanda was that when help did arrive it ignored the advice of the experience commanders on the ground and did a lot of harm as well as good. Secondly, in Cote d'Ivoire and other conflict zones, a no-fly zone would not work, civillians are not being attacked by aircraft, rather more typical skirmishes are occurring between armed groups, this would require a ground force to prevent, and the world will be a lot more hesitant to deploy an occupying force then a relatively secure air presence.

However, I believe it is very important that some failures do not justify others, even if we cannot protect all civillian, because some are being attacked by US allies, does not means that we should not protect any civillians. That we failed in Rwanda, does not take away from the fact that we succeeded in Sierra Leone (you rarely hear about successful interventions), and makes it all the more important that we do act when possible. 

Another factor that many forget is that the more the UN Security Council can establish itself as a credible threat with the means and will to act against people committing war crimes, the effective the deterrent will be for such events to happen in the future. Similarly, it was good to see the UNSC first refer the situation to the International Criminal Court, and I hope that the Court develops a rapid response team that can give preliminary reports to the UNSC in timely manner, and thus take on a great role in the  decision making about intervention. 

In terms of likely outcomes and endgames, I think it is obvious from Gaddafi's rhetoric that he will never step down or give up, yet the rebel's have a firm hold on much of the country (although less then it's peak of 89% of Libya) and without his airforce Gaddafi's military lacks the might to reconquer these areas, so the outcome will either be an a rebel victory or a stalemate. A stalemate, splitting the country, enforcing a demilitarized zone or similar all seem troublesome, but the good news is that the lack of sectarian or ethnic dimensions to the conflict reduces the risk of a prolonged civil war and instability in Libya. Most of us now are crossing our fingers for a rebel victory, although this might not come quickly. The Financial Times has an article that I fully agree with, it concludes:
The first few days of the campaign have been dramatic. The progress on to its conclusion will almost certainly be slower and more difficult. Western leaders must show patience. While they cannot do the Libyans’ fighting for them, they can and should contain Col Gaddafi. Once his military capacities are drained, the coalition should pull back to a vigilant posture from which it would be able to intervene were further violence to be threatened by the regime.
It will almost certainly be a messy process, but one that is surely preferable to deeper western military involvement with all its perils and uncertainties. As T.E. Lawrence observed of warfare in Arab lands almost a century ago: “It is better that the Arabs do it tolerably than you do it perfectly.”
If they are to put Col Gaddafi’s regime firmly behind them, the Libyan people should liberate themselves. The coalition should assist. It must not run the show.
The good news is that the USA acknowledges it will not be a short operation.

As well as the articles I have linked to, the BBC and Alertnet have lots of good resources and articles about the current action in Libya. I also recommend Chris Blattman's post.

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