Humanitarian Intervention: Should the international community intervene in Libya?

The ongoing struggle of people across the Arab world to get rid of military dictators and tyrannical monarchies has led to a new debate about the efficacy of the emerging doctrine of humanitarian intervention. A UN Security Council resolution approved the imposition of a no fly zone on March 17 but ruled out the deployment of a “foreign occupation force.” The Western Alliance has launched air and missile strikes on Libya – ostensibly to protect the population against attacks from Gaddafi’s forces. However, the strikes are clearly designed to bring about a regime change.

Credit: d.yimg.comJohn Mackinlay of King’s College, London, has argued that in the “complex emergencies which increasingly threaten security in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Africa, international response mechanisms have failed from the outset to take a realistic approach that reflected the needs of the crisis… due to vested interest, conservatism and a lack of vision beyond the narrow limitations of national and professional interest.” With some exceptions, most nations today agree to join an international intervention effort only when their own national interests are served by intervening and rarely so where the cause is humanitarian. The world had failed to intervene to stop the genocide in Rwanda.

John Hillen, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a U.S. think tank, has suggested the following criteria for future U.S. military interventions: should defend national security interests; should not jeopardise the ability of the U.S. to meet more important security commitments; should strive to achieve military goals that are clearly defined, decisive, attainable and sustainable; should enjoy Congressional and public support; and, the armed forces must be allowed to create the conditions for success.

Justifications of the right to intervene militarily, which are being increasingly propagated and are finding reluctant acceptance among some countries forming part of the Western alliance, include: defence of democracy and the prevention of the excessive curtailment of a people’s right to participate in decision making; prevention of severe violation of human rights of a people by a totalitarian regime; protection of minority groups from severe repression; prevention of acute environmental degradation; and, prevention of possible attempts to acquire or develop weapons of mass destruction.

Regardless of the contours of the emerging doctrine of intervention, it must remain a cardinal principle of international relations that the territorial integrity of each member state of the UN must be collectively guaranteed by all the other member states. The non-observance of this collective security imperative can only lead to anarchy and the rule of the jungle where might is right. This can be done only by strengthening the UN system to emerge as the sole arbiter of the need for intervention. Individual nation-states must not be permitted to assemble “coalitions of the willing” to intervene anywhere in the world to further their own necessarily narrow national interests.

As Gaddafi’s forces were clearly targeting civilians along with the rebel forces, the ongoing military intervention is justified. Surgically precise air and missile strikes should continue to be employed to achieve limited military objectives. Emphasis should be laid on the minimum use of force. However, all out efforts must be made to prevent collateral damage, with particular reference to civilian casualties and property.

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