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Archive for August, 2011

ICISS Report Cover

Those interested in rigorous analysis are absolutely correct in observing that the military success of Libyan rebels thus far is just one step in a much longer process. What happens next?

By human rights and democracy promoting lights, many potential missteps lay ahead. Whatever my preferences and the preferences of those conducting the intervention, ultimately the Libyan people must make a whole series of decisions about how they govern themselves. There is no guarantee they will answer the barrage of questions to the satisfaction of the powers doing the intervening. Also, the shape of the future does not rest entirely on the shoulders of the Libyan people. Having intervened, the international community has a suite of obligations going forward as well. These are wholly legitimate uncertainties to bring up in any sober assessment of the future of Libya.

And yet the outstanding uncertainties do not eclipse the recent accomplishment. A brutal leader and his odious regime have been ousted. The international community worked. Albeit slowly, and without every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed to everyone’s satisfaction. Did UN Security Council Resolution 1973’s authorization for the use of “all necessary measures… to protect civilians” mean NATO facilitating the removal of Qaddafi from power in this manner? Arguable perhaps. In any case, the new Libyan government is far less likely today to conduct the systematic gross human rights abuses that prompted intervention. A campaign of ruthless slaughter and reprisals against Libyan civilians protesting their government was on offer from the Qaddafi regime, particularly when Benghazi was threatened a few months ago. This posture, a state mobilizing its military to attack its own civilian population, is clearly contrary to core tenets of international human rights law. That threat posed by Qaddafi is decisively over.

In that sense, victory for the rebels is a victory for the international human rights regime and the responsibility to protect. The United States, NATO, and UN can all claim to have helped reach this important milestone. It is important to underscore the point that “the responsibility to protect” includes “the responsibility to rebuild.” Those envisioning humanitarian intervention’s operation in the international system did not lose sight of the important point that post-conflict reconstruction plays a key role in stabilizing societies. It is now for the same nations and institutions who mobilized to protect Libyan civilians to mobilize to help rebuild Libya. There are yet innumerable things that could go wrong. Even so, the Libyan people have a hard won opportunity to find a new way forward.

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