Muammar Gaddafi overthrew the Libyan government 40years ago in the name of nationalism, self determination and sovereignty. However, when opposition groups claimed the same over Gaddafi’s authoritarian rule, the government retaliated by use of force on civilians which sparked international outcry in March of 2011. The UN security council invoked the principle of responsibility to protect adopted Resolution 1973, endorsing a no-fly zone over Libya and authorizing member states to "take all necessary measures" to protect civilians under attack from Qaddafi's government (Welsh, 2011).
According to this principle, every state was mandated with the responsibility of protecting their citizens and should they fail to do so, then the U.N would step in to protect the aggrieved citizens. While the stale mate between Muammar forces and those opposing his rule begun to break in Muammar’s favor, the United States and its allies intervened with the backing of the UN Security Council. However, the swiftness of this response raisesd eyebrow since war torn Darfur did not get an equal response besides the fact that a real genocide was taking place there in Iraq; where 300,000 civilians were killed by Saddam Hussein before action was taken (Bellamy, 2011).
The president of the United States listed the following as the main reasons for intervention:
To limit the spread of violence while it is undergoing sensitive transitions.
To prevent an imminent humanitarian catastrophe.
To show the people of the Middle East and North Africa that America stands with them at a time of momentous transition.
Despite the noble reasons Holmes sees the intervention of America at the behest of the security council elevates as an organ that has power to authorize war while according to the US constitution, only the president and the congress are mandated with the power to authorize a war and relegates the Us defense force as a UN security council police force. These were the same sentiments echoed by the spokesperson of NATO in a press briefing (NATO).
Focusing more on the Libyan citizens now, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 called upon all member states to protect the citizens of Libya without any occupation of any part of Libya by military forces. The no-fly rule was used to protect the killing of more civilians, but military airstrikes still continued against Gaddafi’s troops. With airstrikes, it was likely that civilians would get killed, (which defeats the purpose of the no fly rule.), infrastructure would be destroyed and with war there is always the chance of polarization (Kaldor, 2011). Although the UN charter allows for intervention, the charter does not give the UN jurisdiction over the domestic affairs of any state, thus ensuring that the sovereignty of a country is maintained.
The Responsibility to Protect principle provides for the use of enforcement measures in case of threat or breach of peace or acts of the state that are likely to harm innocent civilians who are within their rights (Orford, 2011). However, in order for Libya to practice its own democratization process there is need for peace. However, peace would not have come through continued air-strikes or when rebels are armed and trying to fight Gaddafi loyalists. Though the intervention likely prevented a slaughter, there is no guarantee that it won’t simply protract a bloody military stalemate that could result in at least as many civilian deaths (Zune, 2011).
Given the events that followed the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States should have been more cautious with its intervention by use of military might and given room for Libya to solve its problems as intervention interferes with the sovereignty of a country. Had the focus been on civilian safety, then all economic sanctions and trade embargo options should have been considered (Dunne, 2011, March 2). The UN should also have attempted to hold serious negotiations with the rebels and Muammar Gaddafi’s troops. The troops should not have been purely western troops with a peace enforcement strategy but with a peace keeping strategy. Sending troops to invade another country costs the American tax payers a lot of money in an economy that had just faced a crises, and was not out of the woods yet, mediation talks, diplomacy and trust building would have cost a lot less.
Libya was one of the first Arab countries to denounce weapons of mass destruction where the US was in the forefront of the war against WMD. The fact that the US so readily attacked Libya created an image of the US, to other Arab countries, that it was not to be trusted. Removal of Gaddafi and his henchmen would create a power vacuum; consequently a zone free from military occupancy would be created in the middle of the country (Garton Ash, 2011, March 3). This would give people not interested in the fighting a chance to flee. Meanwhile, diplomatic talks would be commenced to initiate an interim period before elections where Libyans would decide through polls whether they want to divide or seek unity as one unified, sovereign country (Amnesty International, 2011).
In the Second World War, when America joined the war, it led not only led to the fall of Hitler’s army, but also the gravity of the genocide and the death of more innocent bystanders. History repeats itself and this could have very well been the case where Muammar is captured, but more civilians are killed which would make the principle of responsibility to protect redundant. This though not expressly could be seen from the words of the military spokesperson Colonel Roland levied in a press briefing where he said that Gaddafi’s forces were now in densely populated areas where they would use civilians as shields.
The UN Security Council had a responsibility to protect the citizens of Libya, and was justified to do so, but only after all the relevant possibilities had been looked at conclusively. The disastrous results that The West had obtained after invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan should have been more hesitant in the interference of yet another Arab country while disregarding a real genocide that was taking place in Sudan. The swiftness with which the US responded is questionable. Foreign bombs only threaten the escalating of violence and consequences that cannot be predicted. It should be adopted as last resort when all other avenues have been exhausted (Barnett, 2011).