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Libya: Next Steps

GB Geo-Blog

Libya: Next Steps

For the last few weeks as some readers would know I’ve been calling for decisions on intervention in Libya to protect civilians from the murderous intent of Gadhafi and for the clear enunciation of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) principle as approved at the UN Leaders Summit as the justification for such a move. With the Canadian media attention firmly focused on the election, the effort to support the rebel fighters in Libya continues.

It’s been interesting to read some of the commentary (see Margaret Wente piece from the Globe and Mail) suggesting this is some deep plot by “liberal intellectuals” to foist on the unsuspecting world a new form of colonialism. What this simply shows is the superficial treatment of a barbaric reality that goes back to the Holocaust and the subsequent acts of genocide that have plagued the modern world, that in the name of the state mass murder can be committed and that international action will not be mobilized to stop the killing. This year marks 17 years since the Rwandan genocide, we must take stock of how far we’ve come. It is applying the rule of law internationally to constrain state power that is at stake.

That is the reason why after the experience of Kosovo the Canadian government of the day established a Commission made-up of distinguished thinkers and practitioners from around the world to come up with recommendations. It was endorsed by world leaders at ban UN summit in 2005, and overwhelmingly supported by the General Assembly in 2009. Now it is being put into practice.

While chances for resounding victory by the rebels appear untenable, there is good news here on the diplomatic front. At this junction we’ve seen two high-level political figures flee Libya, foreign minister, Moussa Koussa and former energy minister, Omar Faithi bin Shatwan. The list of officials within the Libyan government subject to sanctions is being expanded with the hope that by increasing pressure, more of Gadhafi’s inner circle will fall away and tip the balance of power in a favourable way.

There will have to be much further refinement of the principle in the days and years to come, especially in the peace building elements of RtoP. But Libya represents an important step forward in the fundamental goal protecting innocent people from rapacious leaders.

What needs to be focused on now, is the long-term strategy. By this I don’t mean increasing the military presence, but how to adequately address the humanitarian situation that has resulted from the conflict. RtoP was intended to stand on three legs: prevent, protect, rebuild. How are we to assist the Libyan people in moving forward after this ends? By following through on our commitments, we’ll lend legitimacy to the effort.

A secondary issue that needs to be addressed is the necessity to more fully prepare the international community to undertake serious missions of civilian protection without relying on the United States. They have been the reluctant dragon in this initiative, hampered by a recalcitrant congress and a less than enthusiastic military (Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense Gates argued strenuously against the involvement). They have by far the most sophisticated capacity but a vacillating political will. Therefore it behooves other states and the UN to begin seriously the planning and preparation of an alternative force that is capable of engaging successfully against violent governments in the protection of people.

The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.


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