Between Realpolitik and Humanitarianism: Why Is the Application of the R2P Inconsistent? A Closer Look at Libya and Venezuela

Valentina Uccioli, University College London, UK

Valentina Uccioli is a final-year student at University College London, graduating in European Social and Political Studies. Originally from Italy, her interest for international development, human rights and the Hispanic culture has brought her to Madrid (Spain), Santiago (Chile), and Granada (Spain) as visiting student. She has interned at the Organization of American States in the Dominican Republic.

Abstract 

This paper critically examines the inconsistent application of the concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), focusing on the case studies of Libya in 2011 and Venezuela today. The application of R2P requires a ‘manifest failure’ of the state to protect its citizens. However, it is unclear what threshold ‘manifestly failing’ entails. I use Gallagher’s (2014) criteria to show how in both crises, the Libyan and the Venezuelan governments respectively, were ‘manifestly failing’ their responsibility. In light of this, the paper examines the geopolitical interests of the 5 permanent members (P5) of the UN Security Council (US, UK, France, Russia, China) involved in each crisis. The result shows how the lack of particular interests from China and Russia in Libya prevented them from vetoing Resolution 1973 that allowed a NATO coalition to intervene to protect Libyans. However, in Venezuela, the interests of the P5 diverge, preventing the UN Security Council from providing the country with proper relief, despite the evidence of severe human suffering. Further, this paper finds that the intervention in Libya has led to a discrediting of R2P, since, given the controversial outcome of such intervention, R2P has been linked to regime change. This increased political weight has severely reduced the chances that the UNSC will apply R2P in relation to Venezuela.

Introduction

Humanitarian interventions have been increasingly common since the end of WWII – owing to the emerging idea that mass atrocities should no longer be protected behind the shield of “national sovereignty”, and that states should act ‘in defence of common humanity’ (Annan, 1999). These notions culminated in 2001 with the formulation of the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), articulated by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS). The project was aimed at creating a moral imperative for the international community to intervene when a state was failing its responsibility to protect its population from war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and ethnic cleansing (“the four crimes”, as agreed at the 2005 World Summit).

The relevance of the doctrine relies on three main elements. First, it has managed to solve the controversies around the concept of humanitarian intervention, the result of a history of colonial powers invading and conquering countries of the global South on supposed humanitarian grounds. Second, it has achieved a balance between the notion of sovereignty and intervention for humanitarian purposes. It has done so by drawing inspiration from Francis Deng’s idea of ‘sovereignty as responsibility’ (1996), shifting the concept from sovereignty as a right of the state over the population to sovereignty as a duty of the state toward the population in terms of protection. Third, it has created a moral duty for the international community to intervene when faced with mass atrocities.

However, inconsistency seems to be the main trend since the global adoption of the doctrine (Hehir, 2013), formalised through the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document (WSOD). The concept has been invoked several times, but it was never used to allow a military intervention until the crisis in Libya broke out in 2011, when a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution invoking R2P authorised a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) coalition to protect civilians. However, in the same year heinous crimes were being committed in Syria, but the UNSC did not vote in favour of a similar resolution despite greater atrocities being perpetrated.

In light of this, the aim of this paper is to understand why the application of R2P has been so uneven and what the contributing factors are. In order to understand how these factors interplay, I will use the Libyan and Venezuelan crises as case studies. Libya, considered ‘a textbook example of the doctrine working as it was supposed to’ (Evans, 2012), was the first time the UNSC authorised the intervention in a functioning state against its will. Venezuela is one of the gravest humanitarian crises in Latin American history and serves as a case study to show how crimes against humanity can be perpetrated even in absence of an armed conflict.

One would expect that once it has been determined that a state is failing its responsibility, the international community should feel compelled to act. Nonetheless, as we have seen in multiple cases – Syria in 2012, for instance – there are several other factors that determine whether states will intervene to stop mass atrocities. My hypothesis is that, given the current structure of the UNSC and the veto power, geopolitical interests play a determinant role in the application of R2P, and alongside with the discrediting of the doctrine, they help explain the inconsistent application of R2P.

Doctrine

The doctrine of R2P is composed of three pillars. The first one relies on the assumption that the state has a responsibility for the population’s protection. The second pillar is concerned with the international community’s responsibility to assist and engage with those states that are unable to uphold their responsibility. Finally, the third and most controversial pillar claims that ‘The international community, through the United Nations, [is] prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, […] on a case-by-case basis [when] national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations’ (WSOD, 2005). However, there is no specific definition for what “manifestly failing” entails, and this is why Gallagher, in his paper “Syria and the indicators for ’manifest failing’” (2014), sets out a series of criteria to determine what is the boundary a state has to cross to show a manifest failure of its responsibility. According to Gallagher, these are: government’s intentions to neglect its responsibility, death toll, displacement of people, weapons of choice, and targeting of children, women and elderly.

I will use these criteria as variables in the comparison between the Libyan and Venezuelan crises to determine whether they meet the criteria and will argue that they do. Secondly, I will analyse the P5’s (permanent five members of the UNSC) geopolitical interests and claim that they did play a role in determining the intervention in Libya and the inaction in Venezuela. Finally, I will evaluate whether the criticism and discrediting suffered by the doctrine of R2P since the intervention in Libya is hindering states’ willingness to use the doctrine to authorise another intervention.

Context 

Libya

The Libyan crisis started on the 17th of February 2011 when protests broke out following uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt as part of the Arab Spring. Libya’s President and Revolutionary Leader Muammar Qaddafi responded with violent suppression of the demonstrations. In just six days, according to the International Federation of Human Rights, the death toll was estimated at 300 to 400 (Meikle and Black, 2011). Facing this widespread violence, regional organisations, traditionally anti-Western and sympathetic to the Middle Eastern and North African governments, ‘joined the chorus of international protest’ (Zifcak, 2012, p.5). The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the League of Arab States (LAS) and the African Union (AU), all condemned the violence and called for immediate talks.

The statements issued by these regional organisations ‘signalled the international community’s heightened concern with respect to events in Libya and provided the necessary backing for decisive action’ (Zifcak, 2012, p.5). In fact, on February 26th, the Security Council issued Resolution 1970, which condemned the Qaddafi regime and demanded an immediate end to violence (S/RES/1970, 2011). However, the Libyan regime refused the allegation, and the further escalation of violence consequently pushed the Arab and African states to become even more vehement in their insistence for action to be taken. The League of Arab States after declaring that the Libyan authorities had lost all their legitimacy, demanded the Security Council to enforce a no-fly zone (LAS, 2011, p. 2).

Nevertheless, Qaddafi started bombing rebel-held areas and, on March 17th, the UNSC adopted the ground-breaking Resolution 1973, authorising coercive military measures to prevent a mass atrocity. This resolution allowed Member States to take ‘all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack’ (S/RES/1973, 2011), imposing a no-fly zone and authorising a coalition of states under the NATO’s umbrella to enforce a ban on flights. Two days after the resolution was adopted, the coalition started bombing the regime’s military positions. However, NATO’s strategy quickly ‘stretch[ed] the terms of Resolution 1973 to their absolute limits’ (Zifcak, 2012, p.8) and soon morphed into regime change.

Venezuela

In contrast with the Libyan crisis, Venezuela’s situation does not have a specific starting date, and does not involve an armed conflict – rather, it is the result of two decades of mismanagement, corruption and authoritarianism. President Nicolás Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, implemented a series of populist economic policies to eradicate poverty and inequality, providing the population with access to public services. Thanks to the popularity acquired through these social programmes, the government developed into ‘semi-authoritarian and hyper-populist’ (Corrales, 2015) in order to secure control over the country’s highly profitable oil resources. However, in 2014, one year after Chávez’s death and Maduro’s election, the drop in oil prices led to Venezuela’s economic collapse, caused also by the nature of the regime that disincentivised the government from managing the oil boom efficiently (Corrales, 2015). However, instead of restoring the foundations of a thriving economy and a democratic society, Nicolás Maduro ‘chose the road to overt authoritarianism’ (Venezuelan and Ausman, 2019), leading to one of the worst socio-economic and humanitarian crises in the history of the Western Hemisphere.

In May 2019, the High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR), Michelle Bachelet, visited Venezuela and published a report concluding that ‘there are reasonable grounds to believe that grave violations of economic and social rights, including the rights to food and health, have been committed in Venezuela’ (2019, p.14). In terms of political rights, the regime has been undermining the rule of law and the democratic institutions in order to neutralise the opposition and repress any political opponents. The OHCHR (2019, p. 6) has ‘documented a number of cases of arbitrary detention of people for expressing opinions on social media’ and according to the NGO Foro Penal Venezolano, between 2014 and 2019, 15,045 people were detained for political reasons. In several cases, people detained are subject to various forms of torture and degrading treatments such as beating, electric shock, sexual violence and water boarding (OHCHR, 2019).

Moreover, armed ”colectivos” (paramilitary groups that support the regime) have been contributing to the maintenance of the regime’s social control through repression of demonstrations and dissent. As a consequence, the number of extrajudicial executions has risen dramatically. The NGO Observatorio Venezolano de la Violencia (2018) has reported 7,523 extrajudicial killings only in 2018. As a result of the extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, and tortures carried out by Maduro’s forces, in September 2018, the situation in Venezuela has been referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity (ICC, 2018). In February 2020, Maduro responded to such allegations by making its own referral to the ICC, arguing that such crimes were the consequence of ‘the application of unlawful coercive measures adopted unilaterally by the government of the United States of America against Venezuela’ (Maduro, 2020, author’s translation).

Criteria and their application 

Criteria

Firstly, Gallagher (2014, p. 6) argues that the government’s intentions to neglect its responsibility should be the starting point of the analysis as the state is the key actor of interest in the doctrine of R2P. Gallagher argues that the best way to assess governments’ intentions is to analyse the policies implemented and whether these are ”deliberately facilitating and/or perpetrating” mass atrocities. Secondly, Gallagher (2014, p. 8) claims that the death toll is the second-best indicator for ’manifest failing’, since the higher the number of people being killed the more the state is clearly unable or unwilling to stop the atrocities. As definition of death toll, Gallagher favours Robert Pape’s (2012, p. 43): ‘thousands have died and thousands more likely to die’, as it demonstrates that a systematic ongoing process is taking place, and there is no need for thousands of people more to die before action is undertaken.

Thirdly, the displacement of people indicator is meant to highlight how a massive flow of refugees is a sign of a state’s failure to fulfil both its internal and external responsibility to protect. Gallagher (2014, p.9) explains that R2P’s shift in the concept of responsibility implies that the state is responsible of the safety and welfare of its citizens and therefore, massive flows of refugees ‘help demonstrate that the government is failing its internal responsibility to protect the safety of its citizens as well as its external responsibility as refugees destabilise regional order’.

Fourthly, the weapons of choice is probably the most controversial indicator because, on one hand if government weaponry is being used systematically to carry out the violence, then it is a clear indicator that the government is involved. However, historically, mass atrocities have been carried out without the use of government’s heavy weaponry, therefore making this criterion less indicative to determine a state’s failure to protect its citizens. (Gallagher, 2014, p. 10). Finally, the targeting of children, women and elderly is another controversial indicator, but Gallagher (2014, p.12) argues that ‘the systematic targeting of civilians implies that a policy has been forged’, which means that ‘the government is either responsible for the plan being implemented or is incapable of preventing non-state actors from implementing this strategy’. In the next section, I turn onto the application of these criteria on both Libyan and Venezuelan crises.

Libya

The peculiarity of the situation in Libya in 2011 was that Colonel Qaddafi explicitly said what his intentions were. On a televised speech, he explicitly encouraged his supporters ‘to go out and attack the “cockroaches” (protesters) demonstrating against his rule’ (BBC, 2011) and then assured that he ‘would “cleanse Libya house by house”’ (The Economist, 2011). Since the very outbreak of the protests, Qaddafi showed no hesitation in using his security apparatus to violently suppress the demonstrations. Despite the adoption of Resolution 1970 condemning Qaddafi’s actions, the brutal leader had no intentions of stopping until ‘the country [was] purified from the unclean (protesters)’ (Foreign Affairs, 2011). Given the straightforwardness of Qaddafi’s purposes, there is no doubt on his intentions to neglect his responsibility to protect his population.

In terms of death toll, it is hard to establish a number of people killed before the NATO’s coalition intervened. However, within four months from the outbreak of the protests, it is estimated that the death toll has reached between 10,000 and 15,000 (Reuters, 2011). In conclusion, ‘there is sufficient evidence to suggest that Government forces used excessive force against demonstrators, […] leading to significant deaths and injuries’ (Human Rights Council, 2011, p.4).

Gallagher argues that a mass displacement proves that the State is failing its responsibility internally and externally, as refugees destabilise regional order. According to the UN High Commissioner Refugees (UNHCR), in the first half of 2011, 834,207 Libyans crossed the border into Tunisia (2011), a figure that in 2014 was estimated to have reached almost 1,5 million (Bradley, Fraihat and Mzioudet, 2016). Massive flows of migrants, by putting such a burden on the host country and its economy, carry the risk of creating instability, increasing the chances of dangerous instability in an already volatile region.

For what concerns the kinds of weapons used to repress dissidents, there have been reports and witnesses accounts of Qaddafi’s forces using fighter jets (Al Jazeera, 2011) on anti-government marches: ‘deafening sound of military aircraft targeting demonstrators in what opposition groups warned was a “massacre”. For the second night running, [Qaddafi] appeared to have deployed a shoot-to-kill policy to disperse the protests’ (Chrisafis, 2011). The report by the Human Rights Council (HRC, 2011, p.6) also mentions ‘mortars […] and expanding bullets, cluster, munitions and phosphorus weapons in highly populated areas’. Again, there is little doubt concerning the involvement of the Government in the violence that has been inflicted upon the Libyan populations.

Finally, in terms of intentional targeting of women, children, and elderly, various reports, including the one published by the ICC and one by the HRC (2011), have highlighted how rape had been used as a weapon to instil fear in the population and force it to flee. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)’s 2011 report shows that at least one school was used by Qaddafi forces as detention places where women as young as 14 years old were repeatedly raped. Moreover, the report also mentions eyewitnesses recounting Qaddafi’s security forces forcibly detaining 107 civilians and using them as human shields; other eyewitnesses reporting that the Government forces had ‘demolished a home for the elderly and abducted its 36 resident disabled, elderly, and homeless civilians’.

In conclusion, the Qaddafi regime was manifestly failing to protect its populations from mass atrocities, and it has triggered international action. In the next section I will assess whether the same can be said for Venezuela. However different the nature of the crisis may seem, ‘the conditions Venezuelans face daily are not much different than those in active war zone’ (Bahar and Dooley, 2019).

Venezuela

While Qaddafi was more explicit regarding his intentions of repressing dissidents and using violence, Maduro has nonetheless caused a similar extent of human suffering. Firstly, in order to falsely demonstrate that there is no humanitarian crisis, the government has begun censoring data regarding the conditions under which Venezuelans live and a Human Rights Watch/Johns Hopkins 2019 report explained that, by doing so, the authorities have exacerbated the crisis and that they are ‘responsible for needless loss of life that their denial and destruction have inflicted on Venezuelan people’. Moreover, the OHCHR also provided an account concerning violence, repression and extrajudicial executions. First of all, it details the excessive use of force from security forces during some of the anti-government protests, with the deliberate aim of infusing fear and to discourage demonstrators. Secondly, the HCHR has reported that the security forces in charge of combating drug trafficking and crime, the FAES (in the Spanish acronym, Fuerzas de Acciones Especiales) are responsible for thousands of killings that might amount to extrajudicial executions. The OHCHR (2019, p.10) is concerned that the regime ‘may be using FAES and other security forces to instil fear in the population and to maintain social control’. As a result, the extrajudicial executions and the arbitrary detentions are clear indicators of the intentionality of Maduro’s policies.

Regarding the death toll, as we have seen, the repression in Venezuela has been systematic since at least 2014, when the Maduro regime started evolving into an authoritarian regime and started repressing dissidents. However, probably the most relevant data for the death toll is that regarding FAES’ raids in poor neighbourhoods which are considered to represent almost 8,000 extrajudicial executions (OHCHR, 2019). According to Roberto Briceno-León, director of the NGO Observatorio Venezolano de la Violencia, the total impunity with the FAES shows that the Government is proud of what is being done, and he believes that this represents a state policy of extermination (Olmo, 2019). The deliberateness of FAES’ violent killings and the impunity from the Government prove that a systematic process of unlawful and inhumane killing has been taking place.

In terms of displacement of people, as a result of the regime violating basic rights such as that of health, food, life and safety, according to the UNHCR (2019) currently there are more than 4.7 million Venezuelan refugees. The burden of the crisis has fallen on neighbouring countries, particularly Colombia, Ecuador, Peru ́, and Brazil, creating a considerable risk of instability. In conclusion, by provoking such an outflow of Venezuelans, Maduro is putting his citizens in further danger, while placing the burden on neighbouring countries, pressuring their weak economies, and consequently increasing the risk of instability throughout the whole region.

As already said, in contrast with Libya, the conflict in Venezuela is of a non-armed nature. This does not mean that the extent of human suffering is smaller, but it makes it more problematic to analyse whether the crisis meets the criterion regarding the kind of weapons used. In Venezuela, the Maduro regime is starving its people to death, it is not providing them with the basic needs like healthcare, which has led to a massive spread of once-eradicated diseases that are increasing the death toll exponentially (OHCHR, 2019). In contrast with armed crises like Libya, the Maduro regime is ultimately achieving atrocity crimes as well, but without resorting to weapons. However, given the lack of heavy weaponry involved in the conflict, it is hard to argue whether this crisis meets the criterion regarding the kinds of weapons involved.

The intentional targeting of vulnerable populations is another problematic criterion. The extrajudicial killings carried out by the FAES are indiscriminate in terms of who the targets are, since it seems that the common factor is political opinion. However, the interesting element concerning this criterion is the mention that Gallagher makes to a “third dimension”, drawing from a Save the Children report of March 2013. The report exposes how children are particularly vulnerable to the spread of disease in conflict zones, where it is juxtaposed with the collapse of the healthcare system. This is particularly true for the case of Venezuela, where children are subject to an unprecedented spread of diseases. Alongside with malnutrition, diseases have produced an increase by 65% in infant mortality rate, only in 2016 (PROVEA, 2016). Similarly, in 2016, the maternal mortality rate has increased by 30% (PROVEA, 2016) because of the lack of prenatal and maternal care, and contraceptives, which leads to homemade abortions that put women’s lives in great danger. Furthermore, the vulnerability of women goes beyond Venezuelan borders since, when forced to flee, women undertake dangerous journeys that subject them to risks such as sexual exploitation and trafficking, abuse and violence (Human Rights Watch and Johns Hopkins, 2019). In conclusion, a state is not targeting vulnerable populations only when heavy weaponry is involved, but also when it is failing to provide access to basic medical care, violating the right to health.

Geopolitical interests

After analysing the crisis in Venezuela through Gallagher’s criteria, one could argue that R2P should be applied and the international community take action. However, these criteria are fundamental but not sufficient to determine a multilateral action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. This is because any international coercive action must be approved by the UNSC. This requirement represents a double-edged sword since, on one hand, it is pivotal in it prevents powerful states from undertaking illegitimate unilateral actions. On the other hand, however, given the current structure of the UNSC, it makes the decision to halt mass atrocities susceptible to the interests of the P5 and their veto power. While it worked in Libya, where there were no major clashing interests, regarding Venezuela the opposite is true.

On general terms, the P5 have differing ideological positions and are to be understood along with their geopolitical interests. While, on one hand, the US, UK, and France have historically always placed great emphasis on humanitarianism, human rights, and democracy, China and Russia have had different approaches. It is argued that the origins of the modern international humanitarian system lie in the Western/European experiences of war (Davey, et al., 2013, p. 1). Indeed, it has even been criticised that human rights are a Western concept and there is a ‘false universalism’ that ‘obscure[s] Western civilizational hegemony’ (Falk, 1997, p. 8). However, the West’s position on human rights and humanitarianism has generally been consistent in terms of support for these regimes. In terms of national sovereignty, while defending such concept, Western states have increasingly defended the idea that, in case of gross violations of human rights, an intervention can be legitimate because the protection of civilians is prioritised – as it was the case with the NATO intervention in Kosovo, 1999.

On the other hand, China and Russia maintain a ‘restrictionist view of the Charter, which sees sovereignty as ranking higher than human rights’ (Kuhrt, 2014, p. 99). In fact, these concepts of “humanitarian intervention” and “limited sovereignty” were considered “unacceptable” by Russia (Kuhrt, 2014, p. 98). Kuhrt (2014, p. 98) relates Russia’s reticence to these concepts to the fall of the Soviet Union, which made Russia ‘far more sensitive to the idea that the sovereignty norm might be eroded’. Similarly to Russia, China has ‘regularly spoken out against interference on human rights grounds in its internal affairs’ (Sceats and Breslin, 2012, p. 1). Moreover, after the widespread condemnation of the Tiananmen Square events in 1989, ‘it became a central plank of [China’s] general agenda within the UN to promote ultra-statist conceptions of sovereignty and the principle of non-interference’ (Sceats and Breslin, 2012, p. 6). China’s strong position on national sovereignty is evident also in its frequent invocation of the principles of non-intervention or non-interference in domestic affairs (Sceats and Breslin, 2012). More generally, ‘for both Beijing and Moscow, safeguarding domestic political security is a predominant concern. They strongly opposed external interventions that could lead to regime change and state fragmentation’ (Chen and Yin, 2020, p. 18).

Libya

Russia’s neutral position in the decision to adopt Resolution 1973 in Libya was strategic. North Africa had been of secondary relevance in Russia’s foreign policy, limited to arms and energy issues. Kaczmarski (2011) explains the reasons behind Russia’s position as twofold. Firstly, with no crucial interests in Libya, Russia was more focused on maintaining good relations with the Arab countries who all condemned Qaddafi. Hehir (2013), similarly, argues that the endorsement of a no-fly zone by the LAS was key to the decision of Russia to abstain in Resolution 1973. Secondly, Kaczmarski interprets Russia’s decision as aimed at preserving the growing relations with the West and by not vetoing the resolution, Russia ‘gave very clear political support to France’ (2011). While agreeing with Kaczmarski, Gutterman (2011) also argues that vetoing the resolution would have harmed its prospects of preserving an economic foothold in the country. Thus, Russia’s decision was a low-cost action that would improve its position and involvement in the multilateral system, while not harming any national interests.

China’s relations with Libya were already problematic from before the Arab Spring, since Libyan Foreign Minister in 2009 ‘accused China of exploiting Africa’s resources and people, and condemned its behaviour [. . . ] as neo-colonialism’ (Evron, 2013, p.81). Moreover, similarly to Russia, China attached great importance to the Arab States’ positions in the conflict since maintaining good relations with them was more crucial in China’s national interest (Evron, 2013; Paal, 2011; Hehir, 2013). This is even more so given that China had limited investments in the country. Libya was the fifth country in Africa for Chinese investments, and ‘most Chinese enterprises in Libya had no direct investment in the country’ (Junbo and Méndez, 2015, pp.4-5). In conclusion, similarly to Russia, it was more strategic for China to abstain rather than vetoing Resolution 1973, so as to maintain good relationships with the Arab countries without affecting national interests.

For the United States, the crisis in Libya represented a particular opportunity where its national interests converged with its humanitarian values. Firstly, President Obama claimed US’s responsibility to prevent mass atrocities (Blomdahl, 2018). Second, there was a considerable risk that escalating violence between the Government and the rebels might sow the seeds of a favourable environment for fundamentalist and extremist militancy. In conclusion, the US had little to lose in getting involved while having the chance of promoting ‘a new form of humanitarian intervention, […] they had been sketching out for nearly a decade’ (Blomdahl, 2018, p.4).

France’s interests in Libya were twofold. First, in terms of economic resources, France imported from Libya 15% of its oil (Davidson, 2013). Second, security issues were of crucial importance given the proximity of Libyan shores to France and Europe, thus threatening France with a massive flow of refugees that could heighten security and terroristic risks in the continent. In conclusion, ‘maintaining access to Libyan oil and minimizing the terrorist threat from Libya were important contributing factors in the Sarkozy government’s decision’ (Davidson, 2013, p.319)

For the United Kingdom, the interests involved in the Libyan crisis were similar to France’s, but they assumed a more “humanitarian” stance. In fact, several journalists reported that UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision was influenced by the regret of the West’s failure to protect civilians in Srebrenica in 1995 (Blitz, 2011; Stephens, 2011). Moreover, Cameron feared that if Qaddafi was not ousted he would ‘go back to being the recruiting sergeant for terror he was in the 1980s’ (Blitz, 2011). To conclude, the UK Government was determined to stop the mass slaughter and violations of human rights in Libya both for humanitarian reasons and for security reasons, given the fear that was violence to increase in Libya, a new wave of terrorism might have threatened Europe.

Venezuela

The crisis in Venezuela, given its geographical location and its oil reserves, has attracted a variety of actors. According to John E. Herbst and Jason Marczak (2019, p.1) ‘[e]xternal actors are using Venezuela as a battleground for their own selfish national interests, bolstering the corrupt and faltering Maduro regime’.

While pursuing advantageous economic and military deals, Russia’s interest in Venezuela is mainly political. Putin sees Venezuela as a partner in ‘constructing a new multipolar, anti-US world’, a point of leverage in the US’s backyard (Rouvinski, 2019, p.1). In fact, the primary value for Russia is Venezuela’s geographical proximity to the US. Moreover, Putin is exploiting the Venezuelan crisis to show that Russia’s influence goes beyond its natural area of interest, namely, Asia or the Middle East, and to ‘portray Russia’s return as a global power’ (Rouvinski, 2019, p.1). In order to strengthen its position, at the beginning of 2019, Moscow provided Maduro with S-300 systems with two geostrategic goals. First, it was supposed to deter any US military intervention in Venezuela. Second, the equipment ‘came with Russian “experts” (soldiers), who, along with the thousands of Cuban intelligence personnel in the country, could provide security for Maduro’ (Herbst and Marczak, 2019, p. 5). Moreover, were Putin to lose this bet, Venezuela would become ‘a symbol of one of Putin’s greatest failures in the international arena’ (Rouvinski, 2019, p.17). These reasons help understand why ‘there is no doubt that Russia will use its veto power to block any resolution [in the Security Council] that would harm Maduro’ (Jeifets, 2018).

Venezuela’s relations with China date back to two decades ago when Ch ́avez decided to diversify away from the country’s export dependence on the US, with the aim of ‘counterbalance[ing] US influence in Latin America’ (Kaplan and Penfold, 2019, p.15), and saw China as a crucial partner. As Pina (2019) explains, China views ‘the oil-rich socialist country as a significant trading partner and geopolitical ally in its main political and economic rival US’ backyard’. Moreover, “south-south” cooperation is one of China’s foreign policy’s central pillars and Beijing ‘does not want to risk its reputation as a leading partner and trustworthy investor in the global south by siding with a US-backed opposition group and supporting its attempt to unlawfully topple the legitimate government of a sovereign country’ (Pina, 2019). Given the deep financial investments in the country and the geopolitical value it places on the country, China is standing with Russia in the Security Council and vetoing any attempt to adopt resolutions that may alter the situation in Venezuela.

The United States is deeply involved in the crisis and the Trump administration has been repeatedly pushing for international involvement in the crisis – still considering military intervention ‘an option’ (CBS News, 2019). While the US’s desire to restore democracy and protect human rights might be part of the equation, it would be na ̈ıve to ignore its interests in the Latin American country. First of all, Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and both Chavez and Maduro have tried to diversify Venezuela’s oil exports to limit the country’s dependence on the US, therefore threatening key US’ economic interests. Secondly, Chávez and Maduro have always openly attacked the US, with the aim of fostering political integration and anti-imperialism (Kozloff, 2007). In conclusion, the US has considerable interests in pushing for new elections in Venezuela since the current situation represents a threat to its core economic and ideological interests.

In contrast with Russia, China and the US, the UK and France, have no major interests in Venezuela. In addition, given the long history of support for humanitarian values and human rights, they have participated, as part of the European Union bloc, in efforts to promote a political transition in Venezuela and insist on the need to call free and fair elections to restore democracy in the country (Doward, 2019).

R2P discrediting

Resolution 1973 that authorised the NATO coalition in Libya had authorised Member States ‘to take all necessary measures [. . . ] to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack’ (S/RES/1973, 2011). While it could be said that Qaddafi was the main perpetrator of the mass atrocities in Libya, it has been widely argued that his death represented an attempt at regime change that exceeded the mandate of the Resolution. A considerable number of UN ambassadors argued that the NATO-led coalition was no longer acting in defence of the population at risk but pursuing the overthrow of Qaddafi. This idea was further encouraged by the op-ed jointly written by the then leaders of the US, the UK, and France – Barack Obama, David Cameron, and Nicholas Sarkozy, in which they argued that NATO was not pursuing regime change, but that it was ‘impossible to imagine a future Libyan government with Qaddafi in power’ (Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron, 2011). Shortly after, various states began questioning the legitimacy of the action and vocally arguing that such actions were exceeding the mandate given by Resolution 1973.

Considering that Russia and China were not supportive of the intervention in Libya, rather, they were focused on preserving their own interests, once the intervention morphed into regime change, they became extremely vocal against it. They insisted on the idea that ‘there was no way in which the relevant resolution could have permitted the extension of the conflict beyond the protection of civilians and towards the objective of regime change’ (Zifcak, 2012, p. 11). This “mission creep” has severely undermined the global consensus around R2P. As Nuruzzman (2013, p.66), ‘[t]he hidden policy of regime change in Libya has, in fact, killed the R2P doctrine’.

In other words, the failure of the NATO-coalition to remain within the Resolution’s boundaries has severely undermined the global support of the doctrine. As a result, it is argued that ‘the campaign in Libya has done grave, possibly even irreparable, damage to R2P’ (Rieff, 2011). Rieff further argues that it is highly unlikely that interventions under R2P will ‘get sanction from the U.N. in the foreseeable future’ (Rieff, 2011). For instance, scholars have argued that ‘If Libya happened again today, China would not abstain’ (quoted in Sceats and Breslin, 2012, p. 49). The intervention in Libya inevitably linked R2P to regime change, increasing the political risk of employing such a principle. Consequently, the result has been that even if the members of the UNSC had agreed on the need to protect civilians in Venezuela, it became highly unlikely they would apply R2P, given its considerable political weight. It could be argued that Venezuelans are not safe unless Maduro is ousted – and wary of the outcome of the intervention in Libya, the UNSC would be extremely reticent to apply the principle of R2P.

Conclusion

The aim of this paper was to understand why the doctrine of R2P, particularly Pillar III, has been applied inconsistently. After analysing the contexts of the Libyan and Venezuelan crises, this paper examined whether these crises met Gallagher’s criteria for ‘manifestly failing’. In the second section, the paper first described the differing positions of the P5 on issues such as sovereignty and human rights. Secondly, reflecting these positions, I analysed what role the geopolitical interests of the P5 have played in each crisis and whether they have determined the outcome. I find that the crisis in Libya represented no threat to Russian nor Chinese interests and therefore they were both refrained from vetoing UNSC resolutions; while the US’s, UK’s, and France’s interests converged with the need to protect Libyans. In this way, the UNSC was able to authorise military intervention to protect civilians. However, the same cannot be said for Venezuela, which has become a playground for East-West geostrategic interests and rivalries. The great relevance both Russia and China put on Venezuela in economic and political terms has prevented the international community from intervening to provide Venezuelans with proper relief. I thus find that geostrategic considerations do have influence on R2P’s application, affecting its consistency. Finally, another element that further explains such inconsistency is the backlash that NATO intervention in Libya had on the consensus around R2P, associating it to the concept of regime change, therefore fostering countries’ reticence to apply it. This paper argues that, as a consequence of this political weight, even if the P5 had converging interests in Venezuela as they did in Libya, it would be highly unlikely they would apply R2P. In conclusion, there are various factors that interact to determine the irregular application of R2P and, while the geopolitical interests are probably the key factor, one cannot overlook how the association of the doctrine to regime change has influenced this inconsistency.

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The Responsibility to Protect, An Established Norm in International Relations? Misapplication in Myanmar, Application in Libya and Non-Application in Syria

Julia Smith, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK

Julia Smith is a current MSc student at the London School of Economics and Political Science, where she studies Gender, Media and Culture. She previously graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in International Relations.

Abstract

R2P is often described as a ‘norm’, but there is considerable disagreement about what kind of norm it constitutes. This paper analyses the normative status of R2P and suggests that the contestation and inconsistency that continue to plague R2P make it difficult to argue that it is an established norm in international relations, as this implies a degree of stability and permanency. However, the paper also challenges the idea that international norms can ever become established in this way, as this is based on a false expectation of linear normative development. It suggests that instead of progressing in a unidirectional way towards universal establishment, norms are never stable and are constant ‘works-in-progress’ that are continually contested and transformed through practice and by a range of actors. The paper uses the examples of R2P’s misapplication in Myanmar in 2008, controversial application in Libya in 2011 and non-application in Syria since 2011 to demonstrate this. These examples highlight how contestation surrounding R2P has led to valuable feedback in the form of initiatives such as Responsible Protection, Responsibility While Protecting, The Responsibility Not to Veto and the Uniting for Peace Resolution. The engagement of a wide range of global actors in challenging and transforming R2P through these initiatives is ultimately beneficial for the legitimacy and the evolution of the norm.

Introduction

The UN’s failure to respond to the Rwandan genocide in 1994 was one of many cases that highlighted the inability of the international community’s existing framework to effectively respond to mass atrocities (Thakur, 2016). In 2000, then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan challenged member states, asking ‘if humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica – to gross and systematic violations of human rights that affect every precept of our common humanity?’ (Annan, 2000, p.48). The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) was founded shortly after to address this dilemma and their 2001 report first introduced the concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). The 90-page report was later condensed into 3 paragraphs and endorsed by all UN member states in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document.

R2P reconceptualised sovereignty as a responsibility, stating that the primary responsibility for the protection of populations lies with the state, but in instances where a population is suffering grave harm in the form of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity or ethnic cleansing, and the state is unwilling or unable to avoid it, the principle of non-intervention is replaced by the responsibility to protect (ICISS, 2001). When a state is ‘manifestly failing’ to protect its population, it becomes the responsibility of the international community to first assist the state in meeting its responsibilities and, when necessary, to intervene without consent from the state (Ban, 2009, p.1). R2P reframed the controversial principle of humanitarian intervention by shifting focus from the rights of intervening states to the rights of populations and was thus proposed as the answer ‘to reconciling the neuralgic rejection of humanitarian intervention by the global South with the determination by the North to end atrocities’ (Thakur, 2016, p.417).

R2P is often described as a ‘norm’, defined as a ‘collective understanding of the proper behaviour of actors’ (Legro, 1997, p.33). Norms have both regulative and constitutive effects, as they both regulate state behaviour by setting a standard of appropriateness, but also shape state identities and interests (Labonte, 2016; Glanville, 2016). Though most scholars recognise R2P as a norm, there is much less consensus about what kind of norm it constitutes. Whilst Bellamy argues it is an ‘established’ norm, many scholars point to the significant contestation surrounding R2P, as well as its inconsistent application, to suggest it is still an ‘emerging’ norm (Bellamy, 2015; Serrano, 2011; Junk, 2016). Others have pointed to the reluctance of the international community to intervene in mass atrocities post-Libya as evidence that R2P is ‘a norm in decline’, or worse, already ‘dead’ (Voordewind, 2017, p.1; Newton, 2013; Reiff, 2011).

This paper suggests that the contestation and inconsistency that continue to plague R2P make it difficult to argue that it is an established norm in international relations, as this implies a degree of stability and permanency. However, the idea that R2P can become established in this way is predicated on a false expectation of linear normative development, based on Finnemore and Sikkink’s norm life cycle model (Finnemore and Sikkink, 1998). My understanding of normative development is instead informed by scholars such as Krook, True and Acharya, who suggest that instead of progressing in a unidirectional way towards establishment, norms are never stable but are ‘works-in-progress’ that are constantly contested and transformed through practice and by a range of actors (Krook and True, 2010; Acharya, 2013). Examples of R2P’s misapplication in Myanmar in 2008, controversial application in Libya in 2011 and non-application in Syria since 2011, demonstrate this argument clearly. R2P’s misapplication in Myanmar prompted ‘conceptual clarification’ about the scope and applicability of R2P, whilst R2P’s controversial application in Libya and non-application in Syria have led to significant proposals such as Responsibility While Protecting and Responsible Protection and have reignited debates about The Responsibility Not to Veto and the Uniting for Peace Resolution, all of which are valuable contributions to R2P’s normative evolution (Badescu and Weiss, 2010, p.355). Instead of showing R2P to be clearly established or not established, these cases demonstrate how ‘norms are subject to ongoing attempts to reconstitute their meanings, even as they exert effects on patterns of social behaviour’ (Krook and True, 2010, p.109).

R2P: Established Norm or Not? 

Much of the discourse surrounding the normative status of R2P is influenced by Finnemore and Sikkink’s norm life cycle theory, which suggests that norms pass through three stages (Finnemore and Sikkink, 1998). The first stage is ‘norm emergence’ where norms are promoted by ‘norm entrepreneurs’. Then the norm reaches a ‘tipping point’ and enters the ‘norm cascade’ stage, when a ‘critical mass’ of at least one third of all states adopts the norm, including ‘the most critical states’, without whom the success of the norm is jeopardised. Following ‘norm cascade’, norms enter the final stage of ‘norm internalisation’ where they achieve ‘a taken-for-granted quality’, are no longer subject to debate, and could be described as ‘established’ (Finnemore and Sikkink, 1998, p.895-901). Applying this theory to R2P, it might seem reasonable to conclude that it has successfully passed through the stages of ‘norm emergence’ and ‘norm cascade’. The work of norm entrepreneurs such as Gareth Evans, Ramesh Thakur, Edward Luck and Kofi Annan successfully lead to its unanimous adoption by all UN member states in 2005 (Labonte, 2016). Since then, the UN Security Council (UNSC) has referred to R2P in 69 of its resolutions (Global Centre for R2P, 2018). There has also been some domestic institutionalisation of R2P. In 2010, the R2P Focal Points Initiative was launched and 59 countries from across the globe have now appointed a senior level official to be responsible for the domestic promotion of R2P (Weiss, 2011). Moreover, the EU and 49 other states have joined the organisation Group of Friends of the R2P, reaffirming their commitment to the norm (Hehir, 2017). Thus, R2P has been adopted by a majority of the world’s states, including those ‘most critical’, suggesting it has successfully cascaded throughout the international system.

However, Shawki suggests that this would be an inaccurate conclusion; although R2P has been officially endorsed by UN member states, it remains highly contested and controversial (Shawki, 2011). This indicates that the norm is still being shaped and is still in the initial stage of ‘norm emergence’ (Shawki, 2011). Labonte argues that R2P should be understood as a collection of norms rather than a single norm, and whilst pillar one relating to a state’s primary responsibilities to protect its population is established and has reached the final stage of norm internalisation, pillars two and three regarding the international community’s responsibility remain to be contested and are not yet at the tipping point (Labonte, 2016). The UNSC resolutions lend support to this argument, as most have only reminded states of their pillar one responsibilities and have rarely acknowledged the existence of pillar three (Hehir, 2017). This has lead Hehir to question whether R2P represents genuine progress, as pillar one is essentially a reaffirmation of pre-existing human rights norms and international law (Hehir, 2017). Reinhold further suggests that R2P cannot even be considered an ‘emerging norm’ because the majority of states do not recognise their pillar two and three responsibilities to protect foreign populations, which are crucial elements of R2P (Reinhold, 2010, p.55). However, Reinhold later contradicts this argument by suggesting that if she were to adopt Finnemore and Sikkink’s life cycle theory, she would locate R2P in the second stage of ‘norm cascade’ (Reinhold, 2010, p.74).

This divergence in academic opinion suggests R2P does not obviously fit into one stage of the norm life cycle theory. As Ercan suggests, this linear model ‘falls short as a tool in explaining the transformation that R2P has gone through’ (Ercan, 2014, p.37). Firstly, it suggests that contestation signifies that a norm is still in the initial stage of norm emergence, ignoring how norms continue to be contested and transformed through practice, whilst exerting effects on behaviour. Norms are ‘works-in-progress’ that will never be ‘finished products’ that are fully established and stable (Krook and True, 2010, p.104). As Krook and True suggest, ‘the ongoing potential for contestation means, in turn, that co-option, drift, accretion and reversal of a norm – including disputes over whether it is a norm at all – are all constant possibilities’ (Krook and True, 2010, p.104). R2P is especially vulnerable to contestation ‘because of its inherently indeterminate nature’ (Welsh, 2013, p.386). The R2P developed by the ICISS in the 2001 report is different from the R2P ‘lite’ endorsed by the UN, which has resulted in different expectations about when and how the norm should be applied (Shawki, 2011). Furthermore, the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document was deliberately vague, as ‘excess precision’ not only prevents the necessary consensus for the signing of international agreements, but also inhibits ‘possibilities for incremental adjustment necessary to sustain consensus’ (Wiener, 2004; Glanville, 2016, p.188).

Another fundamental flaw of the norm life cycle theory is highlighted in the criticism that ‘R2P represents a failure of the West to impose new global norms’ (McCormack, 2010, p.69). Norm life cycle theory assumes that norms diffuse in a unidirectional way from norm entrepreneurs to the international system, or from the West to the Rest. Acharya’s concept of norm circulation instead explains how norms undergo a ‘multiple-agency, two-way, multi-step process of norm diffusion, based on resistance, feedback and repatriation’ (Acharya, 2013, p.47). New international norms do not exist in a ‘vacuum’ but rather ‘inhabit a highly competitive landscape’ and must compete and fit with other norms, beliefs and practices (Florini, 1999, p.376; Labonte, 2016, p.135). Instead of passively accepting a norm, local actors engage in ‘norm localisation’ and ‘norm subsidiarity’ (Acharya, 2013, p.469). They adapt external norms and reconstitute them to fit better with pre-existing local beliefs and practices, whilst also altering local practices in accordance with the new norm (norm localisation). Local feedback is then ‘repatriated’ back into the international realm, which reshapes but also strengthens the international norm (norm subsidiarity). Norms are never established because they are constantly contested and transformed through their application in different locations and contexts. This contestation and feedback is a form of agency and can work to strengthen a norm’s legitimacy, as international norms are more likely to be accepted if a wider range of actors have contributed to their creation and diffusion (Acharya, 2013, p.466-469).

In summary, the idea that a norm such as R2P can become ‘established’ is based on Finnemore and Sikkink’s norm life cycle model that is insufficient in explaining the development of R2P. My understanding of norm development is instead informed by scholars such as Krook, True and Acharya, who understand norms as ‘works-in-progress’ that are continually contested and transformed through practice and by a range of actors (Krook and True, 2010; Acharya, 2013). Thus, norms such as R2P can never be stable, static or fully established. The following examples of Myanmar (2008), Libya (2011) and Syria (2011- present) demonstrate how R2P’s misapplication, controversial application, and non-application have all provoked valuable contestation and feedback that have reconstituted the norm and contributed to its normative evolution.

Misapplication in Myanmar 

Cyclone Nargis in May 2008 was the worst natural disaster to date in Myanmar and left 140,000 dead and up to 2 million seriously affected (Junk, 2016, p.80). The Myanmar government were neither willing nor able to manage the crisis and both refused visas to international staff and blocked the entrance of foreign aid (Junk, 2016). This sparked discussions over whether natural disasters or the deliberate obstruction of international relief justified an R2P response (Reinhold, 2010). French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner argued that the situation indicated the ‘manifest failure’ of the Myanmar government to protect its population (Junk, 2016, p.82). He advocated for the activation of R2P and a UNSC resolution that would force the government to accept international aid. Ramesh Thakur pointed out that ‘overwhelming natural or environmental catastrophes’ were included in the ICISS report as possible grounds for an R2P response in instances where a state was refusing aid or demonstrating an inability or unwillingness to manage the situation (Thakur 2008 cited in Junk, 2016, p.83). Furthermore, ICISS co-chair Gareth Evans suggested ‘there is at least a prima facie case to answer’ for the ‘intransigence’ of the Myanmar government ‘being a crime against humanity – of a kind which would attract the responsibility to protect principle’ (Evans, 2008).

However, Kouchner’s proposal was overwhelmingly met with opposition from states and R2P advocates. Edward Luck, then Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General on R2P, suggested that invoking R2P in Myanmar was a ‘misapplication’ of the norm, as the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, which was what the international community agreed to, focused specifically on genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing (Hilpold, 2015). Luck stated ‘there is no agreement among Member States on applying [R2P] to other situations, no matter how disturbing and regrettable the circumstances’ (Luck 2008 cited in Hilpold, 2015, p.49). Western governments mostly supported increased international pressure, but did not support the activation of R2P, whilst Russia, China and South Africa vehemently opposed Kouchner’s proposal, regarding it as an unwelcome attempt to expand R2P beyond the limits agreed to in 2005 (Junk, 2016).

Disagreements surrounding the invocation of R2P in Myanmar demonstrated the significant lack of consensus about the scope and applicability of R2P, even after its endorsement and institutionalisation. Reinhold states that the Myanmar case has ‘thrown into sharp relief the international consensus on R2P’, further suggesting ‘in light of such dissent […] R2P cannot be considered a “new norm” or an “emerging norm” because there remain to be significant misunderstandings about what it actually is’ (Reinhold, 2010, p.57). However, this argument is based on the expectation that once norms have ‘emerged’ they are free from such contestation. Instead, contestation must be seen as ‘part and parcel of normative evolution’ and can, perhaps counterintuitively, advance the development of a norm (Welsh, 2013, p.395). Scholars such as Badescu and Weiss have argued that misapplications can advance norms by providing ‘conceptual clarification’ (Badescu and Weiss, 2010, p.355). They explain that ‘in objecting to abuses, other actors are obliged to specify principles and clarify situations […] and so, mistakes and abuses can play a role in furthering norms and even in reinforcing their salience when strong voices thoughtfully and persuasively contest misrepresentations’ (Badescu and Weiss, 2010, p.361). The misapplication of R2P in Myanmar forced the international community into clarifying when R2P can and should be applied. The Myanmar debate had the effect of returning R2P ‘to its roots’ by ‘re-centring’ the norm on its original objectives of preventing and responding to genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing (Junk, 2016, p.78).

Application in Libya 

On 17th March 2011, the UNSC adopted Resolution 1973 authorising ‘all necessary means […] to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack’ in Libya in response to mass atrocities and threats of further atrocities by the Gaddafi regime (Loiselle, 2013, p.328). This was an unprecedented move and marked the first time in history that the UN had authorised an intervention without consent from the state. Ban Ki-moon commended the UNSC for its ‘historic decision’ stating it ‘affirms, clearly and unequivocally, the international community’s determination to fulfil its responsibility to protect civilians from violence perpetrated upon them by their own government’ and marked a ‘coming of age’ for the R2P norm (Ban, 2011 cited in Tocci, 2016, p.52). For Evans, the Libyan case was ‘at least at the outset, a textbook case of the R2P norm working exactly as it was supposed to’ (Evans, 2011, p.40). Despite the intervention garnering initial support, there have been huge divisions over R2P’s implementation in Libya. Though the resolution permitted ‘all necessary means’, many states, particularly the BRICS, did not interpret this to mean regime change and thought NATO had misappropriated R2P and acted beyond its mandate (Paris, 2014; Stepanova, 2016). The Libyan situation ultimately confirmed their longstanding suspicions that R2P could be used by Western powers to pursue their own strategic objectives. Furthermore, the fallout from Libya created a power vacuum, which has led to civil war, the rise of extremist groups and the destabilisation of North Africa (Kuperman, 2015).

The controversial application of R2P in Libya has led some scholars to suggest that future interventions are unlikely to get UNSC approval and thus R2P is a ‘norm in decline’ (Morris, 2013; Voordewind, 2017, p.1). However, as Welsh at the time suggested, if Libya can further discussions surrounding pillar three, ‘then it truly will have advanced the international community’s understanding and implementation of the responsibility to protect’ (Welsh, 2011, p.261). It certainly has contributed to such discussions and resulted in valuable feedback, most notably in the form of Brazil’s ‘Responsibility While Protecting’ (RWP) and China’s ‘Responsible Protection’ (RP). The theme of both proposals is that R2P in its present form is susceptible to abuse and offers an excuse for Western interventionism (Garwood-Gowers, 2016). Both ideas focus on pillar three and are inspired by aspects of the 2001 ICISS report that were omitted from the 2005 agreement, such as the ‘code of conduct’ for intervention, which emphasised criteria such as just cause, right intention, last resort, proportional means and reasonable chance of success, as well as the responsibility to rebuild after intervening (ICISS, 2001). RWP has four main recommendations for post-Libya applications of R2P. It emphasises the need to exhaust all non-military options first, to ensure that the use of force is legal and mandated by the UN, that intervention produces the least amount of violence and instability possible and is proportional, so that more lives are saved than cost (Paris, 2014, p.589). It also recommends that the UNSC develops enhanced measures to ‘monitor and assess the manner in which the resolution is interpreted and implemented’ (Paris, 2014, p.589).

Similarly, China’s ‘Responsible Protection’ was first proposed by Ruan Zongze, vice president of the China Institute for International Affairs in 2012 and was later expanded on at a conference in Beijing where representatives from other states were invited to discuss the concept (Stuenkel, 2015; Garwood-Gowers, 2016). RP’s six main principles draw heavily from RWP. It suggests that the aim of any intervention must be to protect innocent people and those intervening must remain impartial, that the UNSC is the only legitimate actor to initiate R2P type protection, that all diplomatic means must be exhausted before a military intervention, that the purposes of protection must be to mitigate human catastrophe rather than overthrow governments, that the protectors must be responsible for post intervention rebuilding and that the UN must establish ‘mechanisms of supervision, outcome evaluation and post factum accountability’ (Garwood-Gowers, 2016, p.103-109). As Garwood-Gowers states, ‘RP continues RWP’s push towards “fleshing out” the normative content of what is currently a largely indeterminate third pillar’ (Garwood-Gowers, 2016, p.93). RWP and RP demonstrate that Brazil and China recognise R2P as a norm worth engaging in and, perhaps even more importantly, they indicate that both states acknowledge that military intervention for humanitarian purposes is, under particular circumstances, justified (Kenkel and De Rosa, 2015; Garwood-Gowers, 2016). Furthermore, RWP and RP demonstrate that R2P has not simply diffused from the West to the Rest. These initiatives are valuable Brazilian and Chinese contributions to the normative conversation on R2P and the engagement of these powers will ultimately enhance the norm’s legitimacy.

Non-application in Syria 

Several scholars have argued that the inability of the international community to effectively respond to mass atrocities in Syria represents the ‘death’ of R2P (Newton, 2013; Reiff, 2011). Over 500,000 Syrians are estimated to have died during the conflict that began with the government crackdown on civil unrest in 2011 (Graham-Harrison, 2017). In addition to those who have died, there are now approximately 5.6 million refugees, 6.1 million IDPs and 13 million people inside Syria requiring humanitarian assistance (UN News, 2018). The UN has been in deadlock due to members of the P5, Russia and China, repeatedly using their veto on UNSC proposals. The UNSC has seen numerous resolutions fail in Syria and those that have passed have been limited to humanitarian aid and investigations into chemical weapon use, and have not been effective neither in ending the civil war nor ensuring the protection of civilians. Clearly, both the Syrian government and the international community have fallen short of their responsibilities to protect the Syrian people from mass atrocities (Hehir, 2017, p.340).

Welsh argues that ‘inconsistency is built into the very fabric of R2P’ because it recommends that the international community act on a ‘case-by-case basis’ (Welsh, 2013, p.388). Thus, R2P can be best understood as a ‘responsibility to consider’ (Welsh, 2013, p.367). R2P does not condone military intervention in all cases and the 2001 ICISS report’s ‘code of conduct’ insists that any intervention must be minimal in terms of its scale, duration and intensity, must solve more problems than it creates and must have a reasonable chance of success (ICISS, 2001). Seeing as military intervention is unlikely to be effective or simple in as complex and multifaceted crisis as Syria, the lack of military intervention does not represent a violation of the norm (Glanville, 2016). However, military intervention is not the only way states can fulfil their responsibilities. Ralph and Souter suggest that with regards to Syria, the responsibility to protect is being fulfilled by states such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, that have taken almost 4 million refugees between them, arguing ‘R2P is not entirely failing’ in Syria ‘but the world is relying on five states to uphold it’ (Ralph and Souter, 2015, p.69). Out of the stronger states with a greater capacity to help, only Germany has been meeting its responsibilities. It is obvious that the wider international community has failed to do everything in its power, short of military intervention, to protect the Syrian population and so, in this instance, has violated R2P.

Though the Syrian case undermines Bellamy’s assertion that R2P is an established norm ‘utilised almost habitually’, it does not represent the ‘death’ of R2P (Bellamy, 2015, p.161; Panke and Petersohn, 2011; Ercan, 2014). As Gallagher states, ‘undoubtedly shaped by the norm life cycle theory, a rather crude birth/ death narrative has surrounded R2P since its inception’ (Gallagher, 2015, p.255). The expectation that transgressions represent the ‘death’ of a norm ignores how failures can further the normative conversation in important ways. For example, the UNSC’s impotency during the Syrian crisis has resulted in two significant proposals for UN reform. Firstly, the proposal by the ‘small 5’ (Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore and Switzerland) to bring back the ‘responsibility not to veto’ (RN2V) in mass atrocity situations, which was originally part of the 2001 ICISS report (Blätter and Williams, 2011). They introduced a resolution to the General Assembly in May 2012, which recommended that the P5 should provide an explanation for their use of the veto and refrain from using it to block UNSC action aimed at halting or averting genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing (Citizens for Global Solutions, 2014). Though their motion was subsequently withdrawn following pressure from the P5, it remains an important initiative and is now being spearheaded by a group of 21 members states called the ACT (the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency group) that focuses on UNSC reform (Citizens for Global Solutions, 2014, p.9).

Similarly, debates have reignited over General Assembly Resolution 377 A (V) or the ‘Uniting for Peace’ resolution (Carswell, 2013). The resolution, originally passed in 1950, states that in the event of a paralysed UNSC due to a vetoing P5 member, Emergency Special Sessions can be called by either 7 members of the UNSC or by a majority of UN General Assembly (UNGA) members. These sessions can be requested if members consider the UNSC to be failing in its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and  has been used 10 times since its adoption to convene emergency sessions at UNGA (Cabrol, 2017; Carswell, 2013). In 2016, 223 civil society organisations and NGOs from 45 different states called for an Emergency Special Session at UNGA in response to Russian and Chinese vetoes on Syria (Cabrol, 2017). This was ‘the first time in history that such a considerable alliance of organisations, governments, and UN officials had called for change in the UN system’ (Cabrol, 2017). Though UNGA did not respond to their request on this occasion, the Uniting for Peace resolution still holds ‘significant potential’ as a ‘safety valve’ that is capable of shifting the responsibility for the protection of threatened populations from a paralysed UNSC to UNGA (Carswell, 2013, p.456). These initiatives reflect the international community’s desire to be able to fulfil its responsibilities without needing the consent of the P5. Rather than marking the ‘death’ of the norm, R2P’s failure in Syria has furthered the normative conversation by reigniting debates about the RN2V and the Uniting for Peace Resolution which, if successful, could significantly reshape R2P.

Conclusion 

To conclude, significant contestation and the inconsistent application of R2P, highlighted by the examples of Myanmar, Libya and Syria, make it difficult to argue that it is an ‘established’ norm in international relations, as this implies that it is stable and permanent. However, as I have suggested throughout this essay, the idea that a norm can become established in this way is based on a false expectation of linear normative development, influenced by Finnemore and Sikkink’s norm life cycle theory (Finnemore and Sikkink, 1998). I have argued, with reference to Acharya’s concept of norm circulation, that instead of progressing through the three stages of norm emergence, norm cascade and norm internalisation, norms undergo a ‘multiple-agency, two-way, multi-step process of norm diffusion, based on resistance, feedback and repatriation’ (Acharya, 2013, p.471). This is clearly demonstrated in the examples of R2P’s misapplication, controversial application and non-application in Myanmar, Libya and Syria. Instead of progressing in a unidirectional way towards universal establishment, from the West to the Rest, R2P has been constantly challenged and transformed through practice and by a range of actors. These examples highlight how contestation has led to valuable feedback, which has furthered the normative conversation about R2P. The engagement of a wide range of global actors in challenging and transforming R2P is ultimately beneficial for the legitimacy and evolution of the norm. Though the future of R2P is unclear, one thing is for certain: the remainder of its normative journey ‘will not be teleological’ (Labonte, 2016, p.146).

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To sever or salvage? Disaggregating the coercive military component of the R2P

By Jamal Nabulsi 

Jamal Nabulsi is a Master of International Relations (Advanced) student at the Australian National University. He is interested primarily in the ethics of war and normative International Relations theory. His Master’s thesis is on the ethical theory around preemptive and preventive wars.

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine is not dead, but one of its limbs is gangrenous and in dire need of amputation to save the body from infection. This article will argue that, in light of the 2011 NATO-led intervention in Libya, the coercive military component of R2P must be disaggregated from the body of the doctrine. This will allow for the consensus around R2P to widen, strengthening its normative force, while the debate about coercive military intervention can carry on outside of the R2P framework. This article will outline the R2P doctrine, describe its implementation in Libya and the consequences thereof, explain why proposed solutions fall short, before offering disaggregation as a solution.

The R2P was first articulated in the 2001 Report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) as the notion that a state’s sovereignty is contingent upon its fulfilment of its responsibility to protect its population from avoidable catastrophes, and that when a state fails to fulfil this responsibility (either through inability or unwillingness), the responsibility falls on the international community (ICISS, 2001, viii). The R2P was further clarified in the 2005 United Nations (UN) World Summit Outcome document, as well as being unanimously adopted by the UN Member States (United Nations, 2005, p.30). The 2009 Report of the UN Secretary-General on implementing R2P outlined a three-pillar strategy for implementation. Pillar one is the responsibility of states to protect their populations from the atrocities of ethnic cleansing, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Pillar two is the international community’s commitment to assist states in protecting their populations from such atrocities. Pillar three is the UN Member States’ responsibility ‘to respond collectively in a timely and decisive manner when a state is manifestly failing to provide such protection’ (United Nations, 2009, p.9). This includes non-violent measures under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, collaboration with regional organisations under Chapter VIII and/or coercive military intervention under Chapter VII (United Nations, 2009, pp.8-9). 

The 2011 NATO-led intervention in Libya was a watershed moment for the R2P doctrine (Evans, 2013). It was the first time that coercive military intervention under Chapter VII was authorised by the UN Security Council against the express will of the state in question with the stated intention of protecting a population from falling victim to mass atrocities. This authorisation was granted in the context of the ‘Arab Spring’—a wave of popular, anti-authoritarian, pro-democracy demonstrations that swept the Middle East and North Africa from the end of 2010. In contrast to the relatively peaceful transitions of power that occurred in Egypt and Tunisia, the protests in Libya quickly turned violent (Glanville, 2013).

Muammar al-Qaddafi, then leader of Libya, promised to ‘show no mercy’ in crushing the ‘cockroaches’ protesting his rule (as quoted in Glanville, 2013, p.333). Such dehumanising language, echoing that used by genocidaires prior to the Rwandan genocide, was a key factor in spurring the Security Council into action (Hehir, 2013, p.138). Another key factor was the condemnation of the Qaddafi regime’s human rights violations by relevant regional organisations (African Union, 2011), and subsequent calls by some of them to establish a no-fly zone in Libya (Council of the League of Arab States, 2011; Glanville, 2013, p.334).

On February 26, 2011, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1970, which condemned the Qaddafi regime’s violence against civilians (invoking Libya’s responsibility to protect its citizens) and imposed an arms embargo on Libya, among other measures (United Nations Security Council, 2011a). Subsequently, on March 17, 2011, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1973 which, most notably, implicitly authorised coercive military intervention in Libya through the enforcement of a no-fly zone, aimed at preventing the Qaddafi regime’s air force from attacking Libyan civilians (United Nations Security Council, 2011b). This resolution was passed by a 10-0 vote, with China, Russia, Brazil, Germany and India abstaining (Silander, 2013, p.269). The reservations expressed by these countries were in relation to the dubious effectiveness of coercive intervention and the lack of specificity regarding the exact form that the military action would take (Odeyemi, 2016, pp.11-12).

Upon NATO’s implementation of Resolution 1973, these concerns were borne out with disastrous consequences for the Libyan people. Rather than focussing strictly on protecting the population, the NATO mandate quickly evolved to include overthrowing the Qaddafi regime (Bachman, 2015, p.56). This was justified on the grounds of its necessity for protecting Libyans in the long-run, however, Kuperman (2013) convincingly argues that regime change was sought as an end in itself, not as a means to the end of protecting the population. NATO forces engaged in actions that were inconsistent with protecting the population but that sought regime change, such as attacking Qaddafi regime forces that were in retreat and failing to pursue offered ceasefires (Kuperman, 2013, pp.113-115).

NATO airstrikes in Libya were markedly discriminatory, with independent estimates of civilian casualties ranging from 55 (Amnesty International, 2012) to 72 (Human Rights Watch, 2012), resulting from 9,700 strike sorties. However, NATO support for Libyan rebel groups facilitated the incidence of countless war crimes and crimes against humanity. During the conflict, for instance, it has been reported that the NATO-backed rebels were committing similar human rights violations to those perpetrated by the Qaddafi regime (Bachman, 2015, pp.61-62).

But the most egregious crimes by the rebels have been committed since NATO evacuated, all but shirking their responsibility to properly see through the transition to democratic government and to help in rebuilding Libya. These crimes include the racially-targeted expulsion of Tawergha’s 30,000 inhabitants (Human Rights Watch, 2011a), the summary execution of Qaddafi and widespread reprisal killings and torture (Human Rights Watch, 2011b). The first elected Libyan Prime Minister lasted one month, before being removed with a vote of no confidence (Bachman, 2015, pp.63-64). Today, Libya remains deeply divided as competing militia groups continue to fight for control over the country amidst widespread lawlessness and economic collapse (Amnesty International, 2017, p.233). The ongoing human suffering that this situation entails is incalculable. 

Would Libya have been better off without a NATO-led intervention? According to Kuperman’s (2013, p.123) plausible counterfactual, the NATO-led intervention magnified the death toll by seven to ten times. Regardless of the accuracy of this estimate, the NATO-led intervention evidently led to untold human suffering, and its ramifications continue to endanger the lives of countless Libyans. 

The disastrous outcome of the NATO-led military intervention in Libya has inflamed the controversy around the coercive use of military force to achieve the humanitarian goals of R2P. This has, in turn, damaged the international support for the R2P doctrine as a whole. The Libyan intervention drew sharp criticism from the BRICS states—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—among others. Their foremost concerns were that NATO grossly overstepped its mandate (outlined in Resolution 1973) by pursuing regime change, that disproportionate force was used, that opportunities for political dialogue and peaceful settlement were ignored, and that the arms embargo was breached by supplying weapons to the rebels (Bellamy, 2015, p.179). This controversy around the coercive military aspects of R2P’s third pillar has meant that the consensus around the doctrine as a whole has frayed. This is evident most clearly in the rhetoric used by Russia to reject authorising intervention in Syria (regardless of Russian intentions behind this rhetoric) (Gifkins, 2012). 

The positions of the BRICS countries become increasingly important as the global balance of power continues to shift in their favour (Morris, 2013, p.1280). In response to the perceived excesses of the NATO-led intervention in Libya, and the damage that this did to the credibility of the R2P doctrine, Brazil have proposed the concept of ‘responsibility while protecting’ (RWP). While endorsing the basic principles of R2P, RWP calls for establishing a set of guidelines for implementing R2P. These include the strict chronological sequencing of the three pillars, limiting the resort to force and holding intervening states to account for breaching the guidelines (Kenkel, 2016).

With similar intentions and content, China proposed the concept of ‘responsible protection’ (RP). RP requires that the goals of intervention are outlined more clearly, the means of protection are limited, the intervenors are responsible for post-intervention rebuilding, and mechanisms of supervision are put in place to hold intervenors accountable for any breaches of their defined mandate, among other measures (Zongze, 2012). Both RP and RWP were thus, at least ostensibly, attempts to bridge the widening gap between R2P supporters and sceptics.

Although RWP and RP are well-thought-out attempts to address the serious concerns with R2P that arose in the wake of the Libyan intervention, they have ultimately failed to make a significant impact on the doctrine (Bachman, 2015, p.64). If a set of rules governing an R2P intervention, like those presented in RWP and RP, could be strictly enforced by an international authority, perhaps they would sufficiently alleviate the ailments of R2P. However, in the current international system, where no such authority exists and national interest-driven ulterior motives for intervention are inevitably present, RWP and RP are insufficient and have failed to gain traction among Western powers. 

The presence of such ulterior motives makes R2P interventions prone to expanding their objectives, even if this works against the supposedly primary objective of protecting populations (Kuperman, 2013, p.135). Evidence of national interest-driven ulterior motives being a necessary condition for R2P intervention can be seen in the inconsistency with which R2P has been applied. For instance, it is suggested that the US interest in Libya’s rich natural resources and geostrategic importance were decisive factors in choosing to intervene there (Hehir, 2013, p.156). On the other hand, US interests in its regional alliances have led to an almost diametrically opposite response to the similar situation in Bahrain, where pro-democracy protestors have been brutally tortured and killed (Graubart, 2015, p.214). This is not to claim that humanitarian concerns are not considered whatsoever, but that they are overridden by national interest. These ulterior motives not only negatively impact the effectiveness of interventions to protect populations, but also have negative reputational costs for the R2P doctrine, as evidenced by the current aversion of BRICS and other states to the doctrine (Paris, 2014). This aversion is primarily due to their concerns with the coercive military aspects of pillar three, despite their fundamental agreement with the underlying principles of R2P (Stuenkel, 2014). 

The problem of ulterior motives has led Graubart (2015) to advocate for eliminating the coercive military component of R2P entirely. He argues that normatively legitimating military intervention to protect populations is effectively establishing a new category for resorting to force. This new category is ripe for manipulation and its net impact in being implemented will only be more national interest-driven interventions that will ultimately cause more suffering than they will prevent (Graubart, 2015, pp.210-217).

A strong argument against the case for eliminating the coercive military component is that such interventions are going to happen either way, so it is better that we have a set of norms governing these interventions, rather than allow them to be driven entirely by national interest. It is argued, for instance, that the ‘pragmatic appeal of R2P is that rather than be paralysed by geopolitical hierarchies, it carves out a category of mixed-motive, status quo friendly interventions that nevertheless save lives’ (Graubart, 2015, p.204). In response, it is argued that military interventions are inevitably going to be driven by motives of national interest, but R2P increases the prevalence of these interventions by providing a humanitarian cover for these motives, thus reducing the normative hurdles in front of intervening militarily (Graubart, 2015, p.217).

This fiery debate around coercive military intervention, which was stoked by the Libyan intervention, will continue to rage on. But rather than eliminating the coercive military component of R2P completely, the lesson that should be drawn from the Libyan case is that the coercive military component should be disaggregated from the rest of the R2P doctrine. This will allow for the military intervention debate to continue outside of the framework of R2P, while allowing the consensus around R2P to strengthen significantly, ultimately leading to increased protection of populations in the future. 

There is seemingly a trade-off between R2P’s ability to not allow states to act indifferently in the face of looming mass atrocities and its not providing states with an excuse to engage in national interest-driven interventions under the guise of humanitarianism. Removing the coercive military component from R2P softens this trade-off. It prevents R2P from being used as an excuse for military interventions driven primarily by national interest. However, without its coercive military component, R2P can still encourage the international community to act in the face of mass atrocities. For instance, Gallagher (2015, pp.1268-1271) highlights the utility of international assistance under pillar two for addressing threats posed by non-state armed groups. 

Coercive military intervention is by far the most contentious part of the R2P doctrine as it is invariably where states’ interests are the most at stake. The use of force ‘will always be politics all the way down’ (Morris, 2013, p.1282). Removing the coercive military component will purge R2P of the most corrosive national interest-driven motives. This will allow the protection of populations to remain the primary objective of R2P implementations. 

Moreover, this will strengthen the consensus around the R2P doctrine. There is widespread agreement on the basic principles of R2P (Morris, 2013, p.1283), even among the BRICS and other sceptical countries (Odeyemi, 2016, p.14). States will no longer fear that the ‘soft’ pillar three actions (such as sanctions) will constitute the thin end of the pillar three wedge, which will be used to open the door for military intervention; a fear that Russia and China have expressed in justifying their vetos on Security Council Resolutions regarding Syria (Morris, 2013, p.1276; 2016, p.206). So, removing its coercive military component will allow for an expanded consensus to build around R2P, solidifying it as an international norm, increasing its breadth of cascade and depth of internalisation among states. This will ultimately lead to more consistent application of R2P and therefore more widespread and systematic protection of populations globally. 

The huge hit that R2P’s credibility took in the wake of the Libyan intervention will be deflected, allowing the doctrine to protect populations from mass atrocities into the future. It will do so by focussing on solidifying the norms around sovereign responsibilities under pillar one, providing support to states to prevent mass atrocities under pillar two, and using nonviolent means to convince states to uphold their responsibilities under pillar three. It is acknowledged that some situations, such as the 1994 Rwandan genocide, do require coercive military intervention to stop mass atrocities from occurring. Therefore, the debate around military intervention should continue outside of the R2P framework, and R2P might still be able to trigger the doctrine that will potentially come out of this debate. The content of this debate is outside the scope of this article, but Ramesh Thakur (2013, p.63) suggests that, since interventions are likely to occur in developing countries, this debate should initially take place between the governments and civil societies of developing countries, and then between developing and developed countries.

Disaggregating the military intervention component of R2P is not a panacea and is likely to be met with significant opposition. Firstly, it does not address any of the concerns about decisions to intervene militarily. However, it does prevent these concerns from impacting the R2P doctrine as a whole, thereby saving the body of the doctrine from normative contamination (Morris, 2013, p.1283).

One counterargument to this disaggregation proposal is that R2P is built on three mutually-reinforcing pillars of equal length (Welsh, 2016, p.5) and that this disaggregation would essentially be to saw off half of pillar three, causing the entire R2P edifice to collapse. R2P was born out of the urge to prevent mass atrocities such as those that occurred in Rwanda and Kosovo, atrocities that would have required military intervention to prevent. So, to remove the military intervention component would be to rob the doctrine of its core content and render it ineffectual in addressing the problems that it was designed to prevent. However, ‘the true essence of R2P is the understanding that sovereignty denotes responsibility rather than license’ (Morris, 2013, p.1283). R2P’s real power is in its normative force to encourage states and the wider international community to ensure that this responsibility is fulfilled (Morris, 2013, p.1283). Moreover, the debate around military intervention would not be jettisoned entirely, just removed from the R2P framework. The (perhaps once reasonable) desire to maintain the conceptual holism of R2P has become a demand for unattainable perfection (Morris, 2013, p.1280). 

Another counterargument is that this proposal would simply be rejected, especially by Western powers. However, there is reason to believe that disaggregating coercive military intervention from R2P would gain wide support in the UN General Assembly (Graubart, 2015, p.218). If this support was not forthcoming, a potential weaker solution could be to remove coercive military intervention from pillar three and make this the fourth pillar of R2P. This may go some way in addressing the problems with R2P that were highlighted by the case of Libya. However, considerations around the conceptual implications of this solution are outside the scope of this article. 

In light of the disastrous humanitarian situation that has resulted from the military intervention in Libya and NATO’s perceived abuse of its mandate, the future of the R2P doctrine is in question. The key lesson that should be drawn from the Libyan case is that the coercive military component must be disaggregated from R2P. The controversial debate around military intervention will rage on, but this solution will salvage the R2P doctrine, strengthening its normative force and, ultimately, allowing for more people to be protected from mass atrocities in the future. 

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India’s stand on the Responsibility to Protect: The UN Security Council and the Libya crisis

By Heena Makhija 

Heena Makhija is a student at Centre for International Politics, Organizations and Disarmament at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, undertaking an MPhil in International Organizations.

Jawaharlal Nehru’s idealism and commitment to the maintenance of international peace and security has remarkably influenced India’s response towards international conflicts. In the Security Council, in its capacity as a non-permanent member, India has been a supporter of peaceful and responsible policy decisions for conflict resolution. In the past few decades, international intervention in conflict zones for the protection of civilians from war crimes on account of the failure of domestic state machinery has been a matter of debate in mainstream academia. Though India has been one of the largest contributors to the UN Peacekeeping Missions, its approach to the idea of ‘Responsibility to Protect’ has been cautious.

This paper seeks to analyse India’s approach to the principle of ‘Responsibility to Protect’, especially with regard to where it stands in the UN Security Council discussions. The first section traces India’s evolving stance on the principle of ‘Responsibility to Protect’. The second section analyses India’s stance on the use of R2P in Libya and its reasons for abstaining in the UN Security Council voting on the issue of intervention. The third section seeks to evaluate India’s response and strategy after the military intervention in Libya. The concluding section attempts to bring out the lessons India drew from the Libyan experience and its influence on India’s present-day approach to R2P.

Humanitarian intervention, R2P and India 

Though the idea of humanitarian intervention in conflict zones has existed for decades, its conceptualization under the aegis of ‘Responsibility to Protect’ is fairly new. India, given its experience with colonialism, inherited a divided, exploited and dependent society that was vulnerable to internal dissension and external interference (Ayoob, 2004, p. 99). Therefore, India accorded utmost priority to the principles of democracy and sovereignty whilst dealing with international actors. India’s apprehensions were triggered immediately after independence, as when it referred the issue of Jammu and Kashmir to the UN Security Council, instead of a fruitful resolution, Cold War politics shadowed the UN leading to a deadlock. In the light of the Kashmir issue, Indian leadership began to resist approaching multilateral institutions to intervene in conflict areas fearing a threat to its state sovereignty (Ganguly, 2016, p. 363). India’s response to the concept of international intervention in states’ affairs has been fluctuating over the years. In the 1960s, while India was quick to defend its intervention in Goa to drive out the Portuguese by force, on the other hand, it was highly critical of the Anglo-French intervention in Egypt over the issue of the Suez Canal. At the United Nations, India actively caucused with Asian and African nations for supporting the resolution demanding compliance with the UN resolutions and a ceasefire (Nayudu, 2016). Following an idealist and moral approach, while India continued to criticize the Western bloc at international forums for its interventionist policies, India itself came under fire for its semi-interventionist conduct in its immediate neighbourhood. When the domestic turmoil in East Pakistan led to a huge influx of refugees, India argued that Pakistan’s internal conflict had become a grave concern for India’s security (Bass, 2015, p. 232). Indira Gandhi decided to intervene militarily in view of the failure of diplomatic efforts and Bangladesh emerged as an independent nation in 1971. India justified its interventionist role on the grounds of self-defence as Pakistan had initiated the war (Ganguly, 2016, p. 364). India’s armed involvement in East Pakistan in 1971 is viewed as one of the world’s foremost successful attempts at humanitarian intervention against genocide (Mehta, 2011, p. 100). Side-lining its ethical commitment to state sovereignty, India also briefly intervened in Sri Lanka’s civil war between the armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1987. Thus, despite its strong commitment to the principle of upholding state sovereignty, India’s stand was based on its own national interest and on the merit of each case. 

However, in the 1990s, several incidents of mass atrocities on civilian populations emerged. As evidence of heinous crimes against unarmed populations started surfacing in the international arena, demands for humanitarian intervention increased. No principled approach or international law existed for handling cases such as Somalia, Rwanda, and Kosovo. Disagreements emerged on whether the international community exercised a right to intervene. If yes, then how should it be carried out and under whose authority? (Evans & Sahnoun, 2002). The ‘Responsibility to Protect’, or the R2P norm, emerged from the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) report in 2001 and was codified in the World Summit Outcome document in 2005 (Bloomfield, 2015). The UN Secretary General’s 2009 Report ‘Implementing the Responsibility to Protect’ placed the three pillars of the R2P principle in the public discourse. Pillar One focused on the protection responsibilities of the state, Pillar Two dealt with international assistance and capacity-building, and Pillar Three enshrined timely and decisive response from the international community (Assembly, 2009). However, international intervention in domestic conflicts for the protection of civilians from genocide, war crimes, and ethnic conflict has been under normative criticism and contestation since its very inception (Mahdavi, 2015, pp. 8-9). 

India approached the principle of R2P with suspicion and caution. Given the international climate that favoured a decisive policy to curtail domestic atrocities, India did not resist the first two pillars of R2P as they were in coherence with India’s foreign policy. India favoured a ‘soft’ approach where policy-makers supported measures such as diplomatic missions and unarmed ceasefire monitoring missions (Bloomfield, 2015, p. 31). However, India rendered strong opposition to the third pillar of R2P, describing it as an unnecessary interference in domestic concerns of a state and a tool of powerful nations to topple over existing regimes and threaten the state sovereignty. Nirupam Sen, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations until 2009, openly voiced his criticism of the R2P principle in UN meetings and portrayed it as military humanism and re-emergence of humanitarian intervention in a new facet (Teitt, 2012, p. 200).

India’s approach as a UN Security Council non-permanent member and the Libya crisis 

In 2009, Hardeep Singh Puri, the new Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, took charge and continued to adopt a pragmatic approach to R2P. However, maintaining its firm stand on treating intervention as the last resort, India did accept the peacekeeping principle of PoC (Protection of Civilians) while stressing its preference for Pillar One and Pillar Two of R2P (Bloomfield, 2015, pp. 33-34). India was running for non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council in the forthcoming year, thus flexibility and a pragmatic stance was in coherence with its aspirations. India was selected as a non-permanent member of the Security Council in 2010 with a record result of 187 affirmatives out of 191 votes (Krause, 2016, pp. 24-25).  India entered the Security Council in 2011 as a non-permanent member after a gap of 18 years. Undoubtedly, India wanted to prove itself to be a worthy contender for a permanent seat at the horseshoe table. Adding ‘value’ to the proceedings by acting as an objective bridge between member states and active participation was a necessary medium to strengthen its claim (Mishra and Kumar, 2013). 

At the beginning of 2011, the escalating crisis in Libya was one of the crucial challenges encountered by the Security Council. Rebellion groups under the umbrella of ‘Arab Spring’ that had engulfed the Middle East revolted against Muammar Gaddafi, leading to a civil war in the country (Shrivastav, 2011, p. 3) The matter was brought to UN Security Council’s attention by a faction of revolting Libyan officials as reports of gross violations of human rights and a crackdown on civilians began surfacing. Gaddafi already had a turbulent history as sanctions were imposed over his role in the 1988 terrorist attack on the Pan American Flight 103 (Puri, 2016, pp. 59-60). The public opinion was full of rage and contempt for the Libyan leader and there was ample evidence that mass atrocities were being inflicted on the civilians by the state. 

Resolution 1970 was passed by the UN Security Council on 26th February 2011 after a marathon 12-hour session (Puri, 2016, p. 69). The resolution called for an end to violence in Libya with immediate effect, an arms embargo, and referred the conflict to the International Criminal Court (ICC). India, along with China, Brazil, and South Africa had their reservations about the ICC referral and favoured a calibrated approach of first threatening with a referral in a future date (Puri, 2016, p. 71). Despite the initial reservations, India went ahead and voted in favour of resolution 1970. India’s affirmative stand can be attributed to two major reasons. First, India was at the table after a long hiatus and abstaining or voting negatively on an issue of heinous crimes against civilians while international community including African and Non-Aligned Movement nations favoured strict action, it would have served as a setback for India’s aspirations. Secondly, closer ties with the United States might have had a role to play in shaping India’s decision (Ganguly, 2016).  

In March 2011, the UN Under-Secretary-General stated that the Gaddafi Regime was using heavy artillery and air and naval assets against civilians and rebels (Puri, 2016, p. 81). This marked the onset of an official intervention in Libya through Resolution 1973 and the US encouraged promulgating Chapter VII of the UN charter for authorizing the use of force. Resolution 1973 was adopted by the Security Council on 17th March 2011, with 5 members – Brazil, Russia, China, India, and Germany – abstaining (Puri, 2016, p. 90). Resolution 1973 was one of the most debated and controversial decisions in the history of R2P (Bellamy, 2011). India, though voted in favour of Resolution 1970, abstained from voting on Resolution 1973. In order to understand the reasons behind India abstention, it is necessary to understand the contents of Resolution 1973. As stated in the official press release of the UN Security Council (2011),

Demanding an immediate ceasefire in Libya, including an end to the current attacks against civilians, which it said might constitute “crimes against humanity”, the Security Council this evening imposed a ban on all flights in the country’s airspace — a no-fly zone — and tightened sanctions on the Gaddafi regime and its supporters. Adopting resolution 1973 (2011) by a vote of 10 in favour to none against, with 5 abstentions (Brazil, China, Germany, India, Russian Federation), the Council authorized Member States, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory — requesting them to immediately inform the Secretary-General of such measures.

As Indian representative Hardeep Singh Puri pointed out, India was highly skeptical of the ground realities in Libya and in absence of official clarification it did not want to take any decision in haste. Moreover, the mandate of the UN and ceasefire procedures to be implemented were vague and threatened the sovereignty of Libyans. India was also deeply concerned about the safety of its nationals in Libya, as only a third of them had been evacuated (Puri, 2016, p. 85). Internationally, India did not want to support a resolution that might lead to a regime change and escalate the crisis in absence of any certainty on how a military intervention would shape. Domestic concerns also played a pivotal role in shaping India’s stand. Supporting a precedent that validates intervention might have backfired given the conflicts and secessionist tendencies within India. Also, aiding the Western democracies to intervene in a Muslim state carried a threat of backlash from the Muslim population within India (Ganguly, 2016). Since there was no clarity about the end goals of this operation, it would have been difficult for the Indian government to justify its support for this resolution to its coalition partners and domestic constituencies (Shrivastav, 2011). 

Despite numerous justifications for abstaining on Resolution 1973, some critics consider it to be a lost opportunity where India could have supported the Western powers and substantiated its claim of being a compelling democratic rising power in the international fora (Ganguly, 2016, p. 369). India is also criticized for ‘inaction’ and its unwillingness to take strong decisions and act as a responsible power (Pillai, 2012). However, the critics must take into consideration that not following the West on a resolution that was against India’s ethical foreign policy approach as well as its national interest, India exercised its autonomy in foreign affairs. Moreover, India did vote in favour of Resolution 1970, thus its commitment to the protection of civilians in Libya cannot be questioned (Shrivastav, 2011). Though India had serious concerns about the procedures to be adopted under Resolution 1973, it still abstained from voting rather than putting in a negative vote, thus paving the way for the passing of resolution without acting as a hindrance. A liberal approach of supporting democracy and protection of human rights guided India’s policy as India’s abstention achieved a middle ground – it did not degrade its relations with the West or the Arab world (Bloomfield, 2015, p. 41).

India’s response post-Libya intervention

As soon as Resolution 1973 passed, NATO warplanes surrounded Libyan airspace dropping their lethal arsenal. Indiscriminate bombing and full-scale military intervention made it very clear to the international community that the resolution aimed at regime change rather than putting an end to the cycle of violence.  Resolution 1973 had five major goals – a ceasefire with the mediation of the African Union, use of all necessary means to protect civilians, a no-fly zone, an arms embargo, and targeted sanctions. Notably, with the passing of the resolution, members of NATO side-lined the African Union and the sole focus was on the use of all necessary means by bombing Libya (Puri, 2016, p. 92). Within a month, it became clear to the Indian policymakers that NATO was pursuing a regime change in Libya (Puri, 2016, p. 103).

India was highly critical of the way the operation was unfolding in Libya. In the subsequent Security Council meetings, Indian UN Representative Hardeep Singh Puri was actively denouncing the manner in which Resolution 1973 was being implemented. In a sharp exchange of words in April 2011, he pointed to the Council that the reports showcased arming of the rebel groups by the NATO forces. It was also increasingly clear that the goal of regime change was getting the better of all objectives, but that was neither mentioned per se in Resolution 1973 nor was it approved by the Security Council (Puri, 2016, p. 102). He concluded that Libya gave a bad name and raised serious questions about the credibility of the principle of R2P. Violation of human rights did not appear to be the reason for intervention in the state affairs, rather deeper strategic issues such as oil fields and incompatible leadership emerged as motivating factors for the operation (Khandekar, 2015, p. 121). NATO’s military action in Libya followed the official passage of Resolution 1973, setting a dangerous example on how the official channels were used to authorize an operation that did not end the violence or civil strife in Libya rather it sowed seeds for a turbulent future in the region.

As the Libyan crisis broke out, though India was voicing its opposition, it came under scrutiny within India from media, public, and the opposition who actively analysed India’s stand on the matter. Indian media was quick to point out the direct impact of Libyan crisis on the oil prices and the plight of Indians who were still stranded in the war-torn country (Bloomfield, 2015, p. 9). Policymakers extensively questioned India’s abstention on the resolution. Left-oriented parties with their anti-Western rhetoric saw India’s inability to vote against the resolution as its failure to give structure to its anti-imperial foreign policy ideals (Chishti, 2011). On the other hand, realists pointed out that India might not be willing to intervene directly in the internal affairs of states but its support for the resolution that might stabilize the region would have served its long-term interests in international forums (Rajamohan, 2011). 

It was evidently clear for India that the UN Security Council resolution 1973 was not implemented and formulated in a way that was in sync with the noble cause of R2P. As a policy approach, the Libyan experience brought back India’s serious concerns with Pillar Three of R2P. India did try to mould its position by voting in favour of Resolution 1970, but the aftermath of NATO’s intervention in Libya made India reiterate its initial hostility towards Pillar Three. India’s long-standing scepticism about the Western powers and the limited ability of a military intervention to solve humanitarian crisis were validated by the Libyan experience (Krause, 2016). 

India and the future of R2P

Resolution 1973 advanced the debate on the principle and implementation of R2P. In hindsight, it is possible that the Security Council might not have authorized the resolution had it known that it would be used in a selective manner for military action in Libya (Puri, 2016, p. 103). India’s fears were proven right with the breakdown of the Libyan state after the intervention. During its two-year stint as the non-permanent member of the Security Council, India maintained a calculated and pragmatic approach towards intra-state conflicts. With respect to R2P, India’s lessons learned from Libya’s experience were clearly visible in its approach to the crisis in Syria. It was very evident that critics of the resolution 1973 were not going to throw Syria down the same road. In October 2011, when a resolution to condemn the actions of Bashar-al-Assad in Syria was put for vote in the UN Security Council, China and Russia used their veto and India abstained with a view to prevent any further Western intervention. India was not in denial of the disturbing situation in Syria but wanted to pursue a calibrated approach. It is evident from the fact that under the presidency of India, the UN Security Council issued an initial statement on Syria that condemned the use of force on the civilians by the authorities (Puri, 2016). 

Towards the end of its term, India did vote in favour of putting non-military sanctions against the Assad regime, but Russia and China continue to use their vetoes to block the resolutions. Overall, during its term in the UN Security Council, India depicted active support for the first two pillars of R2P. It never voted in negative and fluctuated between abstaining and voting in favour of the resolutions. India was clear about not endorsing any narrowly worded document that might be twisted by the Western nations as it happened in Libya (Bloomfield, 2015). At the beginning of 2013, with the rise of the Islamic State as the situation in the Middle East took a critical turn, it became evidently clear that the means to implement R2P had not succeeded in Libya. 

If we analyse India’s role in the Libyan conflict and larger debate on R2P, it had been wise on India’s part to remain on the side-lines. Libya was a test case and its outcome rightly hardened India’s aversive stance to the idea of military intervention in conflict zones. It also paved way for a renewed debate on the concept of R2P. India argued that responsibility does not end with a military response. When the principle is applied, it must respect the fundamental aspects of the UN Charter including the sovereignty and integrity of member states (Mishra and Kumar, 2013). Thus, India supported the Brazilian proposal for the ‘Responsibility while Protecting’ (Krause, 2016, p. 35). Protection of civilians from autocratic and abusive regimes is undoubtedly essential, but it should not compromise on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state.  

To conclude, India’s initial critical stance towards the principle of R2P softened in the prelude to its membership of the UN Security Council in 2011. Whether it was the international pressure or the desire to take a strong stand, India though maintained its practical demeanour, it did flirt with the idea and partially supported Pillar Three of the R2P. The disastrous outcomes of the NATO intervention in Libya where regime change and Western aspirations overshadowed the positive dimensions that R2P aimed to achieve, brought India back to its calculated and cautious approach. In the post-2012 scenario, India has time and again stressed the anomalies in the system of international intervention aspect of R2P. As a post-colonial state, India, especially after the Libyan experience, finds it difficult to endorse Western interventionist policies. Though India asserts the highest value to the territorial integrity of a state, India’s stand on R2P cannot be consistent and might fluctuate on the case to case basis in the future, keeping in mind its national interest and aspirations (Ganguly, 2016).

Bibliography

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[Accessed 5 April 2017].

The Responsibility to Protect in the Libyan Intervention: Ultimate Success or International Failure?

Caitlyn Duke, The University of Queensland, Australia

Caitlyn is a third year BA/LLB student at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, majoring in Peace and Conflict Studies. She works as a Paralegal in the Projects team at King&Wood Mallesons.

The 2011 intervention in Libya was the first time the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) authorised the use of force, couched in the norm of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), against the wishes of a functioning state. This application of R2P, implemented through UNSC Resolution 1973 and led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), was ultimately a failure. Although the NATO forces succeeded in protecting Libyan civilians from the violent regime, the motivations behind the intervention were not aligned with the ideological principles of the R2P norm, as NATO intervened with the intention to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi’s authoritarian regime. This paper will seek to first explain the R2P norm, followed by a consideration of the political environment within which it was applied in Libya in 2011. It will conclude with a critical analysis of NATO’s interpretation of UNSC Resolution 1973.

Assessing the Responsibility to Protect Success in Libya

UNSC resolution 1973 is considered by many (see Garwood-Gowers, 2013) to be a key example of R2P in action. Formally defined by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) in 2001, the R2P is ‘premised on the idea that sovereign states not only have the primary responsibility to protect their peoples, they also have a collective extra-territorial responsibility to protect populations from mass atrocities everywhere’ (Nuruzzaman 2013, p.58). In 2005, when the recommendations of the ICISS report and the notion of R2P were formally debated by the UN General Assembly, the norm was refined to ‘the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means … to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity’ (United Nations General Assembly 2005, paragraphs 138-39). Further, in January 2009 a report by the Secretary-General titled Implementing the Responsibility to Protectoutlined a three-pillar strategy for advancing the agenda mandated by the Heads of State and Government at the 2005 Summit: Pillar I is ‘the enduring responsibility of the State to protect its populations’, Pillar II, ‘the commitment of the international community to assist states in meeting those obligations’, and Pillar III denotes ‘the responsibility of Member States to respond collectively in a timely and decisive manner when a State is manifestly failing to provide such protection’ (UN General Assembly, 2009,  A/63/677).

According to Thakur, ‘Libya, in 2011, provided an opportunity to convert the noble sentiments and solemn promise of R2P into meaningful action’ (2011, p.15). It was thus through the lens of the refined definition that the UNSC passed Resolution 1973, which authorised Member States to ‘take all necessary measures’ to protect civilians who were under threat of imminent attack in Libya, and also implemented a no-fly zone over the conflict areas of Libya (UN Resolution 1973). Although there is no explicit reference to R2P in the operative provisions, the preamble to the resolution states that the UNSC ‘reiterates the responsibility of the Libyan authorities to protect the Libyan population’ (UNSC, 2011).  This sets the tone for a clear theme of R2P throughout the operative provisions of the resolution.  Importantly, Resolution 1973 was the first time the UNSC authorised intervention without host state consent (Bellamy, 2011).[1]

The swift implementation of UNSC Resolution 1973 was necessary as the situation in Libya was continually deteriorating. The 2011 Libyan crisis was essentially an uprising against the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who had led Libya for over forty years after a successful military coup on 1st September 1969 (Joffé, 2013). Gaddafi led Libya via a political system of his own creation known as a Jamahiriya (a ‘state of the masses’), whereby the people were theoretically sovereign (Joffė, 2011). Libyan citizens governed by expressing their views at small local gatherings and voting on matters at Basic People’s Congresses, which would then progress to the national General People’s Committee. However, in practice, only 10 per cent of Libyan people exercised their right of direct democracy over the Libyan body politic (Joffé, 2013). Through this system, Gaddafi technically had no ‘political, administrative, and traditional duties’ (Hajjar, 1980, p.185), yet he still ruled Libya with an iron fist, made all important decisions himself, and retained all power within a small state elite (Vandewalle, 2011). Brahimi explains that the ‘the formal administrative structures [of the Jamahiriya] merely served as vehicles for executing the policies that emerged from the informal structures controlled by Gaddafi’ (2011, p.607). Colonel Gaddafi’s novel system of governance is critical to an analysis of the pre-conflict environment because Libya had no formal centralised government, thus there was no avenue for democratic accountability or opposition to the oppressive regime. Further, it was difficult for the UN to negotiate an R2P operation under the Secretary-General’s proposed second pillar of R2P, assistance, as Colonel Gaddafi was not formally the sovereign leader of Libya. This meant that Gaddafi, in his self-proclaimed position as Guide of the Revolution, was the most powerful person in the Jamahiriya while simultaneously being the most sheltered (Hajjar, 1980, p.198). Yet, as Brahimi states, ‘there was some irony to the fact that Colonel Gaddafi’s regime was brought to the brink of collapse by the sort of popular grassroots politics he himself had rhetorically championed’ (2011, p.605).

The violent civil war in Libya began with peaceful demonstrations by the Libyan people, which were heavily influenced by the Arab Spring protests spreading from Tunisia to Egypt and beyond (Bellamy, 2011, p.838). The difference was that rather than surrender power, as the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt had done, Gaddafi responded with force (Daalder, 2012). The protests began after human rights lawyer Fathi Terbil was arrested on February 15th, Terbil himself explaining in a BBC interview that the demand for rights grew once ‘the security services used violence to deal with the demonstrators, killing or wounding many of them’ (Terbil, 2011). This violent response of the Libyan government soon escalated, with reports that the regime’s forces were ‘using tanks and warplanes against the demonstrators, and executing those officers who refused to deploy the instruments of the state against its people’ (Brahimi, 2011, p.606). Further, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported on ‘ill-treatment, beatings, injuries, rapes, torture, killings, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests of protesters including lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists’ (Ulfstein, 2013, p.159).

It became clear to the international community that the situation had reached critical levels when Gaddafi began to employ genocidal language, described by some as the ‘most candid statements of the kind from any government since the Rwandan genocide of 1994’ (Lynch, 2011, p.68). During an address on national television, Gaddafi proclaimed, ‘officers have been deployed in all tribes and regions so that they can purify all decisions from these cockroaches’ and ‘any Libyan who takes arms against Libya will be executed’ (ABC, 2011). It was evident from the government’s continued violent actions and the utilisation of such language, that the security of the Libyan people was at risk. The UNSC passed Resolution 1970 on February 26 2011, which called on Member States to make available humanitarian assistance in Libya, and ‘expressed its readiness to consider taking additional appropriate measures as necessary to achieve that’ (United Nations, 2011). But it was not until Resolution 1973 that the UNSC authorised action under the third pillar of the R2P.

By adopting Resolution 1973, the UNSC sought to protect the Libyan population, one of the core principles of the R2P. NATO, as a coalition of Member States, had the authorisation to act under the mandate of this resolution, and as such was the primary body enforcing its provisions (Ulfstein Geir, 2013). In the wake of the Libyan conflict, the New York Times, describing the operation as a ‘true alliance effort’, reported,  ‘NATO’s success was swift – saving tens of thousands of Libyan lives, grounding Gaddafi’s air force, and watching Libya’s coast’ (Daalder and James, 2011). The timely response was effective, directly correlating with the Pillar III obligation to initiate R2P operations in a timely and decisive manner. Then US Representative to the UN, Susan Rice, agreed, stating ‘I can’t remember a time in recent memory when the Council has acted to swiftly, so decisively, and in unanimity on an urgent matter of international human rights’ (cited in Dunne and Gifkins, 2011, p.522). NATO weakened the Gaddafi forces through repeated attacks, greatly assisting the rebel’s efforts. On this basis, the operations in Libya succeeded in ‘protecting civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya’ (UN Security Council, 2011), as was mandated in the resolution.

Unfortunately, the alleged success of the NATO operation in Libya is undermined by the underlying agenda behind the intervention. After resolution 1973 was passed by the UN, Gareth Evans wrote in a newspaper column:

Legally, morally, politically and militarily [the intervention] has only one justification: protecting to the extent possible the country’s people… When that job is done, the military’s job will be done. Any regime change is for the Libyan people themselves to achieve (Evans, 2011)

In spite of this assertion, the NATO forces appear to have been fighting not solely to protect the Libyan population, but to ultimately remove the Gaddafi regime. NATO interpreted Resolution 1973 as giving permission for a wide range of military activities. Within forty-eight hours of the resolution being passed, armed forces from the US, France, Britain, Canada and other NATO members conducted aerial bombings against Libyan military and intelligence corporations, which continued daily for the next eight months (Keating, 2013). The bombings were widespread and received continuing criticism for their severity. Russia, in particular, brought attention to the civilian casualties that resulted from the air strikes, while China expressed a similar dissatisfaction with an ‘arbitrary interpretation’ of the Resolution (Bellamy and Williams, 2011, p.31).

NATO was also clearly in favour of a regime change because of their explicit support of the rebels’ efforts. Not only were rebel forces trained in combat by French and British intelligence agencies and foreign military advisors (Ulfstein, 2013), but French forces also allegedly provided arms to Libyan rebels. These actions were deemed by the Russian Foreign Minister to be ‘a very crude violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1970’ (BBC News, 2011), which had established an arms embargo for Libya. In March, an opinion piece in the New York Times reported that ‘Western powers were now attacking the Libyan Army in retreat, a far cry from the UN mandate to establish a no-fly zone to protect civilians’ (Kuperman, 2013, p.114). Kuperman asserts that the assistance NATO supplied to the rebels who sought to overthrow Gaddafi was at odds with UNSC intentions, and instead extended the war and magnified the harm to civilians (2013, p.114). The reason NATO operations manifestly failed is because the use of force without the consent of the host state should primarily be about protecting the lives of innocent civilians. Yet, as India’s former ambassador to the UN, Hardeep Singh Puri, said, NATO instead became the armed wing of the Security Council, ‘dedicated not to protecting civilians in Benghazi but to overthrowing the government in Tripoli’ (cited in Nuruzzaman, 2013, p.64).

The regime in Libya was evidently one which violated human rights and imposed unfair living standards on its constituents. Therefore, the intentions of the NATO operation in removing the Gaddafi regime were at least in part marked by good intentions to protect Libyan citizens. However, attempting regime change is a misapplication of the R2P norm and contradicts international norms of state sovereignty. Further, although not explicitly endorsed by the UN at the 2005 World Summit, the original ICISS report recommended that when acting under the R2P, states should commit to a ‘responsibility to rebuild’, whereby intervening States should ‘provide full assistance with recovery, reconstruction and reconciliation, addressing the causes of the harm the intervention was designed to halt or avert’ (ICISS, 2001, p.XI). NATO and UN Member States manifestly failed to assist Libya with this process in the wake of the intervention and the ensuing Libyan civil war. Nuruzzaman explains that after Gaddafi was killed by rebel forces, all that remained was ‘a hell of lawlessness, with 125,000 armed militias who have continued to control different parts of the country and clash against each other’ (2013, p.64).

Conclusion

The R2P reflects a dedication to the protection of populations from mass atrocity crimes. When the UNSC implemented the R2P in Libya through Resolution 1973, this was its original intention. The Gaddafi regime had resorted to intensive violence and used genocidal language during the Libyan civil war. However, the underlying motivation to remove the Gaddafi regime fuelled the NATO operation in Libya. This is in clear misalignment with the ideological principles of the R2P, thus constituting a failure of the norm in Libya.  As Keating (2013, p.175) asserts, this failure ‘through the military focus on inappropriate means and inappropriate ends creates an unfortunate precedent that has the potentially to fatally weaken the concept of R2P’. This precedent has arguably already begun to reverberate throughout current conflicts, with some academics reflecting on the failure in Libya and its impacts for the current situation in Syria (Morris, 2013; Nuruzzaman, 2013). One can only hope that the R2P, which aims to protect people from the most serious crimes, will be applied more appropriately in the future.

[1] Although the UN similarly authorised the United Task force to enter Somalia, this was ‘in the absence of a central government rather than against one’ (Bellamy & Williams 2011, p.825)

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