Libya: war or humanitarian intervention?

There is a difference between war and humanitarian intervention, or
as I prefer to call it, a human security intervention. The current
attacks on Libya, like the NATO air strikes over Yugoslavia in 1999, are
intended for humanitarian ends, the protection of civilians but the
means are those of war. Certainly the United Nations Security Council
Resolution 1973 was a huge achievement just in time to prevent Gaddafi
forces from overrunning Benghazi.

The resolution called on member states
and regional organizations to ‘take all necessary measures... to
protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in
the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a
foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory’.

are military attacks from the air an appropriate means?  As Amr Moussa,
Secretary General of the Arab League and potential candidate for
Egyptian President, put it (even though he later retracted):  ‘What is
happening in Libya differs from the aim of a no-fly zone. What we want
is the protection of civilians not the bombardment of more civilians.’

risks of war are several. First, people get killed - mostly soldiers
like those on the road to Benghazi, but also those very people who are
supposed to be protected - namely civilians, however hard western forces
try to be precise. So far there have been no substantiated reports of
civilian casualties although plenty of soldiers have been killed in air
attacks on Gaddafi forces. Secondly, infrastructure is likely to be
damaged, greatly increasing material hardship. And thirdly, war is
always polarising, constructing extreme versions of ‘we’ and ‘them’. The
spectacle of dramatic air strikes with hundreds of cruise missiles and
advanced aircraft is bound to galvanise the population in Tripoli behind
Gaddafi. The fact that these attacks are reminiscent of the 1986 air
strikes help to give substance to Gaddafi’s anti-imperialist narrative.

speaking, there are three possible scenarios of what might happen. The
best scenario is that Gaddafi is removed and democracy is established.
This could happen as a result of continued rebel advances and the
implosion of the Gaddafi camp. The difficulty is that the attacks
themselves, whether by western forces or by rebels, tend to strengthen
the cohesion of Gaddafi supporters. Forceful regime change tends to make
democratic processes harder to achieve because of the political
divisions among the population. A second probably more likely scenario
is a freezing of the current division between east and west Libya with
occasional skirmishes between the two.

And the third scenario
which could be the result of both of the first two scenarios is, as in
Iraq, a protracted ‘new war’. The regime is weak and the rebels lack
state infrastructure. Gaddafi loyalists are likely to form a backbone of
any future insurgency. Already the country is awash with arms.
Criminals have been released from gaols. Oil can be used to finance
unscrupulous networks and gangs who profit from chaos through smuggling,
hostage-taking and the like. For the moment, the revolution of ordinary
people who only want freedom and honesty has sidelined the extremists.
But, as the confrontation drags on, the revolt is bound to drift further
and further away from its civic origins. Gaddafi’s claim that Al-Qaeda
would benefit from the revolt could become self-fulfilling as the
disorder typical of failed states provides an entrée for a range of
fanatical political agendas.

Human security intervention

what would have been a human security intervention? From a human
security perspective, the appropriate course of action is to protect
civilians throughout Libya and guarantee their right to peaceful
protest. The first task should have been to declare Benghazi and the
liberated areas a UN Protected Area or safe haven. International
peace-keepers would have had to be deployed to help protect the
liberated areas. Humanitarian and reconstruction assistance and support
for a democratic political process would also have to be provided so
that the liberated areas could provide poles of attraction for other
parts of the country. The peace-keepers would defend the protected areas
robustly; they would not attack Gaddafi forces but, given the
opportunity, they would try to arrest those indicted by the ICC. They
would, of course, need air protection and indeed what has happened
already helps to provide conditions for a safe haven. But this is
different from relying on military attacks from the air alone.

is true that the Security Council Resolution excludes ‘foreign
occupation forces’ and the rebels themselves have said that they do not
want foreign occupation. But the deployment of international
peacekeepers, both military, police and civilians, especially if they
were drawn from Arab and Africans countries as well as Europe and
America, could not be construed as such. The aim would be to damp down
violence so that protests can be peaceful rather than to support one
side militarily creating the conditions for long term violence.

argument against this approach is that it would have led to the second
scenario – freezing the conflict rather than overthrowing Gaddafi. But
in the end the prospects for democracy depend on whether the rebels can
mobilise support politically throughout Libya. This is much more likely
if violence can be damped down. The problem with the military approach
is that it entrenches division and makes political victory more
difficult. If the Gaddafi regime is overthrown by force, the division is
likely to persist, leading to a ‘new war’ rather than democracy.

course, safe havens bring back memories of Srebrenica, where the UN
failed to defend a safe haven and 8000 men and boys were massacred. The
lesson of Srebrenica is not, however, that safe havens were a bad idea.
It is that safe havens need to be defended properly. If we are to
address ‘new wars’ in the future, the UN needs to have sufficient
capabilities to be able to provide human security – to protect
individuals and the communities in which they live. This means large
scale human security capabilities consisting of military, civilian and
police personnel, led by a civilian and available to the United Nations.
Such capabilities would also require capabilities for air support and
maritime transport but tailored to human security needs, rather than
expensive systems designed for traditional military contingencies.

human security capabilities is an urgent task not only for Libya but
other regions of the world like Cote d’Ivoire or Somalia of the
Democratic Republic of Congo. Military leaders often make the point that
we need the ‘high end’ war-fighting equipment that is a legacy of the
Cold War. They argue that it can be used for other contingencies. But
quite apart from the cost of such equipment, time and again our knee
jerk reaction to crisis is air strikes because that is what we have the
capability to do.

The tragic events unfolding in Libya today
represent a pivotal historic moment. People and rulers across the region
are following, with bated breath, the news of heroism and savagery
trickling out of Libya as well as the world’s reactions to them. If the
world gets this wrong, there are real risks that a ‘new war’ on Europe’s
doorsteps could embolden counter-revolutionary groups in Tunisia and
Egypt, not to mention Bahrein and Yemen. There is a growing security gap
that arises from the inappropriateness of our capabilities to meet
contemporary security needs be they ‘new wars’, terrorism, piracy or
natural disasters like the Japanese earthquake. Our preoccupation with
classic military means is undermining our capacity to address growing
insecurity and this can only get worse as economic crisis and climate
change exacerbate social tensions.

Mary Kaldor is Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of Global Governance and a Professor of Global Governance at the London School of Economics. This article has been reproduced under a Creative Commons licence from


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