Abstract: While the normative and legal aspects of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine have been explored in great detail, scholars have largely overlooked the more practical question of whether and how international military action can avert mass atrocities. To shed light on this question, this article investigates the ‘strategic logic’ of preventive humanitarian intervention, or the assumed link between external military action and the desired outcome of preventing or stopping mass killing. It contends that there are five fundamental and seemingly irremediable tensions in this logic, all of which cast doubt on the feasibility of preventive humanitarian intervention and on the long-term prospects of R2P.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute Quarterly Review.
The grotesque display of Muammar Qaddafi’s bloodied corpse in Sirte, Libya, where he was captured and killed, and later in a Misrata meat locker, did little to build confidence in the commitment of Libya’s rebels to due process and the rule of law. It did, however, represent a clear culmination of the Libyan revolution. In recent years, we have seen few civil wars end with such devastatingly definitive victories.
This outcome also provided some vindication to Western leaders who initially pressed for military action last March, when Qaddafi threatened to overrun the city of Benghazi and to send his forces door to door to hunt down regime opponents. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron led the calls for action. US President Barack Obama eventually joined their cause and lent America’s diplomatic weight to the task of achievin...
If the situation in Libya seems messy, just wait until the war ends. Transitions to democracy can be nasty, brutish and long.
No one knows, for example, how Libya's rebels will behave if and when Moammar Gadhafi loses power. The Benghazi-based Transitional National Council has pledged to initiate a constitution-drafting process leading to elections, to respect the rights of all Libyans and to refrain from reprisal attacks against Gadhafi loyalists. This looks great on paper, but can the rebel council actually deliver on these promises?
Col. Gadhafi could fall suddenly, unleashing a chaotic scramble for control of Tripoli. Rebel unity and discipline may be sorely tested in the absence of their common enemy. Preventing violent score-settling will be an early priority. The last thing Libya needs is for former Gadhafi supporters to become permanent enemies of the state.
The model should be South Africa's post-apartheid transition, which embraced reconciliation, not Iraq's...