The strong case for the Libyan intervention, and two reservations
OpenDemocracy has published online two excellent articles stating the case for the current humanitarian intervention in Libya from a left-of-centre, reasoned and humane point of view: one by Anthony Barnett (the founder of openDemocracy and now the Co-Editor of its UK section, Our Kingdom) and the other by Professor Juan Cole, entitled “An Open Letter to the Left on Libya“. Both should be required reading for anyone, especially anyone on the left, who has misgivings about this operation. Some, but not all, of the comments appended to them are also helpful and informative. I have two reservations about their comprehensively argued case for the defence, which I have set out in the following comment on the articles:
These are two excellent and persuasive articles, if I may respectfully say so. I offer just two reservations. First, I see no reason why Britain needed to take part in this particular military intervention. The facts that the UK is a permanent member of the Security Council and co-sponsored and voted for the UN resolution can’t imply an obligation to take part in every activity approved by the Council; we were major contributors to the Iraq intervention (unfortunately!) and are still major contributors in Afghanistan; our defence resources are badly over-stretched already; and the most vulnerable people in our own country are being subjected to an almost unprecedentedly savage programme of cuts and retrenchment by a cynically ideology-driven government. Against that background, for us to spend millions of pounds on an open-ended commitment in Libya seems to me impossible to justify, and quite unnecessary. There are plenty of other countries willingly taking part in the Libyan intervention and our contribution is very far from being crucial to the success of the operation (whatever ‘success’ might mean).
Secondly, I have a nasty feeling that the very first operative paragraph of the UN Security Council’s authorising resolution, UNSCR 1973, is in danger of being overlooked in the coalition’s enthusiasm for knocking out Gaddafi’s tanks and guns in support of the rebellion:
“1. Demands the immediate establishment of a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians; …”
What steps are we taking to seek a settlement involving the departure of Gaddafi, a ceasefire and the establishment of a transitional authority for the whole of Libya including representatives of Gaddafi’s tribe (and perhaps even of his existing government, other than himself) as well as of the rebels, so that the killing can stop sooner rather than later? The Turks are said to be trying to mediate with Gaddafi, and I suppose the UN Secretary-General must be doing something to try to implement the primary purpose of the resolution — a cease-fire and end to attacks on civilians — but I haven’t seen any UK or US government activity in that area. If there’s even the faintest possibility of a settlement (perhaps with a UN-sponsored peace-keeping force from middle eastern and African countries, predominantly Muslim) instead of continuing the bombing and rocketing until there’s no-one left standing, we surely should be making every effort to explore it. Meanwhile the mission to protect civilians is visibly morphing into a military campaign in support of the rebels. This risks losing the invaluable support, or anyway acquiescence, of much of the Arab world as well as imposing strains on the cohesion of both NATO and the EU.
But I salute both the Barnett and the Cole articles as definitive and watertight statements of the case for this particular humanitarian intervention.