Friday, March 18, 2011

Why action in Libya is needed

The United Nations' Security Council has come together and passed a resolution supporting a no-fly zone over Libya. (Details here.) This is welcome news.

Many accept John Stuart Mill's views on intervention: unless a conflict were to potentially spread beyond a state's borders, any civil conflict is a matter for that political body alone to deal with and others should not interfere. There are many reasons why this doctrine of non-intervention is popular.

One reason is the need for the people to lead and take responsibility for their own struggle. Such actions may help contribute to a greater sense of purpose and solidarity among the citizenry, something that may be lost when others fight these battles for them.

A second reason is the continuing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq: who wants to engage in another conflict?

I believe we should support the idea of a no-fly zone. First, the fact that troops may be stretched because of other conflicts is not a green light to other regimes that anything goes. At last, Western coutries are doing what they should have done all along and sought the full agreement of Middle Eastern leaders for action. A world in which we all act together is a world where each need not contribute as much as costs are shared.

Secondly, the no-fly zone still allows the Libyan resistance to fight for themselves and engage in their struggle. The difference is not that the Western allies (perhaps with the help of Egypt) will "win" any conflict for the resistance, but that the resistance can be fought without a more real threat of massacre. The state will normally have many advantages both in trained personnel and military technology against an active citizenry: I am with those who believe that the best way to support resistance is not to use violent means (fighting such a game against a better armed state is troublesome), but peaceful means -- these are resources the people will have in greater supply. In any event, armed attack from fighter aircraft against largely unarmed citizenry is an aggression too far. It is one thing that a people have a right to protest, even perhaps to revolution: it is another thing to say that it is permissible for any state to adopt whatever means it would like to crush popular movements.

This is not to say that Libya's resistance movement will win -- it may not, even if we hope that it does. What it does mean is that state's must accept certain constraints relating to human rights, such as a right against genocide. If a state can only maintain power by fighting to "the last bullet" moving "house to house" than it is a state that has lost all genuine sovereignty. It is time this truth reached Libya.

While any military conflict is always an occasion to regret, let us allow the Libyans to determine their future for themselves -- but without the threat of air attacks.


Alan said...

Very well said Thom. World resources are stretched to the breaking point, but we should never close our ears to the cries of the oppressed, and do what we can.

The Brooks Blog said...

Many thanks for these kind words, Alan. While I opposed both attacks on Iraq, I do agree with a no-fly zone around Libya. This does not hand victory to rebels nor ensures Gaddafi's departure, but it will help guarantee that any civil conflict -- however horrific -- might not be the slaughter it could have been if a no-fly zone had not come into being. In an imperfect world come imperfect (but justifiable) decisions...