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Ending the Odyssey: A Proposal For Restoring the Peace in Libya - PART 2

BY: David Weinczok | Category: Politics | Submitted: 2011-04-12 18:56:59
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Article Summary: "The international intervention in Libya was launched with the primary mandate of protecting civilians under threat from Gadhafi's armed forces. What has paradoxically resulted are increasingly desperate conditions across the entire northern region of the the country. This paper proposes a necessary, if imperfect, course of actio.."


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An especially intriguing development emerged on April 11th, when Gadhafi appeared to have accepted a tentative "road map to peace" offered by a delegation of the African Union headed by South African President Jacob Zuma . The proposal was unambiguous about the need for an immediate ceasefire from both sides, but fell far short of the rebel's expectations. For one, it did not require a withdrawal of Gadhafi's military from urban centres in spite of the ceasefire, a non-starter for the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) . Secondly, the rebels had seen this happen before, when Gadhafi agreed to a ceasefire on March 18th upon commencement of 'Odyssey Dawn' only to unflinchingly continue the march of his armoured columns towards Benghazi and lay siege to it. Reports within the preceding forty-eight hours of Gadhafi's agreement to the AU proposal had confirmed the destruction of as many as twenty five of his military vehicles, including tanks, by a series of heavy NATO air strikes - perhaps making the Colonel more willing to negotiate if only as a short-term tactic of damage reduction . Gadhafi's willingness to abide by the African Union's terms is, as many have observed, complicated by the political influence of Libya in the Union, with the state providing as much as fifteen percent of the international body's funding and holding significant investments in many of Africa's poorest countries . However, all the 'what ifs' surrounding this development were soon rendered moot, as only hours later the leadership of the TNC rejected the AU plan, with spokesman Mustafa Jabril calling it "outdated" and stating that "the demand of our people from day one was that Gaddafi [sic] must step down ... any initiative which does not include this key popular demand will not be regarded" . That, it seems, is the bottom line, for distrust now runs too deep among the rebels for an option which allows Gadhafi or members of his direct family to retain power. "The world has seen these offers of ceasefires before" said Shamsiddin Abdulmolah, another TNC spokesperson, "and within 15 minutes [Gadhafi] starts shooting again" . Significantly, however, the TNC has expressed a willingness to negotiate peaceful, democratic reforms with other senior members of the Gadhafi regime, on the strict condition that Gadhafi and his sons leave the country.

With these developments in mind, let us now consider the justifications for the foreign intervention in Libya, and question whether or not this action has achieved the intended result of protecting civilians and facilitating a peace process.

'Pragmatic Pacifism' and the Case for Intervention in Libya

Most people, observes David Cortright, are inclined towards a relatively pacifist world view, defined as the reluctance or refusal to acknowledge the use of military force as a legitimate tool of international and social relations. However, he also observes that there are certain circumstances wherein only the staunchest of pacifists, a tiny minority, could conscientiously object to some kind of application of force to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, such as a looming genocide or the massive application of indiscriminate, state-orchestrated violence against civilian populations . In this way, the use of military force becomes "a moral act of supreme importance that must be judged according to the strictest ethical standards", for it is the most extreme of actions for only the most extreme of circumstances . This understanding of the application of force is variously referred to by terms such as 'just war theory' or 'pragmatic pacifism', and its proponents argue that it is the most 'genuine' kind of peace theory because of the alleged stringency of its criteria . Could, after all, someone wishing to call themselves a 'humanitarian' have denied the extension of a UN Resolution to intervene in Rwanda before the terrible events of 1994? Indeed, when presented with such a rightfully haunting example, it is hard to deny the position of the pragmatic pacifist. The argument may be made in turn that the question of who establishes these criteria is just as important, if not more so, for the realization of humanitarian ideals as the criteria themselves. However, let us leave aside this (much needed) critical theoretical analysis and consider the pragmatic pacifists' case for intervention in Libya.

It is likely that the spectre of non-intervention in Rwanda did in part compel the international community to respond to the increasingly brutal repression of civilians by Gadhafi's military. The urgency of the threat to the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi could not be understated, as armoured vehicles had begun to enter the city and, according to multiple reports, begun firing indiscriminately at people as well as buildings. Statements issued by Gadhafi in the days leading up to the siege of Benghazi alluded to the extreme violence potentially awaiting the city's residents, with Gadhafi promising to root out the opposition like "rats" and - although such reports emerge from the inevitable confusion and subjectivity of war and must therefore be questioned - issuing orders for the execution of all men between the ages of ten to sixty years old . Confronted with such a possibility, Roland Paris invites us to consider the "anguished debate" that would have erupted had such threats been followed through upon in the absence of international action . This led to a peculiar ethical dilemma for those opposed to the idea of intervention but compelled to prevent a potential humanitarian disaster. On the one hand, the ambiguities left open by Resolution 1973 regarding the precise role of intervening forces and the resultant potential for 'mission creep' rendered the document flawed to the point where any sensible observer of events of the past twenty years would reject it out of hand. Yet as Gilbert Achcar of Le Monde Diplomatique argues, any sincere humanitarian could not do so, for it would amount to allowing potentially thousands of civilians to be killed and even more to be denied in their struggle for a more just and equitable system .

While the reasons for intervention in Libya are therefore categorically few, they are nonetheless extremely compelling, as it is difficult to present a convincing case which denies assistance to those whose lives may very well depend upon it. Cortright in this instance is likely correct, in that even the staunchest of non-interventionists, when pressed, would be unlikely to shrug off the looming massacre of civilians in Benghazi. The diplomatic solution which all parties (excluding Gadhafi's) would have preferred would not have been sufficient to address the imminent threat facing the civilians under siege from loyalist forces. By the time Benghazi was surrounded, Gadhafi was simply too close to his goal to settle for anything less than the total destruction of his opposition. While the fate of Benghazi's civilian population was less certain, all rebel fighters and those found to be directly assisting them would undoubtedly have been executed, a group likely numbering between 500 to 1,500 people . In addition, the number of people killed by Gadhafi's forces during the protests of late February and early March is estimated to be at least 1,000. There was indeed a compelling case for intervention on the grounds of systemic violence on the part of the Libyan state against its people, one obviously convincing enough to have resulted in the coalition that is active there today. However, a later statement in the same article by Paris exposes a problem which must be addressed if we are to consider the best course of action in Libya from a humanitarian perspective. "Although we'll never know with certainty" he writes, "it could have been worse - much worse" . Why is this statement problematic? Because now, in fact, 'it' is.

About Author / Additional Info:
I am a 4th year student at York University in Toronto, Ontario in the Global Plitical Studies program. I invite all serious feedback and, of course, any proposal to the contrary!

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