From Just War to an Unjust Stalemate

Among the voices who protested against the international intervention in Libya during and after the drafting of Resolution 1973, Brazil's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Maria Luiza Riberio Viotta, forewarned that the military option could result in "more harm than good to the very civilians we are committed to protecting" . Such reservations are the understandable product of the previous decade, which saw such a gross distortion of the concept of humanitarian intervention in the form of the Afghan and Iraq wars that many have come to intuitively associate it with imperialism. The aforementioned cases do not, after all, offer inspiring conclusions. In the years following their respective occupation by foreign militaries both countries experienced substantial drops across the board in social and human development indicators , with Baghdad remaining the single most dangerous city on earth as of 2009 .

While NATO officials and policymakers at home in the intervening countries have tried to assuage fears of a protracted, Iraq-style military engagement in Libya, the persistent conditions which have now gripped nearly every city on the more than 600 kilometre road from Trioli to Benghazi are now distinctly those of war zones. The reports, admitted across the board to be almost certainly conservative, paint a grim picture. Several hundred people have been confirmed dead in the repeatedly besieged city of Misrata, 150 kilometres east of Tripoli, with one survivor attesting to "about 30 to 35 casualties, dead, daily...most of them are civilians - women, children, old people, sitting in their houses - and tanks have been shooting them in their houses" . Chronic water and electricity scarcities have been confirmed in most coastal cities, along with a lack of supplies such as baby formula and medicines exacerbated by the withdrawal of aid groups in Misrata and elsewhere due to the extreme danger posed by the continuous shelling. Even where aid agencies such as Doctors Without Borders are attempting to gain access they are turned away by the Libyan state on the basis that there are "no medical needs" . The city of Brega, exemplifying the back-and-forth nature of the war thus far, has been taken and subsequently lost no less then five times in the month of March, with other cities such as Ajdabiya having fallen to Gadhafi forces only to be retaken and lost again two, three, four times - each turnover being the result of a freshly destructive siege .

The cumulative effects of these waves of violence are only beginning to be appreciated by the international community, while they are immediately evident for those subjected to them. The unfortunate reality is that the stalemate upheld by the intervening coalition has contributed to the multiplication of the crisis which faced Benghazi circa march 17th into nearly every major population centre in the country. Going forward, the intervening coalition must concentrate its efforts upon decisively ceasing this unfolding humanitarian catastrophe. Now that the intervention is a reality in the unfolding of the Libyan civil war, its central mandate must come into focus: the protection of civilians against troops loyal to Gadhafi through force, so long as a diplomatic option for reconciliation is refused. But what, exactly, does that entail at this point in the war? Admittedly, and as previously mentioned, the option most consistent with the humanitarian purpose of Resolution 1973 is not for many the politically or ethically optimal one, depending on one's normative approach to international relations. However, this work is strictly concerned with the preservation of the lives of Libyan civilians, and as such its approach can be described as a kind of 'utilitarian humanitarianism' . Let critics of utilitarianism not decry that this infers the protecting of the personal safety of the many over that of the few, for that is not at all what is meant. Rather, the central question of this approach is, 'what strategy of attaining peace - regardless of the strategy's political, national or normative biases - would most effectively limit the violence afflicted upon Libyan civilians under the present circumstances'? That is, what strategy of reconciliation is of the greatest utility to the realization of the fundamentally humanitarian mandate of UN Security Council Resolution 1973?

Putting the People First: The Necessary Way Forward in Libya

The premise of international relations which must be respected above all others is the exhaustion of every available diplomatic means to resolve conflicts before considering the use of force. Moammar Gadhafi has made resoundingly clear that the only diplomatic solution which he is willing to accept is one which sees himself or his direct family retain absolute political power and affirms Tripoli's authority over the entire country, which is irreconcilable with the goals of the opposition and the sentiments of the vast majority of the Libyan populace. Gadhafi has demonstrated his willingness to abuse the declaration or prospect of a ceasefire in the past, using the cover which international law provided him after the self-proclaimed March 18th ceasefire to advance his forces onto the doorstep of Benghazi for a decisive assault. The proposal for a ceasefire offered by the African Union was rejected out of hand by the rebels on April 11th, as the increasingly bloody bombardment of the city of Misrata continues at the time of writing to make it difficult to take any offer of peace from the ruling regime seriously . Reports emerging as of April 12th reinforce the urgency of some manner of decisive action in ending the conflict in Libya. At an EU meeting in Luxembourg, Transitional National Council representative Ali Al Isawi informed reporters that his organization could account for 10,000 civilians killed by Gadhafi forces, with upwards of 20,000 people missing and an even greater number suffering injuries. Above all, he declared, the TNC desired "more efforts regarding protection of civilians against this aggression" . Even if these numbers are inflated to muster support for the rebels, the lives of thousands have undoubtedly been lost because of the stalemate which has emerged. The international community in its act of intervening has assumed a fiduciary responsibility of the most urgent nature for the protection of civilian lives in Libya, and above all other concerns it must recognize the imperative of fulfilling that responsibility.

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