All My Little Words

Libya, Qaddafi and the End of Humanitarian Intervention

Posted in Foreign Policy, Politics by nickchristian on October 23, 2011

In the wake of Qaddafi’s violent demise there has been much handwringing over the decision of the major media outlets to publish on their front pages, either online or in print, the images graphically confirming it. The first of these subjects is simply not our concern while the second is a relatively insignificant point of media responsibility, societal values and what constitutes “news”. Neither is, in my opinion, worthy of the attention it’s been given.

We cannot account, or take responsibility, for the actions of a ragtag militia who, in their jubilant discovery, brought a violent end to an era of despotism. That Qaddafi should not have been executed is my view on the subject but irrelevant, for I never suffered under his tyrannical rule and nor was I present at his death, and therefore able to meaningfully appreciate the circumstances surrounding it. It cannot be undone.

My concern, and where I feel more attention should be focussed, is with the role of NATO forces in the death of the dictatorship. While Western leaders have been keen to credit the Libyan rebels with the overthrow of the regime there can be no doubt that that NATO planes, having carried out more than 30,000 sorties since UN Resolution 1973 was passed, played a significant role, beyond its original mandate.

Article 4 of UN Resolution 1973

Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi,”

The explicit purpose of UN Resolution 1973 was therefore to prevent a massacre of the people of Benghazi, as Qaddafi appeared to be threatening; while several international figures had decried the Libyan government as illegitimate nowhere in the resolution is there mention of a secondary aim of regime change, or even of assisting the rebels in their ultimate goal of its overthrow. Whether or not the key instigators and authors of the resolution meant for the mission to mutate in such a way we do not know, but what we do know is that had they included such language in the document, the Resolution could not have passed the Security Council vote.

Even as it was, the resolution which authorized NATO action in Libya only passed the Security Council with the slimmest of margins: while neither Russia nor China blocked its passage as they could have, neither explicitly supported it either. We must assume that concerns over mission creep had already been raised and allayed in order to achieve abstentions of Russia and China as well as Arab League support. These concerns would appear to have been justified as, only a few weeks into the mission, China criticised the NATO operation for overreach while Russia called for NATO to bring an “end to the indiscriminate use of force”. These calls went unheeded.

It has been suggested that, with the Libyan operation ostensibly a success, such interventions may be more likely to take place in the future. My view is that the manner in which the mission was extended, far beyond the parameters of the mandate outlined above, makes any future crises far less likely to be dealt with militarily, regardless of the extent to which the situation calls for force. As we’ve recently seen in Syria it doesn’t take much to turn an abstention into a veto.

Of course mission creep in Libya does not explain why we have seen no action against Assad in Syria. It has, however, made it easier to understand. If Western countries, in assisting a people under threat, cannot be trusted to wield their military power responsibly, then next time they will not be trusted to wield it at all. As significantly, if not moreso, support for engagement will be weaker.

Accusations that, by actively picking a winner in a civil dispute, Britain and chums engaged in behaviour that was paternalistic to the point of pseudo-colonial are, in my view, completely fair. Seven months ago I supported an intervention that was limited in scope but I did support it. Take me back seven months, today, and I wouldn’t.

Why Not Syria?

Posted in Human Rights, Politics by nickchristian on October 18, 2011

Earlier this year I wrote an essay about humanitarian intervention, and the competing legal, political and moral contributory factors. My conclusion was that considerations of a political nature carry far more weight than any other and that this largely explains the appearance of inconsistency in policy. Although relatively well received, the paper was criticised for not looking in more depth at NATO’s activity in Libya and, moreover, the interventions that didn’t happen in other parts of the Middle East.

The rebellions that occurred across the Middle East were met with varying degrees of government resistance and rapprochement, with significant concessions made in some countries and all out war waged against the civilian populations of others. Libya was where Western media attention was focussed but the Syrian, Yemeni and Bahraini regimes all employed (and are employing) tactics as violent and oppressive, if not moreso, than those of Qaḏḏāfī.

Although I did reference the action in passing, at the time it felt far too “live” an issue for any meaningful analysis or commentary. It probably still is but, without writing an essay on the subject, I thought it was worth looking at the political differences between Libya and the other countries in the region. Gross simplification of how international relations works coming up:

Syria

Intervention? Sanctions, no military action.

Why not?

  1. Next door to Israel
  2. Actually has Weapons of Mass Destruction
  3. Exports from China to Syria worth upwards of $2billion
  4. Russian investment in Syria valued at $19.1billion plus $1.1billion in exports (mostly military hardware).
  5. Any action tabled would therefore fall victim to inevitable UNSC veto.

Yemen

Intervention? Condemnation of Saleh, no sanctions or threat of military action.

Why not?

  1. No (recent) history of beef.
  2. Scant media attention paid to the uprising – no public demands for intervention
  3. Geographically isolated – no strategic interest.
  4. Important battleground in the War on Terror – cooperating with the US.

Bahrain

Intervention? No condemnation, sanctions or military action.

Why not?

  1. Closely allied with Saudi Arabia.
  2. Host of the US Fifth Naval Fleet.
  3. Buying its weapons off the US.


Saudi Arabia

Intervention? No chance.

Why not?

  1. Uprising choked off before it could gain traction.
  2. Media too tightly controlled to report freely and accurately on protests.
  3. Close relationship with the US in combating Global War on Terror.
  4. Supplies 19.5% of world oil reserves
  5. Holds – along with the other oil exporters – 2.6% of US debt.
  6. America’s best customer.

Libya

Intervention? NATO airstrikes.

Why?

  1. Did not have Weapons of Mass Destruction.
  2. Qaḏḏāfī no real asset in the war on terror.
  3. No direct threat to Israel.
  4. Supplies only 3% of world oil reserves.
  5. The Arab League said intervention was fine by them – they didn’t really like Qaḏḏāfī anyway.
  6. (Former) State sponsor of terrorism.

Ultimately, we intervened because we could. Qaḏḏāfi’s problem, more than anything, was that he had failed to make himself indispensable, either as a trade or security partner, to any of the permanent members of the UN Security Council or to his neighbours in the region.

It’s nothing personal, just politics.

Your Government Thinks You’re Stupid

Posted in Politics, Rage by nickchristian on October 13, 2011

Recent weeks have seen a flurry of policy proposals and initiatives that the government has been keen to draw as much attention to as possible. All utterly meaningless, utterly toothless and utterly unlikely; it doesn’t matter though, does it, as long as the headlines are grabbed?

A few weeks ago it was the bins, followed closely by a mooting of an increase in the national speed limit. On Tuesday Dave was desperate to announce that Internet Service Providers would soon be making pornography an “opt-in” provision. Besides being seemingly live-streamed from a Melanie Phillips wet dream (and by “wet”, I obviously mean “sandpaper dry”) this last one rather reminds me of this:

As a friend of mine neatly hash-tagged it: #britainisrunbygibbons.

I’d like to believe it, but maybe not. I wouldn’t go so far as to say “it’s so stupid it’s ingenious” but I suspect they think it is. That each policy could be explained to (or by) a three year-old, is not just entirely deliberate but, mores the point, indicative of the cynicism of the current ruling class. As stupid as they seem, that’s nothing as to how stupid they think WE are.

For Cameron, Osbourne, Pickles, Gove and whoever else you care to name (not Clegg though, I can’t believe he actually does anything), these are the issues they think really mean something to the people – the equivalent of the Roman emperor distracting the masses with gladiatorial exhibitions while depriving them of basic sanitation and watching them die of dysentery.

For while the government has been dangling its car keys in front of us – and by the way, Liam Fox is every inch the car key – it continues to merrily shred the very fabric of our society. Yesterday saw a significant milestone passed in the marketisation of the NHS, while this morning the first effects of the government’s decision to ditch the EMA was revealed and – guess what? – it turns out fewer poor kids are doing A Levels this year. The rate of public jobs being cut continues to rapidly outpace private sector job creation – just as we were told it wouldn’t – with youth unemployment about to hit the nausea-inducing heights seen in (royally fucked Greece), Portugal and Ireland.

All the while we are expected to be appeased by gifts of increased speed and reduced porn.

Won’t somebody please think of the children?

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