Libyan Intervention


From London Review of Books:

Until yesterday, I thought we were at the end of the age of intervention. The complacency that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union had been shattered by the Balkan wars; despair was followed by the successful interventions in Bosnia and then Kosovo; then triumphal pride led us to disaster in Iraq and Afghanistan. Midway through the period, in 2000, it seemed we could intervene anywhere. By 2010, it felt as though we would not venture abroad again. What had begun with the irresistible victory of democracy, the free market and the United States, ended with occupation, financial crisis and American impotence.

It seemed doubly unlikely that we would ever intervene in a country like Libya. Even oil-less, Central Asian Afghanistan was perceived by many Muslims as the object of a crusading infidel occupation, driven by Israel and designed to establish bases or extract cheaper oil. Any move against Libya – an Arab, Muslim country, obsessed with its struggle against colonialism and dripping with oil – seemed bound to be perceived in the most hostile and sinister terms by its neighbours, by the developing world and by the Libyans themselves.

Nor did Libya appear to meet the criteria for intervention under international law. Gaddafi was the sovereign power, not the rebels, and he was not conducting genocide or ethnic cleansing. In Bosnia, by contrast, 100,000 people had died in a few weeks; and it was Bosnia itself – a sovereign, UN-recognised state – which formally requested the intervention. Kosovo was a less clear case, but the intervention targeted Milosevic, and followed the Balkan wars, which he had stoked, and the displacement of 200,000 people and clear evidence of ethnically-targeted atrocities. This interventionist worldview, which might have seemed in 1999 the quintessence of global governance and consensus, had, however, begun to seem a fading Western obsession. By 2011 Brazil, India and South Africa, as well as China, were on the Security Council. And none of them supported intervention.

“Here We Go Again”, Rory Stewart, London Review of Books