Fahamu (Oxford)

Libya: The Right to Protect

Few would deny that Libya's lifetime president, Muammar Gaddafi, is the perfect caricature of a 'third world' dictator.

In usual form, Gaddafi's regime was politically and economically sustained by the obvious global actors: Corporations and 'first world' regimes, keen to access geostrategically convenient gas supplies.

This includes nations such as Italy, largely dependent on imported gas, sourcing a minimum of 10 per cent of its requirements from Libya, via the state's main energy supplier ENI, which has operated in Libya since 1959. Undoubtedly, said actors perceived Gaddafi's dictatorship - structured as the face of the country's elite interests (the army and a small group of businessmen) - as a stable 'investment' environment.

In fact, Libya's inequitable political economy is fundamentally dependent on their former colonial landlord, Italy, via ENI's Greenstream pipeline. Transforming the system, without engaging in civil war, may have been as simple as imposing mandatory banking and resource sanctions. After all, Libyan citizens do not really benefit from siphoned unearned resource revenues.

But while the brutality of Libya's regime under Gaddafi is not in question - and many may even sympathise with the foreign intervention, justified as a humanitarian mission - the US regime (both Democrat and Republican) often betrays its own peaceable language, casting US foreign policy as distinctly opposed to human rights.

This was blatantly obvious, for instance, when Obama offered his condolences to the people of oil-rich Gabon following the death of one of Africa's longest standing dictators, Omar Bongo. Obama stated, 'President Bongo played a key role in developing and shaping the strong bilateral relationship that exists between Gabon and the United States today.'

So, for others like the US, the motive of 'just war' - packaged as a moral decision - is less clear than it appears at first.

Though it does not excuse Gaddafi - and indeed, the dismantling of his regime in an accountable and just manner would certainly be a right course of action - it does inform the ideological perspective structurally facilitating justification for 'humanitarian' interventions, and how it is framed.

Last year, I explored the concept of 'just wars' in Africa in an article, briefly unpacking the history and process leading to what is currently described as the 'responsibility to protect' (R2P), invoked by the Obama administration.

In it, I discussed how three months after 11 September 2001, the 'right to intervention' was re-characterised as the 'right to protection' via the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) under the expanded umbrella of 'jus ad bellum' - the justice of resorting to war.

Classical 'just war' theory requires in addition to 'just cause' the fulfilment of several criteria based on moral conditions such as right intention, war as a reasonable last resort in the context of plausible alternative legitimate authority, proportionality, and probability of success through military means.

The importance of 'just war', implemented through the perceived democratic global body of the UN must not be underestimated or marginalised as a crucial tool when addressing those tyrannical regimes.

The landmark moment came in 1999 when the US and NATO bypassed the UN by launching a series of strikes against Yugoslavia to prevent further slaughter of Kosovars - targeted by extremists pushing a dangerous nationalist ideology. The move was described, at NATO's headquarters, by former President Clinton's secretary of state, at NATO's headquarters, as a 'fight for justice over genocide.'

Yet although bypassed, the UN - the world's central collective-security organisation, tacitly acknowledged the need for such. Kofi Annan's landmark 1999 speech articulated that, 'the traditional pursuit of national interest...a permanent feature of international relations,' required 'new, more broadly defined, more widely conceived definition of national interest.'

That is, amongst other points, governments did not and should not solely represent the nation in the context of the international arena, as broader interests and realities were at stake.

This speech constituted - in an official capacity, the turning point away from the 350-year old Treaty of Westphalia, granting unchecked rights to regimes holding 'sovereign' political power, whether illegitimate or not, toward the full reality of globalisation. This ranges from military interventions to seemingly benign treaties imposed by so-called globally representative bodies such as the World Trade Organization, evidencing legally binding ceding of power from governments to external forces.

Africa itself is part of the process as it is party to the ICISS through the 'Ezulwini Consensus' which was adopted and ratified by the African Union's Executive Council in 2005. The consensus acknowledged and mandated the 'authority of the Security Council to decide on the use of force in situations of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing.'

But as the article pointed out, the selective strategies determining the nature of 'just war' was embedded in the absolute power of the UN Security Council, comprised of the victors of the Second World War.

The unchecked domination of the Security Council - the world's largest arms dealers, resource-mongers and war-makers, capable of overriding the UN and the illegitimate or legitimate sovereignty of nation-states, is in itself ironic and in gross violation of the UN's stated principles and purpose.

But it remains a crucial source of power, and via the 'right and responsbility to protect', is able to smuggle in wars of vested interests - as was the case of Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama even invoked the concept of 'Just War' when accepting his Nobel prize.

In the context of Libya, an African country, the international and continent-wide issue is not so much whether Gaddafi's regime should be removed - that it must is obvious, but rather, how this should be approached, and why it is being approached at all - when considering other nations similarly in peril, such as Burma, Israel, perhaps all the GCC governments and myriad African rent-seeking regimes to boot.

In early March 2011, the AU High Level Ad-hoc Committee, founded and represented by governments like South Africa and Uganda, called for a 'peaceful resolution' on the issue of Libya. About a week later, UN Resolution 1973 was ratified by the UN Security Council, endorsing the use of military force, 'acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory...'

The US's Susan Rice claimed that the US responded to the Libyan peoples' 'cries for help'. Five governments, including China and India - anxious to avoid the 'protection' of any external party concerning their own citizens, abstained.

Interestingly, during the past few years, Rice - the US representative to the UN, has voted alongside Israel on 30 of the 34 proposed resolutions on the issue of Palestine, concerning everything from self-determination, to the right to water and land, to the development of settlements, that may hinder Israel's expansion and occupation. The only country more supportive than the US on the subject of Israel was Israel, vetoing all 34.

What this reveals, of course, is that while intervention may be justified at certain times - following the doctrine of jus ad bellum (which was not adhered too, in this case, as many prior criteria were intentionally elided), the Security Council requires drastic democratisation - along the lines of a democracy: One country, one vote.

Approached in this way, how many countries would vote for bloody self-interested military strikes, and against banking and resource sanctions? Paradoxically, Rice herself lobbied for divestment for South Africa under the apartheid regime.

The selective framing of justice erodes any legitimacy on the part of the Security Council. They are as big and vicious a tyrant to the global democracy as Gaddafi is to Libya.

The privilege of power, however, is still true to the nature of the founding of modern civilisation, embodied by the declaration of Athens to the peaceful Melians, when they stated, 'You know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, the strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must.'

Khadija Sharife is a journalist and visiting scholar at the Center for Civil Society (CCS) based in South Africa, and a contributor to the Tax Justice Network. She is the Southern Africa correspondent for The Africa Report magazine, assistant editor of the Harvard "World Poverty and Human Rights" journal and author of "Tax Us If You Can Africa".

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