By Arlene B. Tickner:
If Western countries do not convince the rest of the world that their actions are based primarily on humanitarian grounds and not strategic interests, the legitimacy of the military operation in Libya may be compromised.
Translated By Gloria Galindo
23 March 2011
Edited by Mark DeLucas
Colombia – El Espectador – Original Article (Spanish)
The international news this week should have been about President Barack Obama’s tour of Latin America.
Nearly two years after the promise that the hemisphere was entering a new era of dialogue and an equal partnership was made in Trinidad and Tobago, the realization of a concrete policy still seems a distant reality. The selection of countries to be visited has led to speculation that Washington wants to move to a “healthy middle ground” that has emerged in the region. Aside from individual aspects that make Brazil, Chile and El Salvador of interest to U.S. foreign policy, in all three there are combined progressive social policies, fiscal conservatism and political leaders who have a high levels of legitimacy.
Although the fact that the tour has not been canceled amid crisis in both Japan and Libya serves to reaffirm the importance of the region for the United States, there is no doubt that it has been overshadowed by them. The Brazilian government’s decision to abstain from voting for Resolution 1973 of the Security Council of the UN, which authorizes the use of force to protect civilians in Libya, made the meeting between Obama and Dilma Rousseff even more unusual.
The concerns outlined by Brazil, as well as those of Germany and India, the two other non-permanent members that abstained, point to the problem of legitimacy facing coercive interventions such as this. There is no doubt about the legality of the UN decision, but several factors may compromise the legitimacy, including the lack of unanimous support from the international community, the conflict of interest between members of the intervening coalition, the damage inflicted on civilians and the final outcome of the intervention.
Recent history suggests that military intervention to improve humanitarian welfare and political rights would have serious limitations. In the case of Iraq, for example, the imposition of a no-fly zone not only caused the deaths of hundreds of civilians, but it did not weaken Saddam Hussein. Given the severity of air strikes so far in Libya, the Arab League has begun to criticize the dangers of the measures and their real goals. If Western countries do not convince the rest of the world that their actions are based primarily on humanitarian grounds and not strategic interests, the legitimacy of the military operation in Libya may be compromised.
Also, the diverse interests of the intervening countries hinder the consensus, especially given the (positive) reluctance of U.S. to lead the intervention. Moreover, the ignorance about the political situation in Libya prevents local control over its outcome. While it is impossible to predict Gadhafi’s reaction, little is known about the rebels, their plans to unify with the western part of the country (controlled by the dictator) and their real commitment to democracy.
Since this is a decision in which Colombia participated, as a member of the Security Council, even though we may prefer to think of Obama’s tour, we cannot be indifferent to what happens in Libya or the arguments stated by the Colombian delegation to support military intervention.