Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On Libya, Rwanda and Intervention

The joint forces intervention in Libya, and the subsequent comparisons to Rwanda, seem a good subject with which to reintroduce my international commentary. What follows is my opinion, with whatever weight that may hold.

And so NATO has intervened in Libya under the guise of R2P, which means the military force currently being used is to (nominally) protect civilians from violence, though it is difficult to separate intervention meant to assist civilians from intervention that inevitably assists the rebels. Military intervention based upon moral convictions strives to be impartial but it is (almost) impossible to be so; more on that later.

With the intervention comes comparisons to past atrocities that either benefited from military force (Bosnia) or suffered from the lack of foreign concern (Rwanda). While I do not agree with comparisons in general - as each situation is unique and comparisons always gloss over, or ignore, certain truths - I understand why they are made: to justify foreign military intervention through examples of success and failure. Concerning Bosnia, NATO acted independently of the UN and the military strikes which ensued quickly brought an end to the civil war and genocide against Bosnian Muslims. Concerning Rwanda, the world failed to take action and over 800,000 Rwandans (mainly Tutsis) were slaughtered; genocide could have been averted but was not. Therefore, we (the US, Britain, France, so on) must act to stop similar atrocities from occurring in Libya.

While I understand the reasons for comparisons, I do not agree with them, specifically comparisons to Rwanda, because Libya today is not Rwanda circa 1994. As I wrote above, each situation is unique. In 1994 Rwanda the UN was already in the country and had been for months, attempting to broker a peace agreement between the RPF and current Rwandan government, thus ending the civil war that had been going on since October 1990. No intervention occurred because the intervention force was already there - UN forces only needed to authority to use force (in case you are not familiar with the history, they never got it). Furthermore, the time when military force would have been most effective in Rwanda - the first week following the death of president Habyarimana - was the time when the situation was most confusing, with the RPF and Rwandan forces battling each other in the streets of Kigali and mass murders of civilians only beginning to spread in the countryside. After that week 100,000 were already dead and the UN forces on the ground only beginning to comprehend what was happening. Gaddafi has openly called for attacks on civilians - there is nothing confusing about it. By ordering attacks on his own people Gaddafi has defied UN statutes of the protection of civilians during war and, with his own words, justified foreign intervention.

Despite what seems as obvious justification, I can also understand the hesitancy over Libya: how much force is enough? How long will an intervention force stay in the country? Until Gaddafi is ousted? How can the intervention remain impartial to the civil war while protecting civilians, as rebels happen to be where civilians are? Will that make the force "pro-rebel", whether intentionally or not? And when does this military intervention stop being a force to protect civilians and becomes a foreign military action for regime change? These are valid questions that become increasingly pertinent with each passing day as Libyan rebels lose ground to Gaddafi's forces. If the rebels continue to falter will the joint forces simply leave the country to its fate? Will those forces remain the ensure the safety of civilians from the potential aftermath of Gaddafi's rage? Or will the joint forces fully step in to militarily assist the rebels win the war? (Unfortunately, it seems the last question is what is more likely to occur.) What are the limits to humanitarian intervention and what happens when they are reached?

Rather than making unnecessary and incorrect comparisons to the past our leaders - Obama, Cameron, Sarkozy - need to decide just what it is we are doing in Libya. Otherwise you do not need to look in the past to know what happens when intervention, liberation and war become one and the same, but rather slightly to the east.

And for the record: what is happening in Libya is not genocide. Crimes against humanity, yes, but civilian deaths as a casualty of civil war is not genocide. Gaddafi targeting civilians is not genocide. Unless we are saying that civil wars are genocidal in nature . . . but that is another post.

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