The Multilateralist

Did Libya kill R2P? Not likely.

Daniel Larison thinks so: [A]dvocates gambled the credibility and viability of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine for the sake of taking sides in a civil war that was not all that exceptionally destructive or threatening to international security. By dropping the bar for intervention so low that it would justify attacking Libya, France, Britain, and ...

Daniel Larison thinks so:

[A]dvocates gambled the credibility and viability of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine for the sake of taking sides in a civil war that was not all that exceptionally destructive or threatening to international security. By dropping the bar for intervention so low that it would justify attacking Libya, France, Britain, and the U.S. not only created a possible precedent for later interventions, but did so in a way that would make almost any internal conflict around the world qualify. This naturally drove the abstaining members of the Security Council into total opposition to any kind of action on Syria. Exceeding the mandate that the Security Council provided made sure that no such authorization would be granted again anytime soon, which has almost certainly rendered R2P a dead letter.

I think this is wildly overstated. There’s no doubt the Libya experience has made certain Council members averse to meddling any further in the Arab spring. But will that aversion be so strong next year in some other political or regional context? Who knows. Recent history lends little support to the notion that a controversial–or even failed–mission couched in humanitarian terms threatens the entire genre.

After all, plenty of people thought that the Iraq experience badly damaged the notion of humanitarian intervention. Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch warned, "the Bush administration has discredited the concept of humanitarian intervention." When the Kosovo intervention looked like a morass, skeptics argued that interventionism was in peril. Peter Rodman wrote in Foreign Affairs at the time:

The larger risk is that Kosovo will discredit not just the exuberance of Wilsonian interventionism but internationalism itself, including Atlantic solidarity. Just as the idealistic expectations that Wilson raised magnified the disillusionment when those expectations were not met, Wilson’s heirs are now flirting with precisely the same danger

And well before that, of course, the Somalia debacle was supposed to have doomed the interventionist enterprise.  And yet here we are. For good or ill (mostly for good, I say), the interventionist impulse runs deep, and diplomatic memories are often short.  

 Twitter: @multilateralist

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