A Lasting Shadow over Libya
‘Short War, Long Shadow’ is a comprehensive RUSI report, released on the anniversary of Unified Protector- the Western military operation against Quadhafi’s regime – that details a final assessment of the seven-month campaign in conjunction with its previous Whitehall report findings on the interim campaign.
Short War, Long Shadow: The Political and Military Legacies of the 2011 Libya Campaign
Issued March 19, 2012
The report specifically argues that the Libyan operation seems “destined to go down in history, at best, as a strategic footnote”. Suggesting that for all the good that occurred, it happened in a “singularly unique moment where the international states, as it were, had aligned in a set of propitious circumstances”. The report further suggests that Libya will provide little in the way of a widely applicable model for future operations, which should be kept in mind as the unfolding crisis in Syria rolls on, and leaves some troubling implications for the future of Responsibility to Protect.
The operation raises serious questions, more specifically, on how the strategic decisions were handled and how the effects of Libya on “NATO, on Britain’s allies, and its diplomacy, will play out as policy makers confront far more serious challenges to British security”. Michael Clarke, in his chapter, notes that the decision to intervene came from the top down, despite military warnings of risk and its lack of congruency with their new National Security Strategy.
This has wider implications for how the government’s efficacy will be viewed, especially when seen in light of statements made when they took office- “that Blairite ‘liberal interventionism’ would be reinterpreted in a far more hard-nosed way” and military intervention would be done on a national security basis. Furthermore, this ‘selectivity’ in intervention operations, despite far more pressing issues worthy of intervention that currently exist (Yemen, Somalia), furthers the issue within the Responsibility to Protect debate on neo-imperialist concerns and creates a divide within the Permanent 5 as it harks back to issues of Western superiority.
The report specifically notes how at “home and abroad, a debate quickly flared up over the generous interpretation of ‘all necessary means’ to ‘protect Libyan civilians’ in UN Security Council Resolution 1973”; and that, “whatever the initial intention of the P5, there is little doubt that the operation mutated into a proxy war with regime change as the object”.
However, a criticism to this is that, as D. J. B. Trim purports, “in one sense, all interventions are to bring about a change in a regime: if there was no imperative to change a regime’s policy, there would be no need for intervention in the first place”. The question concerning regime should then be one of: will the change be by the regime or a change of regime? This bodes more implications for the language used within justifications of interventions and the norms that the R2P is attempting to set. These issues span into a much wider and deeply contested debate over the notions of sovereignty, humanitarian intervention and what has been framed as neo-imperialism.
Consequently, though, this vision of regime change as imperialistic means future interventions justified by the R2P will come up against more opposition and effect adversely the implementation of R2P, as already seen in the case of Syria.
This then should ignite the people behind R2P to reconsider, or at least reiterate what intervention actually means, and consider whether painting it as a concern for humanitarian responsibility will only lead to further criticisms of western hypocrisy. It seems that what is needed is a wider advocating of arguments made by scholars such as Nicholas Wheeler, John Bew, and Thomas Weiss who suggest that humanitarian action is not “unmasked if it is shown to be the instrument of imperial power”.
Another point of contestation is over the role of the Arab League in conjunction with these forces of ‘intervention’. The report states that the support of the operation by the Arab League was imperative though it was not necessarily supported by the ‘Arab Street’. This complements current debates over the Arab League being used as a tool of neo-imperialism, or western domination. As previously mentioned, the ongoing debate between sovereignty and humanitarian intervention has for centuries created troubles for foreign policy initiatives.
However, it is interesting to note that some statesmen and commentators do not see the two in direct opposition but in fact as part of good governance, with Realpolitik and humanitarian concerns seen as inseparable. That is, regional, or multilateral initiatives to ensure democracy and human rights help to create stability, as it is proven that chaos and danger only spread, thus furthering the instability of a state within its region if it is not dealt with. These notions step into dangerous territory and it is by no means possible to claim to have a solution to the fine balance that is needed between what is seen as neo-imperialism and what is classified by Classic Realists as human nature and inevitable.
Overall, the finding that Libya is its own specific case within a set of specific circumstances remains a strong theory to conclude on. It would be foolish and unwise if not detrimental to assume that what worked for Libya would work elsewhere – and this is a notion that needs to be accepted by high officials but also by the people within the Arab world urging their own revolutions/rebellions. The ‘Benghazi Scenario’ evidences this.
Language is persuasive and misleading. It is through such reports and research that we can expand our knowledge so as to help “distinguish lies from facts, and propaganda from sound analysis” in order to discover the truth and raise awareness in our world so that policy is driven behind open and public diplomacy.