Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 05:43 | SYDNEY
Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 05:43 | SYDNEY

Defining the limits of R2P


Sam Roggeveen


24 March 2011 11:06

Former Australian Foreign Minister and leading R2P advocate Gareth Evans writes today that critics of the Libya intervention are drawing too long a bow.

It's not about regime change or killing Qadhafi or a getting into an Iraq-like quagmire, he says. Rather, this is a strictly defined operation designed to protect civilians. The language of the UN resolutions, says Evans, 'could hardly be clearer' — they allow destruction of Libyan air force and anti-aircraft assets, and knocking out ground forces likely to threaten civilians. No more, no less.

Beyond this tight definition, the only ambiguities are 'at the margins':

Is it within the scope of the no-fly zone to take out command and control centres that might direct aircraft' Is it legitimate to kill regime forces fleeing a protected area, or in some other way posing no obvious or imminent threat to civilians' Should an absolute line be drawn against any otherwise legitimate action against Gaddafi's forces that would be likely to put innocent civilians at risk'

But beyond these kinds of questions, room for debate runs out. Military action expressly designed to kill Gaddafi or force him into exile, to ensure rebel victory in a civil war, or to achieve a more open and responsive system of government in Libya is simply not permissible under the explicit legal terms of UN resolution 1973.

But just how 'marginal' is the question of taking out command and control facilities' Once you allow such strikes (and why not, since these are the nerve centres of Libya's combat operations'), is it really a huge leap to point out that at the centre of Libya's command and control network sits a single individual, Colonel Qadhafi'

Evans says military action 'expressly designed' to kill Qadhafi or change Libya's government is not allowed under the UN resolutions. But this is a lawyerly formulation, something he himself seems to acknowledge when he says that regime change might be 'the effect of permissible military action, but...cannot be its objective.'

That's a distinction critics of this intervention will draw little comfort from. As Daniel Larison puts it, R2P 'is a doctrine that justifies initiating hostilities, but it has no way to restrain the forces that starting a war unleashes.'

Photo by Flickr user g23armstrong.