R2P and Libya, A Follow-up Analysis. / by Simmon Li

This post builds on a previous post of mine talking about Libya and R2P, which can be found here. R2P remains an effective policy for certain situations, and I believe that the policy goals are worth pursuing. Above all, the moral argument serves best to justify R2P: it is the right thing to do. However, R2P is far from complete in its ability to handle a wide range of humanitarian crises, and there are fundamental holes within the normative architecture of R2P that serve as stumbling blocks for the policy’s goal of ending human suffering. The issues in question are more structural failures of R2P in that the failures stem from a complete lack of architecture, and do not reflect on the rest of R2P itself. The emergence of a stalemate in Libya against Gadhafi loyalists and the rebel forces have exposed the structural problems inherent within R2P’s normative architecture.

The first issue I have covered in my earlier analysis, but it is worth repeating because it is a fundamental failure of R2P’s structure. The problem stems from the collective action problem at the international level when it comes to implementing R2P and the resulting inconsistency in intervention. R2P defines a responsibility to protect while failing to articulate who is responsible to protect. As the cost of intervention mounts, a collective action problem develops in which those capable of acting may be dissuaded from doing so because they will be spending treasure and blood for the benefit of a foreign country, regardless of the fact that such expenses would be in the name of human rights. Because the costs are real, a few single nations cannot be expected to act in altruistic ways consistently. Such a collective action problem brings up questions of ulterior motives, and general inaction on the international stage. The solution to this collective action problem is to develop some kind of UN force which can be invoked for situations that are tailored for R2P to solve. While this force would be difficult to construct, it would be a worthwhile addition to the R2P architecture, as it will expedite the process of intervention when necessary and increase accountability. Because R2P has failed to define or construct a credible organization to carry out the responsibility to react, responses will be, at best, ad hoc. This case was proven in the scrambled response and subsequent handing off to NATO that the Libyan case presented.

The structural problems in R2P relate more to what is missing than what is enumerated in the policy. And the case is abundantly clear in the Libya. R2P lacks a normative architecture for actual intervention. R2P does not formalize how the responsibility to react is to be operationalized or implemented, but rather simply justifies the act of intervention. This structural problem is arguably more of an impediment to R2P's adoption than the lack of a responsible body to carry out interventions. The problem begins where the stipulations for the responsibility to react end. R2P's normative architecture moves from justifying intervention (just cause thresholds, the precautionary principles, the right authority, and the operational principles) straight to the aftermath of intervention, the responsibility to rebuild. The operational principles articulated in the commission report commit to the operation of the intervention, but fail to articulate the scope of the mission in question. Here are the 6 principles in section 7, in brief:

  1. Embrace a unified command structure rooted in political decision making.
  2. Be sure that civil and military organizations combine efforts to make sure humanitarian action is prioritized.
  3. Clearly define Rules of Engagement (RoE), which reflect proportionality and international norms of legality. Interestingly, the document points out that there are no mechanisms of discipline, and that each country should approach the issue individually should RoE's be broken.
  4. Military force should be concentrated and targeted. The document mentions that use of force should be overwhelming, but that surgical strikes that are powerful, precise, and appropriate remain the best tool. "This means accepting limitations an demonstrating through use of restraint that the operation is not a war to defeat a state but an operation to protect populations in that state from being harassed, persecuted, or killed." ((ICISS Commission Report, p. 63 - 7.31))
  5. Acknowledge that sometimes, military expediency is important, and that collateral damage may occur. This point also specifically addresses the idea that force protection should not become the focus.
  6. Media relations are important, make sure to build a publicly acceptable narrative.

The principles articulated are concerned with the operation of the machinery, and not so much with the scope in which that machinery can be used. In effect, the report defines when the use of machinery is acceptable, how to use that machinery, but fails to specify where the machinery may be used. It is a crude analogy but one that illustrates the point: the principles fail to identify operational scope. Alternatively, there are no checks on military intervention, and because there is no scope for the mission clearly defined, R2P has failed to build in restraints that would otherwise keep the mission in check.  From the commission report,

"Taking these considerations into account means accepting some incrementalism as far as the intensity of operations is concerned, and some gradualism with regard to the phases of an operation and the selection of targets." ((ICISS Commission Report, p. 63 - 7.31))

Here, the report articulates that some gradualism with target selection should be acceptable, but this reflects another structural failure of R2P. First, this phrase does not define normative standards of target selection, simply sanctioning the expansion of scope at the discretion of some entity responsible for making these decisions. As mentioned, because there is no defined entity to be responsible for the operationalization of R2P, accountability is suspect, and this phrase, in this context, seems to be misplaced. Second, the phrase relies on the fact that military intervention alone will be successful. With this point I raise two issues that I will expand. Primarily, the failure is due to the fact that there is a lack of concurrent or alternative methods of intervention. The auxiliary problem is that, with this assumption of military primacy, R2P’s architecture fails to take into account the other pieces of the UN machinery that may assist or even increase the chances of an end to the human suffering. In a sense, R2P is not integrated into the whole of the UN architecture. So while the architecture of R2P does sanction increase in the scope of the mission, the structural failure of R2P makes that sanction hard to keep accountable, and in fact may jeopardize the goal of R2P in ending humanitarian crises through total reliance on military intervention.

The structural failure of R2P’s reliance on military intervention is abundantly clear in the Libyan case. Because of the lack of scope restrictions, the military intervention has now expanded to the point where members of the Gadhafi family have been killed. At this point, we can address the failure of R2P to account for alternative or even concurrent means of intervention. The case of Libya shows that military intervention and backroom political intervention are fairly counter-productive at addressing the humanitarian crisis. On one hand, you have military intervention stoking more aggression from the loyalists, while on the other hand, you have political intervention stoking the anger of the rebels. The assumption that R2P’s responsibility to react is premised on is that military intervention will solve the complex problem of humanitarian crisis. While the thinking is on the right track, in that military intervention can mediate the effects of humanitarian crisis, it is clear that there are other factors that cause humanitarian crisis. The commission report shows awareness of such factors in the responsibility to prevent and rebuild, but for some reason, when it comes to the responsibility to react, fails to take into account those principles of holistic approach. The holistic approach is simply the ideas articulated in the responsibility to prevent. While it may seem odd to say that prevention is important during an active military intervention, it is not that farfetched upon analysis. Quite simply, by addressing the root causes of the conflict more effective through concurrent means of intervention, the crisis can be resolved sooner and more effectively. By utilizing political intervention concurrently with military intervention, it is possible then to address humanitarian crises more effectively. Through the exclusive reliance on military intervention, missions that invoke R2P’s responsibility to react lose the nuance that is articulated in the responsibility to prevent. It is this holistic approach to intervention that is lacking, and as a result, the final goal of R2P’s architecture is scarified. Of course, the answer of a formalized multi-pronged approach to intervention is beyond the scope of this analysis (and indeed, such a project would be beyond my ability), but I think the case is clear that such a formalized process of intervention should be considered. The failure in Libya of pure military intervention stems from the fact that negotiation and other aspects of the UN are not leveraged in constructive ways. The ICC's warrant, for example, is counter-productive to the negotiations that are being held to try and end the situation. It is this kind of disconnect that has caused a massive failure in the goal of R2P: to stop the atrocity. I think the UN would do well to expand the R2P architecture to include multiple methods of intervention, drawing on other institutions to help ensure that the process of intervention is not counter-productive to the final goal of R2P.

Another failure is the lack of integration between R2P and other organs of UN power. This relates somewhat to the issue of concurrent intervention, but is a wholly distinct issue in and of itself. The case in Libya again illustrates how counter-productive this lack of architecture truly is. Aside from the fact that political and military intervention is counter-productive in light of each other, there is the additional level of international legal intervention. The case of the International Court of Justice issuing a warrant for Gadhafi is completely counter-productive to political intervention. While a warrant is legally justified, and perhaps morally justified, the end goal of ending the humanitarian situation again is shovelled aside. It seems that the humanitarian situation has taken a back seat to the moral idealism of the West when it comes to international justice. The question is whether such moral idealism is something we ought to be pursuing. At some point, would such moral idealism not become a moral hazard for the West? After all, there is no accountable entity which we can scrutinize, nor is there any substantial risk for the governments in question when their moral idealism prolongs the situation. This lack of integration between R2P and the other organs of power serve to bury these important questions and ultimately hamper the effectiveness of R2P at fulfilling its policy purpose: addressing humanitarian crises quickly and effectively.

This brings the final failure of R2P that the Libyan case has exposed. In remaining captive to the kind of assumptions and moral purity that are embodied in the current architecture of R2P, it fails to account for certain situations that may emerge in the complex interaction that is humanitarian crisis. In short, the architecture fails to account for the possibility of certain political or military outcomes. Because R2P presupposes that certain outcomes will occur, there is a failure to address or temper the expectations for all involved in the humanitarian crisis. Due to the structural problems of R2P that have been pointed out, expectations mount on one end of the spectrum, and in effect, make any sort of political solution to the crisis next to impossible. The case in Libya shows this progression, in which the expectations of the rebels were continually buffed by the expansion of scope to the point that a politically brokered solution is simply not acceptable to the rebels, whether or not this is something that ought to happen. The theory here should move from the question of normative standard to empirical reality. R2P as a normative construction suffers in execution because conception will never translate well into reality. This echoes one of the main points from my earlier analysis.

The focus of R2P is rightfully on the normative aspect of humanitarian crisis, but the lack of attention to the empirical has meant a failure to anticipate certain outcomes which impact the normative architecture. Because the architecture lacks any reference to scope, outcomes like a stalemate or even a failure of intervention are not considered at all. This is a huge failure of R2P's architecture. In a stalemate situation or a case of failure of intervention, R2P is no longer applicable as it currently is written. While moral purity is commendable, situations on the ground require pragmatic and reasoned solutions. As it stands, R2P fails to provide a complete solution to the problem of humanitarian intervention and human rights protection because it fails to define specific scopes, construct appropriate normative standards, and anticipate a multitude of political or military outcomes. It is worth mentioning that R2P isn't a failure, but stands with serious structural issues. It is incomplete, at best. While the norm of sovereignty as a right is slowly being integrated into the international norms stage, the Libyan case demonstrates that the architecture of R2P still requires a lot of work. R2P suffers at the moment from a lot of idealism which, while commendable, does not truly reflect experiences on the ground. If R2P is to become the standard international response to humanitarian crises, it must be more pragmatic and realistic in its calculations and expectations of outcomes. R2P must be adaptable and flexible enough to be of use when it matters, yet firm enough that it can not be used as a "trojan horse", as Bellamy puts it, for the dismantling of state sovereignty.