At NETWORK, we have puzzled over an appropriate response to the U.S.-led attack on Libyan armed forces. On the one hand ,we know that violence only begets violence and does not solve problems. On the other hand, we know that standing by when people are slaughtered is wrong. We share both views, but feel very uncomfortable with creating a third war in a region where we neither know the culture nor the political factions.
As we discussed this military action a few factors came to light:
- One is that it appears that the European NATO Allies (especially Italy, France and Great Britain) were the ones pushing for it, but only the United States had the military capability to carry it out. U.S. allies said that their national interests were at stake. Italy is experiencing a large influx of refugees, and all of Europe is dependant to some extent on Libyan oil. The United States was urged to be a part of this military action because of NATO. Baldly, the European countries were saying the equivalent of “we joined you in Afghanistan when your interests were at stake; you need to join us now.”
- Additionally, we wondered if the U.S. involvement in military action in Libya was a way to join with Arab nations on a shared agenda, but also put pressure on Arab nations where there is unrest (e.g. Bahrain, Jordan, Syria, etc.) to exercise caution when responding to their citizens.
- Finally, we realized that this was an exercise of what is called the “R2P Doctrine.” This “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine emerged following the experiences of genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda. It can be debated whether this instance rose to the standards for using that doctrine, but it appears that thousands of people were at risk from marauding troops. However, it must be pointed out that we have not used this doctrine in the Congo or many other countries where wholesale slaughter of the civilian population is common. We are unclear why Libya rose to the level for intervention and others do not.
On the other side, we are horrified by the fact that military force is being used again in this region of the world. We remembered that following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Libya gave up its nuclear program. We thought that evidenced the possibility of dealing with the regime in a nonviolent way. Additionally we wondered if this event was “less than genocide” and therefore did not call for military intervention. We wondered how this differed from Bahrain getting the Saudi military to control its dissidents or the reaction of the Syrian or Jordanian military. There seem to be a lot of precedents for not intervening and few for military action. We also are very concerned that once military action is begun, it is difficult to stop. Where is the line that limits our involvement?