Some Thoughts on the Libya Security Council Resolution

by Erik Voeten on March 18, 2011 · 3 comments

in International Relations

I am about to fly to Montreal for the 2011 International Studies Association conference but I wanted to pass on some quick thoughts on the resolution that the UN Security Council passed last night.

  • This resolution does not tell us what type of military action will be taken by whom at what point. There is no UN rapid reaction force that is authorized to do anything. Instead, it provides legitimacy for the military actions that (coalitions of) UN member states may want to undertake. I have some thoughts here on why Security Council resolutions are thought to provide such legitimacy. This legitimacy is especially important for Europeans but it also seems to matter for U.S. public opinion.
  • The initiative for the resolution came from the French and the British rather than the U.S. This is somewhat unusual historically but very important. Especially the French do not have a strong track record in humanitarian missions. It also seems like the European Union itself is an important player in the initiative. The EU has traditionally taken a modest profile in matters of international security but they have established some experience (in Kosovo) and capacity in this regard. Especially the British military is well equipped to exercise rescue missions and air raids.
  • We can argue about the timing of this and it is unclear whether the resolution is going to be effective but in general I am supportive of this development. The main fear is that Khadaffi will raise the violence to genocidal levels once his troops get to Benghazi. Once evidence of such atrocities comes in, the last thing we need is delicate Security Council negotiations about authorization to do something. States now at the very least have no excuses for standing by. I must admit that I do not have a sufficiently clear picture of the military situation to give a good assessment of how effective air strikes are likely to be in stopping the progress of Khadaffi’s forces to Benghazi but I suspect the people in Benhgazi are better off with than without the resolution. That doesn’t mean I would like to be in their shoes right now.
  • David Bosco offers a good analysis of the peculiar usage of abstentions on the security council.

{ 3 comments }

Kerim Can March 18, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Qaddafi immediately responded to the UN resolution by declaring a ceasefire. It seems this civil war will end with a stalemate but not a negotiated peace treaty. Who will become the authority in the rebel areas? Will they be recognized and will they be able to sell Libya’s oil to the world markets? If Libya becomes fragmented like Iraq, will that be a desirable outcome?

kerimcan March 18, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Qaddafi immediately responded to the UN resolution by declaring a ceasefire. It seems this civil war will end with a stalemate but not a negotiated peace treaty. Who will become the authority in the rebel areas? Will they be recognized and will they be able to sell Libya’s oil to the world markets? If Libya becomes fragmented like Iraq, will that be a desirable outcome?

Fr. March 19, 2011 at 10:37 am

“Especially the French do not have a strong track record in humanitarian missions.” We still do not: the French decision was rushed and taken against, not by, the French diplomatic apparatus. Sarkozy literally bypassed his Minister, intending to improve his mediocre foreign policy record since his election.

Had he followed the usual route of consulting with the rest of the state complex, and had he not been pushed towards doing something spectacular to impress his EU partners and the electorate, he would never have taken the decision so swiftly.

This resolution is no departure from the usual French position. I would call it an accidental event with no substantial promise of a longer term shift . I would also argue against the idea that the EU was influential here: I have not read anything that would support that idea.

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