Does the interpretation of and subsequent implementation of UNSCR 1973 make further humanitarian interventions less or more likely?
I know this is a hypothetical question, and I recognise we are only a few short days in to Operation Odyssey, but the emerging divisions within the coalition and between the coalition and the wider international community as to what UNSCR 1973 means in practice make this a pertinent question.
Let’s be clear UNSCR 1973 stipulates that the Libyan people should be entitled to choose their own government. It does not however mandate the use of force to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi. It does not even authorise the use of force in support of rebel objectives.
The use of force as set out in UNSCR 1973 is specifically tied to the protection of civilians. The use of military force should therefore not be used to achieve goals outside these provisions. To do so would be illegal.
The sole criteria by which military planners should identify targets in Libya is whether the subsequent deployment of force helps to secure the protection of civilian areas. The criteria by which we the public judge the success of this operation is the degree to which civilians are safeguarded. To do otherwise is to depart from the provisions of UNSCR 1973. A strict reading of UNSCR 1973 helps to set out both the objective, indexes of success and a clear exit strategy.
UNSCR 1973 was a remarkable achievement that no one predicted. It gives hope that after the rancour and divisions of the Iraq War it is still possible to talk of an international community. But, the consensus underpinning UNSCR 1973 is fragile and needs to be nurtured.
This consensus needs to be nurtured to provide continued legitimacy for this operation. It also needs investment to provide a more secure and lasting foundation for subsequent interventions in other parts of our troubled world.
UNSCR 1973 shows that the international community understands it has a responsibility to protect, but governments must also act responsibility when implementing its provisions.