Earlier this week David Cameron used a statement on the rapidly changing situation in Libya to re-state his belief that the decision to deploy military force to support the Libyan people was necessary, legal and right. Do you agree?
Military operations in Libya might soon be coming to an end, but this is still an important debate to have and one that we should all take part in. After all, this is the first humanitarian intervention by NATO since the operations to protect Kosovar Albanian in 1999 and the first such intervention since the 2001 International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty led the UN to agree in 2005 that there exists a responsibility to protect.
How then should we evaluate ethically and politically the intervention in Libya?
Some Christians have always seen pacifism as a matter of Christian obedience and will reject the use of military force under any circumstance. Most Christians, however, will stand, with more or less conviction, in the unfortunately named ‘just war tradition’. This tradition is imbued with the sense that war may, under certain circumstances, be a tragic necessity, but it is never less than a tragedy.
Not surprisingly there is a healthy and intense debate between and within these two traditions. Those of us who work from within the just war tradition are just as likely to disagree with one other as much as we disagree with those who work from other ethical traditions.
Even if you agree that a decision to use force is justifiable, you might still think that the way in which that force was used undermined the justness of the original decision. Interestingly, Cameron’s reasoning only touched on why he felt it right to use military force – he left untouched questions concerning the conduct of the operation.
Reviewing my own writing on the intervention in Libya, I find that my own position is not uncomplicated.
Writing in early February I questioned whether the international community’s response to the unfolding tragedy in Libya was unduly hesitant and confused. I welcomed the imposition of sanctions, the asset freeze and the travel ban on the grounds that they provided the foundational blocks for a more forceful intervention in Libya should Gaddafi’s misrule of terror persist.
And yet, once the UNSC passed Resolution 1973, my writing took a more critical line. I questioned whether the use of force was proportionate to the ends agreed by the UNSC and whether in so doing our actions made UN authorized humanitarian interventions in other parts of the world less likely.
Re-reading past blogs on the subject I’m left wondering whether my own discomfort with parts of the operation reflects a deeper unease regarding the use of military force per se?Am I happy to extol such things as protecting civilians, peacekeeping and delivering humanitarian relief, but when it comes down to it I find the use of force antithetical to my own liberal outlook? Alternatively, did my unease reflect a more pragmatic concern that equating the protection of civilians with regime change risked the type of mission creep the likes of which we saw in Iraq and Afghanistan?
I’m still thinking this through, but I do think that such self-reflection plays an important and necessary part in one’s ethical and political reasoning. How we each engage in this process and the way in which we grapple with the issues at the heart of this conflict will shape our view of the rights and wrongs of this particular action. It will also inform our understanding or re-understanding of the UN Doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect.
Have a good Bank Holiday weekend