Friday, February 25, 2011

The Emperor Has No Clothes: Where is An International Standing Force When you Need One?

Events in Libya continue to worsen after Colonel Gaddafi ordered a brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors by police, the army and irregular units resulting in mass killings, arbitrary arrests and the detention and torture of prisoners; he has even threatened to make Libya a hell and yet the international community is paralyzed.

Our leaders are right when they say that the situation is "unacceptable" and "intolerable" but under such dire conditions with the threat of massive human sacrifice hanging over Libya's head words are not enough.

It is time for our leaders to stop dithering. It is time not only to speak with one voice but to act as one in a spirit of unity: with a strong common purpose and intention, world leaders must agree to immediately intervene militarily to protect the people of Libya from a leader who is clearly willing to sacrifice his people in order to save his pride and hold on power. To talk at such a time about imposing economic sanctions, a possible arms embargo, travel bans and asset freezes and to give warnings about retributions under international criminal law for possible crimes against humanity is ineffectual at best. Analogies are useful for putting things in perspective: If we were to see a man climbing through the window of a family's home armed and announcing his intention to rape the female inhabitants and then murder the family, what would we do? Would we be satisfied to tell him that the police were watching him and issue warnings about the arrest and trial that are bound to follow his intended crimes? The very thought is preposterous. And yet, we have managed to get ourselves into similarly untenable situations as a community of nations. It is time to correct course and acknowledge that in situations such as the one we see in Libya, the international community must intervene swiftly and effectively to prevent the the crimes against humanity from occurring.

Unfortunately, given the system we have in place, it is not easy to intervene at all let alone swiftly when it comes to the international community. We face and have for a long time faced two problems that we need to solve if were are to get out of this cycle of standing by while atrocities are committed with impunity, be they in Rwanda, Darfur or Libya. The first problem is that of coming to firm and decisive agreement on clear and firm rules to be applied by our international institutions, in particular the Security Council when threats to the peace and human rights atrocities occur. It is time to agree that when governments begin to commit crimes against humanity, the international community has the responsibility to step in and act immediately, using force if necessary. The use of force, is unfortunately, often the only language that these brutal dictators understand. Under such circumstances, threats of economic sanctions, arms embargoes, travel bans and asset freezes and of international criminal trials are ineffectual.

The second problem is that the Security Council currently lacks an international force at its disposal and under its command capable of enforcing its resolutions under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. We need to remedy this and start working on establishing such a force now in the hopes that by the time the next intolerable and unacceptable crisis hits, we will be equipped to actually do something effective about it in a timely fashion. Had we started working on creating such a force a decade ago, today we would have been in a position to intervene effectively and stop the massacre in Libya.

It is better to start late than never, for one thing is certain: given the world we live in, there are bound to be future crises and more opportunities for such a force to act either as a deterrent or as a means to minimize bloodshed and the risks of a destabilizing breach of the peace.

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