The Responsibility to Protect the Libya Test Case

By Woodward, Margaret H.; Morrison, Philip G. | Joint Force Quarterly, October 2013 | Go to article overview

The Responsibility to Protect the Libya Test Case


Woodward, Margaret H., Morrison, Philip G., Joint Force Quarterly


The history of the air campaign over Libya has yet to be fully written. What might appear as yet another "operation in the Middle East" to the casual observer is in fact a revolution in global politics and the role of the United Nations (UN) as a global leadership body. The world collectively redefined what sovereignty is and what it means to the people of the world. Operation Odyssey Dawn consummated the resolve of the international community to protect the global citizenry from atrocities, even those originating in their own state. Odyssey Dawn also presented significant challenges since it was the first operation of its kind and was correspondingly governed by novel objectives, rules of engagement, and limitations. The result of the operation has far-reaching political and military implications that are important for both statesmen and military leaders to understand. To fully grasp the significance of Odyssey Dawn, it is important to understand the recent history that led to the events of the March 2011 air campaign.

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While state-sponsored atrocities against domestic populations are not new, the scale, ferocity, and international awareness of such crimes were far greater in the 20th century than in any other period. The events truly affronted the international community and eventually led to a revolution of political ideas.

Tribal violence in Rwanda between the Hutus and Tutsis in 1994 turned into a bloody civil war that removed the minority Tutsis from power and placed the previously disenfranchised Hutus in control of the country. The Hutus had chafed under the brutal rule of the Tutsis for decades, so once the Hutus seized power, they started a campaign to systematically destroy Tutsi resistance and punish them for their previous actions. This led to the rampant murder of Tutsis and eventually spiraled into widespread genocide. Although the United Nations initially sent peacekeeping troops to Rwanda, the conflict was quickly reclassified as a civil war and the UN had to extricate itself from the situation in accordance with its charter. (1)

This left soon-to-be Secretary-General Kofi Annan sorely disappointed by the inability of the global community to aid those who were not protected by their own governments. The situation was desperate as women and children were raped and murdered and the global community was forced to watch, unable to intervene through the United Nations. By the end of the conflict, over 800,000 people had been executed at the hands of their own government in the short period of 100 days. (2)

Even while violence was erupting in Rwanda, the Balkan region was thrown into violent turmoil. Fractious new nations that separated from Yugoslavia found themselves faced with national identity crises following the disintegration of the former communist nation. While the communist dictator Josip Tito had managed to suppress much of the ethnic and religious hatred in the region, his death and the collapse of the Yugoslavian nation revived old hatreds and religious strife. The most conflicted of these fledgling nations was the small country of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The rift among the predominantly Orthodox Serbian people, Catholic Croatians, and Muslim Albanians led to genocide by the Serbs against the Albanians during the late 1990s. The murder of over 100,000 ethnic Albanian Muslims eventually forced the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to intervene in 1999, while UN peacekeepers stationed in the country had to remain neutral as they stood by witnessing the atrocities. (3) Unlike Rwanda, where no one intervened and the world sat idly by, despite impassioned pleas for intervention, NATO intervention in Bosnia was met with as much controversy as was the lack of intervention in Rwanda. Russia and China both argued that NATO illegally circumvented the UN Security Council (UNSC) by acting without its backing, (4) but the action was later justified by UNSC Resolution (UNSCR) 1244. …

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