‘MONSTERS TO DESTROY’
[America] has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.... She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit....
- John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the United States, in his Warning Against the Search for "Monsters to Destroy," 1821
On 17 March 2011, the United Nations Security Council passed UNSCR 1973, a resolution at least rhetorically designed ‘to protect civilians’ amidst an insurrection in Libya that was never proved to exceed a tribally and geographically- based, and largely religiously fundamentalist minority of the Libyan population. In reality the resolution and the insurrection that spawned it would become a fig leaf disguise and justification for Western powers and allied Arab dictatorships to undertake a, as Stephen Walt writing for Foreign Policy characterizes it – a classic case of ‘Foreign Imposed Regime Change (or FIRC) of the government of the Libyan Arab Jamarhiryah and the installation of a puppet government of ex-regime figures and returned exiles that would be more aligned to Western Hegemonic and geopolitical interests in the region. Also, of course, to bring Libyan energy and water resources fully into the global market and under greater control of European energy companies to help ensure a stable supply of energy to the EU that does not depend on Russia. Geopolitics, expansion of the global capitalist system, and energy security.
The resolution was passed with 10 yes votes and five abstentions: Russia, China, Brazil, India, and Germany. The BRICS showed admirable unity here in their joint position of abstaining and then later in their joint and visceral condemnation of NATO’s perversion and blatant violations of the mandate of UNSCR 1973. However, ultimately they failed to uphold their duties and responsibilities as Security Council Members to preserve both international peace and the principles of the UN Charter.
Personally, I blame Russian President Dmitri Medvedev for the fall of Libya and I believe he shares responsibility for all the deaths that have followed, as he broke with the longstanding Russian foreign policy tradition of upholding the UN Charter’s foundation of the inviolability of state sovereignty and abstained in an attempt to curry favor with Western powers for his domestic ‘modernization’ agenda, or as it should more correctly be called – neoliberalism. With this turnaround, Medvedev’s administration faced disagreement and opposition from Prime Minister Putin, from within the Foreign Ministry and even from Russia’s ambassador to Libya who reportedly wrote Medvedev a letter calling him ‘a traitor to the motherland’ for his selling out of Libya, before being recalled. At the point the resolution was passed, the insurrection had been quickly rolled back and contained by the Libyan Army to the Eastern city of Benghazi. Libya’s government needed one or two weeks at most to put down the rebellion and to restore law and order to the country. A Russian veto would have stopped cold or at least stalled with political indecision NATO’s military plans. Given that time, all the deaths and destruction of Libya’s infrastructure and society could have been avoided and Quaddafi and his sons would still be alive with us today.
The passing of UNSCR 1973 and the immediately subsequent military intervention were legally justified under the doctrine of the ‘Right to Protect’, or R2P. The Security Council’s remit to interfere in the sovereign state would seem to be non-existent, as the conflict was contained in its entirety to the territory of Libya and as thus presented no threat to or breach of ‘international peace and security’. The most essential founding principle of the existing international system and the United Nations Charter which legally defines it, is that of state sovereignty and of non-interference in their domestic affairs. Article 2 guarantees the ‘sovereign equality’ of all Member states.
Article 2 Section 4 states: All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
Article 2 Section 7 states: Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter.
R2P is a revisionist challenge to existing international law first proposed by the US, the EU, Canada, and other Western states in the heady unipolar moment of the1990’s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Advocates of R2P argue that sovereignty is not a right, but a responsibility and that a state must protect its civilians or its sovereignty can be violated and taken away.
The doctrine of R2P has never achieved the status of international law because states were not willing to embody this principle in a binding treaty. Instead it is presented as an ‘emergent’ principle or norm. In other words – its proponents are trying by stealth to rewrite the UN Charter and existing international law, and thus the existing international order of states – and to forge a ‘New World Order’. Western states have applied it selectively and hypocritically, to say the least. The truth is that the R2P is too capacious a norm to regulate states: It can be cited to justify virtually any intervention in any country that the West might want to invade, while it can also be evaded on grounds that it is not formal law, so countries can avoid intervening in a crisis when intervention does not serve their interests. R2P is not a needed reform to the international system, but a threat to its legitimacy and to the stability of the international order.
The threshold of ‘failure to protect’ is the four ‘Mass Atrocity Crimes’ of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. There is no evidence that the suppression of intermixed armed rebels and protesters reached anywhere near these levels in Libya. There was no independent investigation or inspection of the events in Libya conducted by the UN, as has become standard procedure for such accusations. Western states cited the urgent and immediate need to act to prevent a ‘bloodbath or massacre’ in Benghazi However there is no reason to suspect this was the case. There were no massacres of the civilian population in any of the other cities and towns that the Libyan government had restored order to. Western MSM carried salacious and horrifying tabloidish front-page stories and primetime broadcast reports of massacres of protesters, systematic mass rape, and the firing on crowds of civilians by the Libyan airforce – and this misinformation was repeated in the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Security Council as fact. Evidence of these atrocities presented to the Security Council was merely ‘word of mouth’. The newly-formed ‘independent Libyan NGO’ which presented these accusations turned out to have several members of the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) leadership on its board.
Later no corroborating evidence of any of these reports was found. Human Rights Watch has reported that at the time of the passing of UNSCR 1973, after one month, there were only 233 people killed in Libya. On both sides of the conflict. Later at two months into the conflict, Human Rights Watch released data on Misurata, the third-biggest city in Libya and scene of the most heavy and protracted fighting, and revealed that the Libyan government was NOT deliberately massacring civilians but rather narrowly targeting the armed rebels who fight against the government. Misurata’s population is roughly 400,000. In the first two months of war, only 257 people — including combatants — died there. Of the 949 wounded, only 22 — less than 3 percent — were women. HRW concluded that if Quaddafi were indiscriminately targeting civilians, women would comprise about half the casualties. Clearly in their frenzied rush to instigate regime change and remove a so-called ‘dictator’, who had at this point been so demonized in the Western MSM for decades that people were willing to believe him capable of anything, evidence of atrocities were fabricated and presented as fact.
When R2P supporters advocated the doctrine before the U.N. in the middle of the last decade, they emphasized its nonmilitary aspects and insisted that the use of force would be a rare last resort. Yet in Libya force almost immediately followed the ultimatums issued to Qaddafi. Two ceasefires proposed by Quaddafi and one by the African Union were immediately and summarily rejected by NATO and rebel leaders. The principle form of UNSCR 1973 R2P was supposedly a ‘no fly zone’ to protect ‘civilians and civilian populated areas’ from attack. However even the US military had to admit that they had no evidence or confirmation that at any time in the civil unrest or conflict did Quaddafi’s airforce ever fire on civilians or civilian populated areas. Under R2P - ‘No Fly Zone’ has become an Orwellian euphemism for NATO using its airforce, drones, and cruise missiles to bomb a state’s military, government, infrastructure, and cities into oblivion. Ironically, now that Quaddafi and his family have been brutally murdered by rebels mobs after being captured as Prisoners of War – including anal rape with an American-made bayonette, castration, being dragged through the streets behind a truck, and then finally shot in the head – and with HRW reporting mass and systematic abuse, summary executions, arbitrary arrest and detention by militias, torture, arson, looting, and the lynching and ethnic cleansing of Libyan and African blacks in every city and town taken by the rebels – it appears that if NATO’s true concern were human rights and protecting civilians – that rather than bombing Sirte and Bani Walid – they should have been targeting the rebels.
As a result, everywhere outside Western Europe and North America, R2P is losing what little ethical credibility it ever commanded. This should surprise no one. A doctrine of intervention that both claims the moral high ground and clamours its universality but under which the interveners are always from the Global North and the intervened upon always from the Global South is not moral progress; it is geopolitical business as usual.
In ‘The Liberal Defense of Murder’, Richard Seymour believes that the US has long been engaged in an imperial enterprise in the name of R2P, and that its foot soldiers include a great number of liberals and progressives. He casts these thinkers and writers as enablers. "Imperialism is not a distant relic, but a living reality," he writes, "and the moralisation of the means of violence has been the task of liberal and progressive intellectuals since they first competed with clerics for moral authority." R2P should properly be known, not as humanitarian intervention, but for what it is – ‘humanitarian’ imperialism.
The war in Libya is a creation of the liberal intellectuals – just as the war in Iraq was a creation of the neo-conservatives. Many of the liberal intellectuals in the West who vigorously opposed the Iraq war have just as vigorously been advocating intervention in Libya. Both groups are serenely convinced of their own moral rightness. Yet, the delusions of the R2P crowd aren’t all that different from the delusions of the neo-cons, who thought they could march into Iraq, decapitate the dictator, and help the cheering throngs embrace democracy. Has the past decade taught these people nothing? Now there is already talk among Western politicians of using the example set in Libya ,what is already being referred to by liberals as the ‘Obama Doctrine’ or the ‘Libyan Model’ next in Suria, and then Iran – and similar threats have even been made by US Senator John McCain against Russia and China.
The United Nations and international law has for the past twenty years been little more than the playground and tool of the US and its Western allies to further and legitimize Western global hegemony. The attempt to characterize the doctrine of R2P as an ‘emergent norm’ can clearly be seen as a revisionist attempt to rewrite the UN Charter and international law – and thus reshape the existing international order to their interests and whims. The BRICS nations must not give up and surrender these institutions, but actively engage in a political and legal fight to preserve international law and the UN, as they still represent the best framework to develop a truly international and multipolar future, with the democratic assembly of the UN General Assembly and the UNSC allowing for a dialogue between the great powers and civilizations. R2P presents probably the greatest normative threat to this future. It is Russia and China’s duty as members of the Security Council to resist the revisionism of R2P and its use as justification for military force to advance geopolitical and national interests, even when, such as i Libya it does not threaten their own core interests. Thus they will preserve the UN Charter and safeguard international peace and stability. It is a duty, and true responsibility, a moral obligation, and also within their own long-term national and security interests. The famous old maxim of ‘first they came for the communists and I said nothing because I am not a communist’ applies to international affairs as well. Otherwise Libya’s grim fate could await Russia, China and the other BRICS as well. These are the harsh lessons that must be learned from Libya. The monster that needs to be destroyed is R2P.
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