| Jan-Mar 09 | Apr-Jun 09 | Jul-Sept 09 | Oct-Dec 09 | Jan-May 10 | Jun-Dec 10 | Jan-May 11 | Jun-Dec 11 |

[Dehai-WN] Foreignpolicyjournal.com: The Role of the West and Military Intervention in Libya

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Tue, 17 Apr 2012 00:46:33 +0200

The Role of the West and Military Intervention in Libya

by Anthony T. Eniayejuni

April 17, 2012

yejuni-Intervention-Libya.pdf> Download this paper (PDF)


The uprisings and sudden break in the continuity of established autocratic
regimes and political institutions of states in the Middle-East and North
Africa took their respective regimes by surprise, particularly in Libya. By
20th February 2011, the unrest in Libya had spread from Benghazi to the
capital of Tripoli. The protesters took the law into their own hands and
turned rebellious; destroying; looting; burning down several government
buildings, banks, and police stations; and calling on Libyan leader Muammar
Gaddafi to step down and democratize. In response to the unrest, the Libyan
leader began a violent crackdown on mass anti-regime rebels, which resulted
in strong condemnation by the international community. This study will
examine the role of the West, international organizations, and their
military intervention.


Human activities around the world are increasingly linked together through
flows of communications, ideas, and production. Keohane explains this
inter-connectivity as globalism, which he define “as a state of the world
involving networks of interdependence of multi-continental distances linked
through flows of capital and goods, information, technologies and ideas,
people and force, as well as environmentally and biologically relevant
substance.”[1] Advances in technology and the rapidly growing popularity in
the use of the Internet have brought awareness to people of the Middle East
and North Africa, as they previously had little or no knowledge beyond their
borders. With the use of social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter,
Dailymotion, and YouTube, these people could communicate more with the
outside world, which gave them insight into how things are done outside
their region.

The internet and social media networks played a crucial role in the upheaval
in the Middle East and North Africa. The uprisings experienced in the
Middle-East, and North Africa has resulted in partial or complete overthrows
of established autocratic regimes by those who were previously subjected to
it. After the uprisings that overturned the rulers of Tunisia and Egypt,
their immediate neighbor Libya experienced a full-scale revolt beginning on
15th February 2011.

The popular unrest began as a series of protests and confrontations against
the Government of Libya and its leader Muammar Gaddafi. The unrest was
centered on Libya’s two largest cities, Tripoli in the west and Benghazi in
the east. The rebels destroyed and looted enormous stockpiles of weapons
after burning several security and government buildings.[2] By 18th February
2011, with some support from police and defecting military units, the rebels
were able to take over Benghazi, the country’s second-largest city. The
government reacted by sending elite troops, which were resisted by the
rebels and insurrectionary members of the military.[3]

The use of violence against the Libyan rebels and civilians by Gaddafi’s
regime drew international condemnation. The rest of this study is divided
into three sections: definition of terms is given in section 2. A conceptual
framework is given in section 3, followed by the role of the West and the
international community, including the involvement of the United Nations and
the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), in section 4.


Kenneth Roth has argued that military intervention should never be taken
lightly, even for humanitarian purposes, because death, destruction, and
disorder are the predictable consequences of most wars. However, the
imperative of stopping or preventing another systematic slaughter can
sometimes justify the use of military force.[4]

Meanwhile, intervention according to Bhikhu Parekh “is an act of intervening
in the internal affairs of another country with a view to end the physical
suffering caused by the disintegrations or gross misuse of authority of the
state, and helping to create conditions in which a viable structure of civil
authority can emerge.”[5] On this basis, the prevention of widespread
physical suffering or death, taking place as a result of gross misuse of
authority of a state, can constitute a just cause for intervention.

For Adam Roberts, it means “intervening in a state militarily, without the
approval of its authorities, and with the purpose of preventing widespread
suffering or death among the inhabitants.”[6] That is, military action can
thus justify humanitarian intervention, in a situation when all necessary
measures have been taken to avert suffering caused by repressive government
or internal conflicts which civil and political rights of the citizens are
grossly violated.

According to Martha Finnemore, intervention means deploying military forces
across borders for protecting foreign nationals from man-made violence, and
that such intervention must be multilateral in order to be acceptable and
legitimate.[7] Thus, external intervention can be legitimate, provided it is
conducted according to generally accepted international norms and is based
on humanitarian concerns or the desires to prevent killings, sufferings, and
massive cross-border flows.[8]

So, for this study, military intervention is defined as the use of force
across state borders by group of states and regional organizations with
degrees of justification and reasons for their action, ostensibly in order
to restore peace and security, as well as to end widespread of physical
suffering and gross violations of human rights, with multilateral support
but without the approval of the state in which the intervention takes place.


After the end of the Cold War, a liberal intervention referred to as
‘humanitarian intervention’ gained popularity, and the principle of state
sovereignty was redefined, implying that sovereignty could no longer be used
as a shield by any government or state leader to violate the fundamental
rights of their citizens with impunity.

According to Fernando Teson, “the ultimate justification for the existence
of states is the protection and enforcement of individual rights, a
government that abuses these rights betrays the very purpose for which it
exists and thereby should not be protected by international law and does not
have the right to be free from intervention aimed at reforming its

Similarly, Thomas Weiss argues that “the notion that human beings matter
more than sovereignty radiated brightly, albeit briefly, across the
international political horizon of the 1990s.”[10] The significant shift
during this period led the way in redefining state sovereignty, and pressing
new humanitarian claims within the international system.


4.1 United Nations

The armed uprising against the four-decade rule of Gaddafi and increased
violence by his government to suppress the rebels led to civil war,
international condemnation, and military intervention backed by the UN
Security Council. On 26th February 2011, the UN Security Council adopted
resolution 1970, imposing economic sanctions, travel bans, and an arms
embargo; freezing Gaddafi’s assets, and those of certain other government
officials; and referring the acts of violence by Gaddafi’s regime to the
International Criminal Court (ICC).[11] The Council obligated all UN member
states to freeze without delay all funds, financial assets, and economic
resources, which are on their territories and which are owned or controlled,
directly or indirectly, by the individuals or entities listed in the

On 28th February 2011, the US Treasury Department announced that it had
frozen at least $30 billion of Libyan government assets.[13] The European
Union (EU) and other UN member states also imposed sanctions.[14]

On 17th March 2011, the UN Security Council passed resolution 1973 with 10-0
vote and five abstentions. The Resolution sanctioned the establishment of a
no-fly zone, and authorized Member States, acting either alone or through
regional organizations or arrangements, “to take all necessary measures to
protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including
Benghazi.”[15] The resolution was in response to the claims of killings and
mistreatment of civilians in parts of Libya by the Libyan government
following the armed uprising. Meanwhile, Chapter VII of the UN Charter
through Articles 39, 41 and 42 enables the Security Council to authorize
military enforcement action to maintain or restore peace and security, only
in cases where it finds a threat to international peace and security.[16]

Following the passage of the Resolution, the Western coalition spearheaded
by the United States of America (US), France, the United Kingdom (UK), and
NATO launched attacks targeting Libya’s air defense systems and commanding
centers in order to enforce the no-fly zone.

On 27th June 2011, The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Gaddafi, his son
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and Libya’s intelligence chief, Abdullah Senussi, for
war crimes and crimes against humanity. The ICC ordered them to stand trial
on charges of torturing, imprisonment, and killing of civilians, and rebels;
and using cluster bombs, mortars and other heavy weapons in crowded urban

Meanwhile, there are reports and video footages showing Libyan rebels
indiscriminately engaged in racist abuse, torture, and mass killings of
black Africans, as well as black Libyans, accusing them of fighting for
Gaddafi; and the ICC did not issue an arrest warrant to any member of the
Rebels Transitional Council for atrocities committed.

4.2 North Atlantic Treaty Organization

The adoption of Resolution 1973 by UN Security Council, which imposed a ban
on all flights in the airspace of Libya in order to help protect civilians,
excluded flights evacuating foreign nationals, and any other flights not
authorized to enforce the no-fly zone. Reference to all necessary means, and
acting either alone or through regional organizations or arrangements, are
the standard phrases used by UN Security Council to authorize military
action by any member states; while NATO involvement in Libya stands as a
regional organization.

On 27th March 2011, NATO officially took command of the military operations
previously directed by the US, UK, and France. The NATO member governments
claimed the support of the international community and an appeal from League
of Arab States on the back of the UN resolutions. In a 2002 Prague summit
communiqué, NATO agreed that allies must be able to field forces that move
quickly to wherever they are needed, sustain operations over distance and
time, and achieve their objectives. The communiqué marks the moment that
NATO decided to assume responsibilities around the globe. “The allies made a
commitment to build capabilities necessary to go out of area. They agreed to
establish a NATO Response Force of 20,000 troops for rapid insertion into
theater of operations.”[18]

NATO’s intervention in Libya was ostensibly to enforce UN resolutions, but a
few days into the campaign, their actions showed the real objectives of
their intervention. Firstly, the recognition of Libyan Rebels Transitional
Council by the West as the legitimate representatives of Libyan people; and
secondly, NATO’s bombing of Gaddafi’s residence made it crystal clear that
West and NATO’s intervention would settle for nothing less than regime
change; while regime change, and provision of military logistics to the
rebels were not part of UN resolutions on Libya.

According to Egon Ramms, NATO’s involvement in Libya and its support to the
rebels has played a decisive role in the rebel’s campaign to topple
Gaddafi’s regime, and in the killing of Gaddafi on 20th October 2011.[19]

On 21st October 2011, NATO agreed that its operation was very close to
completion and made a preliminary decision to end its operation in Libya on
October 2011. [20]


Military intervention across state borders by group of states or regional
organizations with the approval of the UN Security Council has many
complexities. The UN Security Council is made up of five permanent members
who have veto power; they are neither a neutral body nor are democratically
elected. This actually makes the UN Security Council highly politicized,
because they can be motivated by their national interest or by economic
reasons, instead of taking decisions on humanitarian grounds.

For instance, a similar uprising has been going on for more than 10 months
now in Syria, where thousands of people were killed by government forces;
and the UN Security Council as well as the international community and NATO
are yet to intervene. The plights of the civilian population in Yemen and
Bahrain, where various lethal weapons are used to quell anti-government
protests have failed to attract international attention and intervention.

Another interesting thing in this double standard approach is; how can we
say an arms embargo was imposed on Libya when weapons of different kinds
were being supplied to the Libyan rebels by UN member states? Thus, NATO’s
military intervention that ought to have protected civilians and civilian
populated areas did more harm than good; their bombardment resulted in
killing large number of unarmed civilians, as well as Gaddafi’s son and his
three grandchildren.

Judging NATO by their actions, it is obvious that NATO involvement in Libya
was actually in support of the Libyan rebels. Therefore, when states are
motivated by their national interest rather than a pure humanitarian motive,
there will be selectivity in terms of intervention.


[1] R. O. Keohane, 2002: Power and Governance in a partially Globalized
World, New York, US: Routledge, p. 273

[2] R. Norton-Taylor and N. Hopkins, Libya warned smugglers are looting
Gaddafi’s guns, retrieved on (6/02/2012) from

[3] The Libyan protests, retrieved on (03/12/2011) from

[4] K. Roth. “Was the Iraq War a Humanitarian Intervention?” Journal of
Military Ethics, vol. 5, Is. 2, pp.84-92, 2006

[5] C. Chang, 2011: Ethical foreign policy?: US humanitarian interventions,
Burlington, US: Ashgate Publishing, p.11

[6] C. Reed and D. Ryall, 2007: The price of peace: just war in the
twenty-first century, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, p.110

[7] M. Finnemore, 2004: The purpose of intervention: changing beliefs about
the use of force, Ithaca NY, US: Cornell University Press, p.53

[8] J. Trent and M. Rahman, 2007: Modernizing the United Nations system:
civil society’s role in moving from international relations to global
governance, Leverkusen, Germany: Barbara Budrich, p.144

[9] Eric Heinze, 2009: Waging humanitarian war: the ethics, law and politics
of humanitarian intervention, Albany, US: SUNY Press, p.26

[10] L. Brock, H. Holm, G. Sorenson and M. Stohl, 2012: Fragile States,
Malden MA, US: Polity, p.117

[11] Security Council 6491 Meeting, retrieved on (10/01/2012) from

[12] Libya: Security Council Imposes Sanctions on Authorities in Bid to stem
Violent Repression, retrieved on (10/01/2012), from

[13] US freezes $30 billion of Libyan assets, retrieved on (10/01/2012) from

[14] Developments in Libya: an overview of the EU’s response, retrieved on
(10/01/2012) from

[15] Security Council 6498 Meeting, retrieved on (09/01/2012) from

[16] Charter of United Nations, retrieved on (09/01/2012) from

[17] UN News Centre, retrieved on (10/01/2012) from

[18] M. I. Clausson, 2006: NATO: status, relations and decision-making, New
York, US: Nova Publishers, p.5

[19] NATO has ‘played a decisive role’ in Libya, retrieved on (1/02/2012)
from <http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15346089,00.html>

[20] NATO and Libya- Operation Unified Protector, retrieved on (13/01/2012)
from <http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/topics_71652.htm>


      ------------[ Sent via the dehai-wn mailing list by dehai.org]--------------
Received on Mon Apr 16 2012 - 18:46:35 EDT
Dehai Admin
© Copyright DEHAI-Eritrea OnLine, 1993-2012
All rights reserved