In Defence of a Liberal Interventionist
In the past years there has been a renewed speculation over the benefits of a legitimate military intervention during a protracted internal conflict, such as the UNSC resolution in March 2011 that established a no-fly zone over Libya whilst also legitimizing limited military intervention. More recently, after the chemical weapons attack in Ghouta in August 2013, there was heated discussion over whether intervening in Syria would be the right action for Western powers. In the light of the ongoing anarchy that Libya has become since 2011, military intervention has become progressively more unpopular – and yet here I sit, a liberal interventionist.
To clarify, a liberal interventionist advocates for military intervention only when civilians en masse are in danger, when the situation in the country has become so degraded that the state cannot be relied on to resolve the situation peacefully. It is my belief that this is the main purpose of having an international community, for having a United Nations – to protect civilians, and prevent systematic human rights violations. So when the situation in post-Gaddafi Libya began to deteriorate rapidly, it became highly difficult to justify oneself as a liberal interventionist. Renewed violence in Benghazi has highlighted that even years after the NATO led intervention little has changed for the everyday citizens in Libya. Their lives are still at risk from internal violence.
A key consequence of the intervention was the widespread proliferation of military equipment into the hands of independent militias; these militias currently wield more power than the central government. Indeed, one militia was able to abduct Prime Minister Ali Zeidan in October 2013 as a show of power, only to release him shortly after. Whilst the military intervention in Libya was from my point of view a liberal intervention – there is also the argument that it was driven by Western desires to gain stronger relationships with whoever would eventually control the Libyan oil fields. This is a matter of opinion, and it could be that both reasons contributed equally to the intervention.
Nevertheless, it is indisputable that the most recent legitimate UNSC sponsored military intervention has led to a catastrophic collapse of national infrastructure. In effect, a military intervention with the intention to protect civilians’ lives has consequently further endangered them. So, it is understandable why in late August 2013 the House of Commons voted against intervention in Syria. After the clear failure in Libya, there was an unwillingness to get involved in a much more entrenched and complex conflict than they faced in 2011. And yet without a military intervention it is likely that the crisis in Syria will continue unabated; until one side triumphs over the other, covered in the blood of their kinsmen. Thus, I still continue to support a military intervention in Syria – the establishment of a no-fly zone, an aggressive bombing campaign on military installations, and although reluctant, I would support boots on the ground as a last resort.
There are currently 16 ongoing peacekeeping missions spread across the globe, peacekeeping is a vital element of the UN, but these missions must be employed carefully so as not to fruitlessly risk lives. On April 21st 2012 the UN Supervision Mission in Syria was formed, a non-violent observer mission that would attempt to enforce a ceasefire through a small presence alone. By August 2012 this mission was allowed to elapse due to its unmitigated failure in preventing the outbreak of renewed conflict across Syria. This was not the observers’ fault, but the fault of the UNSC in thinking that a 300 man non-violent mission would be able to achieve anything during an increasingly violent conflict. A military intervention on a larger scale may have led to actual results. At least it would have stood a chance in creating change, but due to the stigma against such action, it will not happen. Not for now at least.
Military intervention has developed a bad reputation in the past few decades, and for good reason. The NATO intervention in Kosovo was illegitimate, Iraq was a quagmire of disinformation that is better left for a blog of its own, and Libya was left in an anarchic state once Colonel Gaddafi was removed. Liberal interventionists are decreasing in number, and that is terrible for the average citizen living in war torn nations. Sanctions have worked on rare occasions, but when all other means fail – should not the UN use its right to intervene through strength so as to save the lives of innocents?