As international efforts to create a no-fly zone over Libya continue, debates continue to grow over the UN Resolution itself, along with the role the United States should play in protecting civilians under attack from Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi’s government. UN Security Resolution 1973 authorizes a no-fly zone over Libya as well as “to take all necessary measures . . . to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack.” Thus far, President Obama has taken on what has been called a “Goldilocks military plan”: Not too much, not too little, not too unilateral, not too American. Indeed, Obama’s approach to the events in Libya could, in a word, best be described as moderate. He remains cautious and opposed to leading Libyan operations, stressing that while humanitarian intervention is necessary, command will be transferred to the leadership of other countries shortly. It seems that neither side is pleased: Supporters of the resolution feel Obama remains too cautious, while those who oppose further U.S. involvement in the Muslim world feel that Obama is acting recklessly.
Supporters: Supporters of USCNR 1973 consider the resolution a victory under the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, unanimously adopted by UN member states in 2005 as a response to the international community’s difficulty stopping and preventing genocides (such as those in Bosnia and Rwanda). The doctrine states that the international community has a responsibility to protect the citizens of a State against “genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity . . . through appropriate and necessary means” if the State fails to protect its own citizens. Thus, supporters believe that it is the U.S.’s responsibility to aid in protecting the citizens of Libya against its own government.
While many opponents to U.S. involvement in the no-fly zone argue that the U.S.’s time and money interests could be better utilized elsewhere – the governments of Yemen and Bahrain have also turned violent against protesters, one million people per year die from malaria, and three times that die from hunger – supporters argue that having other areas to assist does not preclude helping another country in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. Stewart Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations explained that geopolitical factors and the complexity of national interests at stake factor into U.S. involvement. According to Patrick, “Just because the international community can't or chooses not to act everywhere doesn't mean that it shouldn't act anywhere when there is sufficient political will to be mobilized.”
Opponents: Opponents to U.S. involvement in the no-fly zone over Libya argue that the U.S. does not know who it is helping in its involvement with Libya. Thomas Friedman commented that the U.S. “should be doubly cautious of intervening in places that could fall apart in our hands, a là Iraq, especially when we do not know, a là Libya, who the opposition groups really are — democracy movements led by tribes or tribes exploiting the language of democracy?” Al-Jazeera, in its lengthy argument against intervention written prior to the passing of UNSCR 1973, stated, “The fact that we know so little about the domestic context among non-regime actors in Libya is precisely the reason that the types of external intervention currently taking place are likely to backfire.” Opponents are cautious, and naturally
so, to involvement in a State on the basis of what they consider insufficient intelligence, frequently drawing on the U.S.’s experience with Iraq. China’s newspaper, the People’s Daily, has gone so far as to say that the U.S. is violating the UN Charter and the rules of international relations by using military means to address the crisis.
At the end of the day, the debate over U.S. intervention in Libya seems to fall on the role of the United States on the international stage. Whether the U.S. should take a stance of helping when able to or abstaining from intervening in the internal disputes of other States is an issue currently under the microscope that will likely not resolve itself anytime soon.