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Chaos in Libya

Author: Matthew C. Waxman, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Law and Foreign Policy
August 20, 2014
Hoover Institution

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In July, American diplomats and Marines fled Tripoli and other foreign governments pulled their personnel. Ever since an international coalition led by NATO forces helped topple the regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011, governance there has been in shambles. Recently the fighting among rival militias has escalated dramatically, and there is no political solution on the horizon.

The 2011 international coalition intervention in Libya was supposed to be a step forward for the "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine: the notion that if a state fails to protect its citizens from mass atrocities, it becomes the international community's responsibility to do so. Tragically, unless it can be turned around, the current collapse of governance and bloody infighting among factional militias there instead will result in a step backwards for this worthy principle.

"Responsibility to Protect" in Libya

In March 2011, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973, which imposed a no-fly zone and authorized member states to "take all necessary measures" to protect civilians under vicious attack from Qaddafi's government. At that time, Qaddafi's forces were poised to slaughter opposition forces and civilians in rebel strongholds. The resolution passed with 10 votes in favor and 5 abstentions, including by permanent-5 members Russia and China (two other BRICS, Brazil and India, were among the abstainers). In authorizing force, the UN Security Council cited the Libyan government's betrayal of its responsibility to protect its population.

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