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Did Qaddafi's End Justify the Means?

Author: Micah Zenko, Senior Fellow
October 18, 2011
Foreign Policy


The world has entered an era characterized by two contradictory dynamics. The first is the "responsibility to protect" (R2P) doctrine, which states that each government is individually responsible for protecting its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. If a government cannot -- or will not -- meet its R2P obligations, then the international community can use military force to protect that state's populace and, potentially, to ensure the removal of offending regimes -- as has happened in the Ivory Coast and Libya this year.

The second dynamic is the prevention or rolling-back of states' acquisitions of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missiles. As authoritarian governments face escalating international scrutiny over their treatment of their people, they have an increasingly greater incentive to develop WMD programs to deter foreign military interventions enforcing R2P. In short, advocates of R2P may be inadvertently encouraging proliferation, because no government possessing WMD has ever been invaded and overthrown by an outside military force.

Toppled Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi gave up his country's nascent nuclear program in 2003 and 2004, removing the potential capability that would have deterred the NATO-led intervention. When Qaddafi handed uranium-enrichment centrifuge components and nuclear weapons blueprints to the United States, he sealed his own fate. Qaddafi's daughter, Aisha, promised that the lesson to take from Libya is that "every country that has weapons of mass destruction [should] keep them or make more so they will not meet the same fate as Libya."

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