Gideon Rachman discusses why the international community has been hesistant to implement the "responsibility to protect" act as it contemplates unlikely foreign intervention in Libya.
“Never again” is the phrase that is always uttered after an international atrocity. It is what is said every time there is an event to commemorate the Holocaust. It was what was said after the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and after the Srebrenica massacre of 1995. And yet the Libyan regime is killing its people in the streets, without much prospect of effective international intervention to stop the bloodshed. Libya is not so much a case of “never again” as “oh no, not again”.
It is not that the world has done nothing. Over the weekend, the UN passed a unanimous resolution that included a travel ban for senior Libyan officials and asset seizures. There was also a rare referral to the International Criminal Court. By the standards of the UN, this was fairly tough stuff.
And yet, watching the proceedings in New York, what is striking is not so much the power of the international community as its impotence. Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, said that the resolution was intended to “stop the violence against innocent civilians”. But with Muammer Gaddafi facing the prospect of defeat and death, it seems unlikely that the closure of bank accounts or a distant threat of prosecution will deter him.
So the American and British governments are now openly floating the idea of direct military intervention against the Gaddafi regime, with the imposition of a “no-fly zone” as a possible first option. Such action would be an exercise of the doctrine of the “responsibility to protect”. The idea behind R2P (the notion is now so much part of international debate that it has been awarded its own acronym) is that the world can no longer tolerate mass atrocities simply because they are taking place within national boundaries. At a certain point, international intervention – even armed intervention – is justified.