The people disarmed

by Chris Bertram on March 18, 2011

Since I’m not a political party and don’t have a vote at the United Nations, my opinions on the Libyan conflict and no-fly zone happily matter to no-one (except perhaps some enraged bloggers). I certainly won’t be demonstrating against the no-fly zone and, as soon as it gets implemented (as opposed to voted on) I hope it works. But I’d rather not be here. The problem is, as I see it, that the involvement of France, the UK, and the “international community”, and the framing of the issue in terms of civilian protection, fundamentally changes the nature of what’s going on. A series of popular demonstrations, met with armed force, was rapidly transformed into an armed popular uprising, with the possibility of the Libyan people taking control for themselves. And armed popular uprisings, aimed at overthrowing the state do not admit of the neat categorizations of persons presupposed by just war theory, humanitarian intervention, and so forth. The people armed is just that: the people armed. I don’t know if the uprising could have succeeded. The news was contradictory—with frequent reports by Gaddafi that he’d taken cities proving to be false—but, on the whole, it was not encouraging. I’d certainly rather have a no-fly zone (if it works, which is a big if) than the uprising defeated and mass killings by the Gaddafi family in revenge. But a successful popular uprising is no longer a possibility either. Most of the Libyan people have now been cast into the role of passive victims rather than active agents of their own liberation. Some Libyans may rally to the Gaddafi regime out of a sense of wounded national pride at outside interference. And even if Gaddafi falls (which I hope he will) the successor regime will lack the legitimacy it might have had, and will no doubt be resented and undermined by nationalist Gaddafi loyalists biding their time and representing it as the creature of the West. So not good, though I confess to lacking the information to know whether it could have been better.

{ 79 comments }

1

praisegod barebones 03.18.11 at 10:31 am

I’d regard that as a relatively optimistic take for two reasons.

1. It assumes that the most likely result of the intervention will be a relatively quick overthrow of Gaddafi, rather than a long and protracted struggle. I hope that that will happen. But let’s not assume its a ‘slam dunk’.

(I’ve read carefully, and I can see you’ve said: ‘if it succeeds, which is a big if’. Fair enough. But what I mean is that this is largely a post about the downsides of a succesful intervention, about which I agree with you; and not the downsides of an unsuccesful one.)

2. Your comment that a successor regime ‘will be represented as a creature of the West’ seems to suggest (nay, to conversationally implicate) that this will be a
mis representation. But I suspect that the price of intervention may actually turn out to be that the successor governmment actually is a creature of the West. ( To be clear, I don’t deny, that such a government regime is nonetheless very likely -though not certain – to be a huge improvement on Gaddafi.)

Here’s a question for you: National Liberation movements have a certain statis under international law. Would you have been happier to see the anti-Gaddafi forces treated as one of those?

(I suspect there will be clear reasons why they couldn’t be, and hope that an international lawyer will pop up and tell us why; but my question is more along the lines of ‘do you think it would be better if popular uprisings could be treated in this way?)

2

Chris Bertram 03.18.11 at 10:46 am

I’d imagine that a successor government will neither be a creature of the West nor wholly independent, but, like most governments, somewhere in between. But I guess what it turned out to be might depend a lot on (a) how democratic it ends up being and (b) what happens elsewhere in the region.

I don’t know what the answer to your question at the end should be. I suspect that doing this ends up assimilating popular uprisings to some category that international law finds more manageable (at the expense of falsifying the essential nature of the phenomenon.)

3

chris y 03.18.11 at 10:56 am

I’d imagine that a successor government will neither be a creature of the West nor wholly independent, but, like most governments, somewhere in between.

Except that it’s difficult to see how a successor government will be established except by a process which directly involves the West (probably thinly disguised as the UN). There doesn’t appear to be an existing alternative structure that can take over directly. This would make whatever emerges rather more a creature of the West than most.

4

Colin Reid 03.18.11 at 11:35 am

Perhaps we should ask the Kosovo Albanians how they feel about NATO and the UN these days.

5

praisegod barebones 03.18.11 at 11:41 am

CB@2

Well, it’s going to be the nature of a precedent-based system like internaional law that it will end up assimilating things that it can’t easily deal with to other things.

It’s not obvious to me – absent further argument – that that has to be a bad thing; unless one thinks that the best thing for the international communtiy to do in this situation is ‘not very much’ (and I think that one can have good reasons – such as the ones being put forward by Richard Seymour, over at Lenin’s Tomb – for thinking this).

If one doesn’t think so – well, I’d rather have the international community get involved in ways which are sanctioned by International Law than not (because ‘not’, even when justified in the short term, sets a bad precedent.) And since, as you say, interntional law doesn’t deal with revolutionary uprisings very well, the question is: ok if we have to assimilate this to something, is it better to treat it as a humanitarian crisis or as a struggel for national liberation.

6

Helper 03.18.11 at 11:48 am

Writing “what I say doesn’t matter but if you take it seriously (and disagree with me) you are by implication an enraged blogger” seems a somewhat tendentious way to begin a discussion.

7

Chris Bertram 03.18.11 at 11:55 am

Well apologies for that Helper. I was merely trying to evade the syndrome where bloggers take themselves for generals/diplomats/world historical figures and their (enraged) critics concur in that self-image (except with a minus-sign instead of a plus = “lackey of imperialism”/”accomplice in genocide”). I’m not in charge of the 22nd Keyboard Division, I’m putting some tentative thoughts out there, and I’m grateful for the (non-enraged) comments so far.

8

soru 03.18.11 at 12:42 pm

‘I don’t know if the uprising could have succeeded. ‘

Is there a 20C or later precedent for a successful uprising in a country with military-grade roads everywhere, against a ruler with an army that will repeatedly shoot non-violent protesters, and a source of income that will keep on paying their wages?

I suppose the Sandanista revolution comes closest, but not particularly so. And that was 30 years ago, in one country out of 20 odd with similar conditions in the americas alone.

I wonder if there is some kind of news inversion process going on? Freak events, like a weaker army beating a stronger one, happen every few decades. Routine ones, like civil protest leading to reforms, or a strong army beating a weaker one, happen every year somewhere.

So the former are big news, the latter soon forgotten.

Any kind of law made from headline cases is not going to be a good one, and about the only thing more sensationalist than news is remembered news.

9

praisegod barebones 03.18.11 at 12:45 pm

I have to say that I’m not so much enraged as confused – not, I hasten to add, by Chris Bertram’s post as by reality (or at least, what I’m seeing on TV). That said I suspect that this is one of those situations where if you’re not confused, you don’t really understand what’s going on.

Of course, I do think we should redouble our efforts to get CT a seat among the permanent members of the Security Council…

10

Stuart 03.18.11 at 12:56 pm

So if even the threat of a no fly zone causes an immediate ceasefire by government forces, will it have been a good thing then?

11

Z 03.18.11 at 1:20 pm

I was among the people very doubtful about a no-fly zone (because of the assorted bombings it implied and for reasons described in a comment to John’s post) but I must say that the ensuing cease-fire is an extremely positive outcome that I, for once, hadn’t foreseen at all (if pressed, I would have rather thought that Lybian forces would have accelerated their attack so as to finish the business before the strikes).

12

Harry 03.18.11 at 2:03 pm

Exactly the same reaction as Z. IF the ceasefire holds, that is, and if something can be accomplished in its wake.

13

Niamh 03.18.11 at 2:07 pm

‘Humanitarian intervention’ is far from unproblematic of course, and western sensitivity to the suffering of civilian populations is highly variable. One interesting development is that Gaddafi finally lost the support of other Arab strongman regimes, which contributed to making the UN resolution possible: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/03/after-mideast-uprisings-will-the-arab-league-finally-lead/72541/

‘The people’ might mean very different things in different countries too, and elements of the ‘deep state’ may be willing to do different kinds of deals with emergent anti-regime activists. This means that the analogy sometimes suggested with change in East-Central Europe may be misleading: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/03/10/think_again_arab_democracy

The question as to who may benefit from change in Libya seems still to be quite open, since opposition had been all but crushed under Gaddafi: http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2011/02/21/hugh-miles/after-gaddafi/

More generally, western attempts at state-building in some large patronage-based states can produce perverse outcomes, resulting in a kind of globalization of conflict through monetization of the terms of peace deals: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v32/n12/alex-de-waal/dollarised

14

Rich Puchalsky 03.18.11 at 2:31 pm

I can’t criticize your ideas without casting myself and/or you as a “generals/diplomats/world historical figure”? You’re an intellectual, and you’re evidently not thinking very well.

How is this enthusiasm for no-fly zones any different than what the Decent Left did at the beginning of the Iraq War? Saddam was a horrible dictator. He regularly killed people, including via the use of poison gas. So people like you were ready to put your public speaking as intellectuals at the service of military action, apparently in the fond belief that military action would stay confined to what you thought would be appropriate, instead of the authorization being for whatever actual political and military leaders wanted to do.

“I’d certainly rather have a no-fly zone (if it works, which is a big if) than the uprising defeated and mass killings by the Gaddafi family in revenge. “

But that isn’t your choice. You, insofar as your words encourage anything, get to either say that the no fly zone seems on balance to be a good or a bad thing, as far as anyone can tell right now. No one knows whether it will work or what will happen if Gaddafi wins. And this kind of qualified I-support-it-if-it-works nonsense is again exactly what I saw from the Decent Left pre-Iraqi-War.

I’m disappointed in you, and Quiggin, and (judging from the comments) in CT generally. People haven’t learned much from recent history, it seems.

15

praisegod barebones 03.18.11 at 2:32 pm

Or the result might be: Gaddafi holds on to power; an immediate massacre is averted; everyone turns their attention elsewhere; Gaddafi slowly consolidates a hold on power and gets to pick of his enemies one by one. (One thing that I doubt the UN resolution authorises is going after Gaddafi under current circumstances.)

Better than a masscare: probably, if that’s what was going to happen. But a long way from what one might have hoped for.

I’d also say: one thing that we can learn from this is that armchair prognostications about the results of certain actions have all the epistemic virtues that armachair prognostications typically have …

16

Z 03.18.11 at 2:44 pm

You, insofar as your words encourage anything, get to either say that the no fly zone seems on balance to be a good or a bad thing, as far as anyone can tell right now.

I think this is a fair standard to require. So let me play the game. On balance, I thought a no-fly zone was a bad thing, for reasons I laid out at John’s post. However, I must say that a cease-fire following the threat of a no-fly zone is as good an outcome as I thought we could get, considering the situation on the ground. That said, my optimism and enthusiasm go that far and no further: the scenario outlined by praisegod seems awfully likely, and I concur with the assessment. At best, better than a massacre. I can’t envision any positive progress, but on the subject of Libya, I have been proved wrong twice in a few months (I thought an uprising there was unlikely, and I thought that Lybian forces would accelerate, not stop, their attack in case of diplomatic measures) so I don’t trust myself anymore.

17

Uncle Kvetch 03.18.11 at 2:59 pm

the fond belief that military action would stay confined to what you thought would be appropriate, instead of the authorization being for whatever actual political and military leaders wanted to do.

Precisely.

18

Sev 03.18.11 at 3:03 pm

#15 “the scenario outlined by praisegod seems awfully likely.” It does, though don’t trust myself either, and no-fly zone may bring outside powers increasingly into conflict with Gaddaffi, as Rich #13 envisions. The momentum of the Arab Spring seems to have shifted to the Powers That Be, and this does appear in itself to be a considerable factor. People living under Gaddaffi’s umbrella and making the calculation of what risks are worth taking are undoubtedly recalculating, (mostly according to local conditions, of course).

19

Jeffrey C. Goldfarb 03.18.11 at 3:11 pm

The beauty of the transformations in Tunisia and Egypt is that they moved from non violent protest, based on shared common principles concerning democracy and social justice. Their success is far from clear, but their means are a significant support for their ends. Gaddafi’s repression of the opposition made this impossible in Libya. The armed resistance was surely justified, but reaching the normative ends became less likely, though neighbors may support them. I also am ambivalent about the no fly zone. Perhaps it will help turn the tide. I hope it does. But the normative promise of the transformation is fading. I find myself becoming more and more a pragmatic pacifist, http://www.deliberatelyconsidered.com/2010/11/can-i-be-a-pragmatic-pacifist/

20

Chris Bertram 03.18.11 at 3:21 pm

_How is this enthusiasm for no-fly zones …. _

Since the whole point of the post was to declare a non-enthusiasm for this idea on the basis that it disempowered the Libyan people, I’d say you need to hone your reading skills. The trouble is though, as I also tried to make clear in the post, that once you’ve made that move you can’t restore the revolutionary status quo ante.

21

ed 03.18.11 at 3:22 pm

Um, what cannot be overlooked here is that a government is unambiguously and ruthlessly slaughtering their own people who happen to be protesting their unambiguously ruthless and unfair government. The question is what, if anything, should the U.S. do about it?

I’m sorry, wrong thread. I thought this was about Bahrain.

22

Steve LaBonne 03.18.11 at 3:29 pm

ed @ 21- well played.

23

Myles 03.18.11 at 3:43 pm

whole point of the post was to declare a non-enthusiasm for this idea on the basis that it disempowered the Libyan people

Chris, considering that a) the Libyan situation was turning rapidly bloodier by the day, and b) one generally does not condone violence of any kind, “empowering” or not, and c) the only possible autonomous outcomes of the Libyan conflict involves more spilling of blood, unlike the Egyptian or Tunisian situations, I should think that intervention was justified on purely stop-people-from-being-killed grounds.

Bahrain simply doesn’t fall under the same rubric of violence.

24

ed 03.18.11 at 3:47 pm

Bahrain simply doesn’t fall under the same rubric of violence.

Phew, that’s a relief. You should alert the lucky duckies protesting their unambiguously awful government forthwith.

I’m sorry, wrong thread. I thought this was about Ivory Coast.

25

Chris Bertram 03.18.11 at 3:47 pm

Myles:

_one generally does not condone violence of any kind, “empowering” or not_

But that’s nonsense. There’s a great deal of violence that I’d condone. Necessary violence in self-defence just for starters. The violence involved in resistance to unjust oppression. The violence involved in a genuinely just war. And so on.

26

chrismealy 03.18.11 at 4:04 pm

Just like how France’s aid delegitimized the American Revolutionary War. Even now it’s hard to think of America as anything other than a project of the House of Bourbon.

Anyway, why does a no fly zone have to be an American no fly zone? Turkey and Norway have jets too. Let them do it. America can bring snacks.

27

Myles 03.18.11 at 4:08 pm

But that’s nonsense. There’s a great deal of violence that I’d condone.

Yes, very true, I admit my mistake, but the point was that I don’t think one can condone a Libyan civil war on empowerment grounds, rather than an uprising with a defined time-frame and end.

28

praisegod barebones 03.18.11 at 4:11 pm

Rich Puchalsky @ 20

If this

I certainly won’t be demonstrating against the no-fly zone

is to be read as a sign of enthusiasm for NFZs, then I think I need to go to my boss and demand an immediate pay rise for my inspirational teaching. Twenty years in the profession, and not a single demonstration against me!

And I don’t see how Chris’ post can possibly have anything like the effect you suppose. The Security Council’s decision has already been taken. The ‘Decent Left’ were cheerleading for intervention in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, as well as afterwards.

29

praisegod barebones 03.18.11 at 4:14 pm

chrismealy@26:

Turkey? Not very likely: too much of a financial stake in the existing regime, among other things.

http://www.juancole.com/2011/03/eissenstat-libya-and-turkey.html

30

Rich Puchalsky 03.18.11 at 4:29 pm

All right, I’ll take back “enthusiasm”. But your post is a mess. You’re claiming that “But a successful popular uprising is no longer a possibility either” because of the no-fly zone. Why? As chrismealy writes above, many revolutions have been supported by extensive foreign involvement. Does that make them no longer popular uprisings in some special sense of the phrase that you’re using? You’re shifting from a pragmatic argument to an idealist one about “legitimacy”, a magical quality that will be denied if we interfere — but not drawing the idealist conclusion that therefore we should not interfere whether the consequences are good or not.

31

ajay 03.18.11 at 4:52 pm

As chrismealy writes above, many revolutions have been supported by extensive foreign involvement. Does that make them no longer popular uprisings in some special sense of the phrase that you’re using?

In fact, there haven’t been that many revolutions recently – in the sense of violent overthrows of government – that didn’t have at least some foreign involvement. Iran, I suppose.

32

Rich Puchalsky 03.18.11 at 5:23 pm

“And I don’t see how Chris’ post can possibly have anything like the effect you suppose. The Security Council’s decision has already been taken. The ‘Decent Left’ were cheerleading for intervention in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, as well as afterwards.”

Does “The Security Council”, as an entity, have armed forces with which to carry out air strikes? No, it doesn’t. “The Security Council” can decide whatever it likes, but if going to war is what is planned — and yes, enforcing a no-fly zone means war — then some country’s armed forces are going to have to do that. Have they done that yet? Maybe they are even as I write this. But as far as I know, no they haven’t, so we’re still in the lead up to invasion.

I can’t speak for the Libyan people, obviously, and I know nothing about Libya. But insofar as I can speak as an American, I don’t want our armed forces to go to war based on this.

33

Chris Bertram 03.18.11 at 5:45 pm

Rich, and others. It isn’t so much the foreign involvement per se, but the replacement of one frame (popular uprising) by another (humanitarian intervention). The role played by the ordinary person in one is very different from that in the other. Active agent of change versus passive victim of atrocity (roughly). Most of the discourse of modern just war theory, with its hard and fast distinction between combatants and protected persons forces us into the latter frame. Maybe, given the way the situation is evolving, that’s where we ought to be. But there’s a loss in that, which I didn’t want to see pass without comment.

34

P O'Neill 03.18.11 at 6:10 pm

Without the intervention, it would be a turkey shoot for the government, like it is now in Yemen. And Saleh was surely looking at how far Gaddafi got with force before an international coalition was mounted against him. He can also play the al-Qaeda boogeyman card with more credibility than Gaddafi.

35

mpowell 03.18.11 at 6:34 pm

Rich, I’m not sure what CB’s sentiments are, but here is my take on the situation. When you have a relatively stable state like Iraq, overturning the state involves destroying government institutions that provide the security we expect from a modern, functioning state. Lots of people die as a consequence and, in fact, in far greater number than from military casualties directly. Intervention to install a better government demonstrates incredible moral hubris. My view is that this is one of the more important pillars in the argument against the idea of waging war to advance democracy.

In contrast, when you have a state at war, like Libya, it seems plausible to argue that the pre-existing state of stability no longer exists. I think it is no longer unreasonable to decide whether international involvement is likely to prolong the conflict and whether there is a moral preference for who should win.

At the same time, I think we should maintain a strong predisposition to avoid involvement in war because we must always balance the potential benefit of action versus the very high cost, both in lives and financially. Not to mention that you get the war your political class delivers, not the one you would prefer. And this point is damn near impossible to contend with. Every dollar you want to spend to on conflict, I argue that we should spend on climate mitigation, which is going to kill a billion people in the next century, I’d wager. And in the specific political context of the United States, it will increase the deficit and will most likely lead to nearly a dollar for dollar reduction in critical government spending on regulatory oversight and aid programs to the neediest members of our society. So I’d say both ideally and in practice, avoiding spending dollars on any given war will result in them being better spent elsewhere.

36

praisegod barebones 03.18.11 at 6:39 pm

Chris @ 33

Active agent of change versus passive victim of atrocity (roughly)

That’s precisely why I asked whether you’d be happier (not completely happy, but happier) if the uprising had been framed as a national liberation movement.

37

salazar 03.18.11 at 6:41 pm

@mpowell: Not questioning your overall argument, but how do you come to the climate-change-will-kill-one-billion figure?

38

Rich Puchalsky 03.18.11 at 6:48 pm

“It isn’t so much the foreign involvement per se, but the replacement of one frame (popular uprising) by another (humanitarian intervention). “

Still a mess. Should I write: “Whether we take action to avert global warming isn’t the point. It’s about the replacement of one frame (neglect) with another (conspiracy of elites).” What if both of your frames are basically BS? Because you have no way of knowing that what was going on in Libya was “the people armed” or “a popular uprising” in the propagandistic senses of those phrases, as opposed to “aspiring warlords armed” or “factions vie for power”.

Then your point has a role, I suppose, in the analysis of competing Western media narratives and how they affect politics. Replacing the notion — which exists only in your mind and that of people who think like you — of “the people armed” with “helpless victims who need protection” does involve a loss. But it’s *your* loss. Maybe the Libyan rebels want foreign intervention, for all I know, and don’t care about this “loss”.

39

Dan A 03.18.11 at 6:54 pm

I think the no-fly zone is a really stupid idea. There’s a very real chance of it snowballing into something bigger, and we simply can’t afford to have another war on our hands. It just smacks of shortsightedness, what is the plan beyond

Bombs
???
Freedom

Is there one? I’d like to see it if so, but no this looks like a military campaign with even less planning than Iraq, and we all know how that one turned out.

40

Tom Hurka 03.18.11 at 7:55 pm

The partial skepticism in the original post channels Walzer (not usually CB’s favourite) and Mill: a people must be left to make their own revolution, or it isn’t their revolution. But as many have said, often a people can’t make their own revolution, given the force arrayed against them. It’s either help them or leave them under tyranny.

And doesn’t it make a difference whether the outside agent foments the revolution from the start (e.g. Reagan and the contras) or only enters on the scene when it’s been started internally and after some success has run into obstacles? The latter is what happened in Libya, and if I were a participant I wouldn’t think the no-fly zone made me a passive victim. I would think it was helping me succeed in my active self-liberation.

I too thought of French aid in the US war of independence: it didn’t cause Washington et al to think of themselves as passive because it was only aid for a cause they themselves had started.

41

Steve LaBonne 03.18.11 at 8:04 pm

Tom, given the obvious fact that we can’t (attempt to) overthrow tyranny everywhere (or even close to everywhere), it’s the selection principle that I’m curious about. (Which is why I appreciated ed’s comments.)

42

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.18.11 at 8:19 pm

I don’t think it’s right to use the France/American Revolution analogy in combination with talk about liberation. If this is like France/American Revolution, then it’s all driven by cold political calculations.

43

AcademicTrad 03.18.11 at 8:20 pm

Well, whatever their *merits* the selection criteria don’t seem overly *opaque* to me–(1) some plausibility of a “decent” outcome (distinguishes Libya from Cote d’Ivoire or Yemen), plus (2) some plausibility of an outcome *better* than the present (distinguishes Libya from Bahrain–replacing majority-oppressing Sunni rule allied w/ the West with minority-oppressing Shia rule allied with Iran? Naahh–not so appealing), plus (3) some “feel-good” element (yeah, we’re helpin’ the oppressed).

I’m just trying to be descriptive, but these seem to be sufficient elements to trigger pro-intervention sentiment from (surprisingly?) large swathes of the Democratic and Republican parties, not to mention at least two of the three leading UK parties, an unpredictable elements on the Continent (e.g., Sarko but not Chirac).

44

gray 03.18.11 at 8:53 pm

What was the experience in North and South Iraq during the no-fly zones there?

45

Chris Bertram 03.18.11 at 8:57 pm

Tom, one of the reasons I found praisegod’s initial question difficult to say yes or no to had to do with what happens when you give a movement the kind of status he was talking about in international law. It isn’t just about helping people who can’t help themselves, but also about the way intervention, by applying the norms of international law, changes who “they” are. The change being one from the people (all of them, armed or actively assisting) to the people (protected persons, noncombatants) plus the people’s military representatives (the NLF or whatever). Walzer, iirc, is rather spectacularly unkeen on anything that blurs the distinction between a combatant and a non-combatant, but such a blurring is feature of genuine popular resistance movements.

There’s two things going on:

1. The point about it being better if the people do it for themselves.
2. A point about who the people are that are doing the doing.

It might help to think about the role that children (or at least adolescents) have played in popular resistance movements. In one narrative they (acting as runners, lookouts or perhaps more) are full and legitimate participants in the levée en masse; in the other they are victims pressed into service by callous adults who are breaching a basic principle of ius in bello.

Clearly, a revolt “helped” by the “international community” has to take the latter stance. (And ditto but maybe less dramatically for other “civilians’)

(If I’m channelling anyone, it is not Walzer but Karma Nabusli and her book Traditions of War, and her contrast between Grotian and republican traditions of war, though I don’t know if she’d approve of anything I’ve written here.)

46

Rich Puchalsky 03.18.11 at 9:17 pm

AcademicTrad: “I’m just trying to be descriptive, but […]”

What?

They have oil, and they aren’t a client of the Saudis. That’s why Libya and not Ivory Coast or Bahrain.

47

mpowell 03.18.11 at 9:19 pm


@mpowell: Not questioning your overall argument, but how do you come to the climate-change-will-kill-one-billion figure?

Don’t take that as a scientific estimate, just a wild ass guess. But I’m a pessimist and I anticipate severe agricultural problems. I’m not really sure how you would specify the number of deaths due to GW if very large populations are subjected to severe agricultural constraints. Population reduction over time due to increased infant mortality rates or decisions to have fewer kids are different than direct deaths from famine.

48

AcademicTrad 03.18.11 at 9:25 pm

Where are your anti-Saudi comments coming from? Do you think the US should try to unseat the Saudis? There’s no realistic prospect of a better regime there anytime in the next 50 years? Or, if you agree with that unfortunate fact, it needn’t obviate judicious intervention in other nations, like (arguably) Libya where there’s at least the chance of getting a better regime in place. It’s a bit rich to argue that just because there’s no point in doing anything vis-a-vis the Saudis, it’s somehow now off the table to ever take actions against an autocrat.

49

LFC 03.18.11 at 9:38 pm

Re CB @45 on the blurring of combatants and non-combatants: it may be a feature, at least in theory, of genuine popular resistance movements but I don’t think we know the extent to which it has been a feature of the Libyan uprising. Probably at least some people are picking up a weapon for the first time in their lives, but once they pick up the weapon they become combatants, at least for the duration of the time they are carrying the weapon. But I suppose this could be considered a form of ‘blurring’. There was a picture via the BBC site of someone shooting an antiaircraft gun from an office swivel chair that had been rolled outside, apparently.

Btw a link to what Walzer wrote about this a couple of weeks ago is here .

50

AcademicTrad 03.18.11 at 9:45 pm

Democracy is only one value among many that are important. Pursuing a single-minded focus on democracy (e.g., Bahrain = Libya b/c in both cases authoritarian governments are cracking down on protesters) at the expense of all other values strikes me as unwise. The current adult Saudis are about as likely to be able to create a democracy as they are to be able to effectively service and fly their airforce, staff their hospitals, or provide technical services to their oilfields. It is a profoundly dysfunctional society, and merely kicking things over in the name of “democracy” foreseeably has terrible consequences in terms of other values, first and foremost security of the person.

51

Glyn Morgan 03.18.11 at 9:46 pm

Kant’s argument (shorter version)–do not intervene, if no one else has, a struggle with tyrants is a learning experience, which foreign intervention truncates.

Mill’s argument (shorter version)–do not intervene, if no one else has, a struggle with tyrants yields a more robust attachment to freedom, which foreign intervention attenuates.

Strongest counterarguments to Mill and Kant: (i) well-equipped tyrants will truncate any learning experience/attachment to freedom by killing all the rebels (the Turkey-shoot objection above); (ii) there are alternative ways to learning/developing an attachment to liberty, which are not attenuated/destroyed by a foreign intervention.

My position–a combination of Kant/Mill coupled with a sense that Western powers need to learn that foreign intervention is more likely to go wrong/corrupt their own political systems than yield overall benefits.

52

Rich Puchalsky 03.19.11 at 12:32 am

AcademicTrad, you gave what you said were descriptive selection criteria like “some plausibility of a ‘decent’ outcome” and “some feel-good element”. Those are not descriptive. The people who actually made the decision don’t care about decent outcomes, and don’t care about feeling good. The decision was not made by popular vote, it was made by a few political leaders with their own self-interested political agendas.

No, what you described are the propaganda selection criteria that will be told to us after the fact. Look, people will say — exactly as you have done — Libya is a better candidate for intervention for nice-sounding reason X, Y, and Z. But those reasons have nothing to do with why that decision was made, and you shouldn’t pretend to be descriptive.

53

leederick 03.19.11 at 12:33 am

Chris, I think you’re just wrong about international law. Broadly, a civilian is a person who is not a member of a militant organization, a combatant is someone who takes a direct part in the hostilities of an armed conflict. It isn’t either/or. So:

Combatants and not civilians. Defecting military units, militas, people who spontaneously take up arms to resist without having time to form into regular armed units. The resolution doesn’t authorise the use of force to protect these people.

Non-combatants and not civilians. Wounded soliders, military medical personnel, pows, etc. The resolution doesn’t authorise the use of force to protect these people.

Combatants and civilians. Civilians directly engaging in hostilities (i.e. having no command structure, no uniform, and not carrying arms openly). This also includes people like unarmed spotters for snippers and artilery. The resolution authorises the use of force to protect these people.

Non-combatants and civilians. Includes the obvious, but also would include people engaging in self defence rather than the hostilities of armed conflict – i.e. protesters who attack soldiers because they fear for their lives. The resolution authorises the use of force to protect these people.

54

Chris Bertram 03.19.11 at 8:17 am

Thanks leederick.

55

Z 03.19.11 at 9:51 am

(if pressed, I would have rather thought that Lybian forces would have accelerated their attack so as to finish the business before the strikes

And it turns out that my intuition was correct: the cease-fire was only a pretext and fighting has intensified in the suburbs of Benghazi. The french aircraft carrier is poised to leave in the following hours, with strikes planned around 12:00 (GMT) according to official pronouncements (but that seems awfully quick, so I don’t believe it yet). Considering the seriousness of the military situation, it seems that direct strikes against the military will be planned. I must say things look pretty bleak to me.

56

basil 03.19.11 at 10:17 am

It’d be interesting to read what effect tribal loyalties have on both the situation unfolding before our eyes, and the end-game calculations that must be going on in various members of the state’s minds.

My information suggests that there was a very broad, inclusive effort at including the tribal leadership in nominating officials for state appointments, even for nominating youth to send abroad for further education. This implies there’s many who’ve got to think about how much better a new, likely foreign-influenced or controlled state would be for them, and whether defections notwithstanding, they’d find themselves on some deck of cards.

57

novakant 03.19.11 at 12:07 pm

Good god, doesn’t anybody see the irony? The US/UK killed several hundred thousand people in Iraq, the US/UK are the world’s top arms exporters and now we’re sitting here feeling entitled to indulge in hand wringing about “humanitarian intervention” …

58

P O'Neill 03.19.11 at 2:08 pm

In hope that y’all have a stiff drink handy, here’s Tony Blair on the distinction —

Working within this framework, we should differentiate when dealing with different countries. In the case of Libya, there is no way out being offered to its people. It is the status quo or nothing. When Libya changed its external policy—renouncing terrorism, co-operating against Al Qaeda, giving up its nuclear and chemical weapons program—I believe we were right to alter our relationship with them. At the onset of the popular uprising, the Gadhafi regime could have decided to agree to a proper and credible process of internal change. I urged Col. Gadhafi to take that route out. Instead he decided to crush it by force. No credible path to a better constitution was put forward.

By contrast, around the Gulf, countries are reforming in the right direction. The pace may need to quicken, but here it is right to support such a process and to stand by our allies. Even though there can be no justification for the use of violence against unarmed civilians in Bahrain, there is a strong case for supporting the process of negotiation led by the Crown Prince, which does offer a means of peaceful transition to constitutional monarchy. This is not realpolitik over principle. It is a recognition that it is infinitely preferable to encourage reform that happens with stability than to push societies into a revolution whose motivations will be mixed and whose outcome will be uncertain.

59

Fr. 03.19.11 at 2:28 pm

“Most of the Libyan people have now been cast into the role of passive victims rather than active agents of their own liberation.”

I understand the logic of the argument, but it just does not feel that way. I’m sitting somewhere in the North of France, and I watched the UN resolution vote live. I understood the vote as an acknowledgment of the just cause followed by the protesters, and as a backing up of their struggle by the “international community.” Not as a humanitarian or invasion stance.

60

William Timberman 03.19.11 at 3:14 pm

@58

Tony Blair obviously doesn’t know that he’s a sophist — and that’s the kindest term I can think of to describe what he is — but it ought to be plain enough to the rest of us. He argues whatever he has to argue in order to feel good about himself. When he was still the PM, his justifications seemed for a time to be far grander, but only because the majesty of the state lent a certain radiance to them. Now that he’s just another itinerant clever-boots, they’re revealed as something almost pitiable, at least to those who are still capable of what used to be called Christian charity.

My own feeling is that we should pity him, but under no circumstances should we listen to him.

61

praisegod barebones 03.19.11 at 4:10 pm

Stuart @ 10:

Reports of an immediate ceasefire may have been premature:

Al Jazeera … earlier reported that the cease fire announced by Gaddafi’s regime was never mentioned on national television and appears to have only been aimed at the international media and governments.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/blog/2011/mar/19/libya-live-blog-ceasefire-nofly

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LFC 03.19.11 at 4:50 pm

Re 53 above
I am a bit confused. Not an expert on the laws of war, but I infer from a glance at The Int’l Law Dictionary, ed. Bledsoe & Boczek (1987), p.358, that under int’l law one cannot be both a ‘civilian’ and a ‘lawful combatant’ (entitled to POW treatment if captured). One can be a ‘civilian’ and an ‘unlawful combatant’ (this designation of course has been controversial in recent years). ‘Irregular forces’ count as combatants; army medical personnel, chaplains etc are not combatants but are entitled to treatment as POWs.

From the same source, p.375:
“Protocol I [of the Geneva Convention] of 1977…, while establishing a general duty of combatants to distinguish themselves from the civilian population, in exceptional situations…allows irregular forces [by which most state parties understood guerrillas fighting ‘wars of natl liberation’] to appear as civilians provided they carry their arms openly during each military engagement and during such time as they are visible to the adversary at the stage of military deployment preceding the attack.”

So when leederick says the resolution protects “civilians directly engaging in hostilities (i.e. having no command structure, no uniform, and not carrying arms openly)” I find this confusing. Esp if not carrying arms openly at all, even during engagements, these would be ‘unlawful combatants’ and therefore presumably not subject to protection. I have doubts about whether a category of “civilian lawful combatant” or “lawful combatant civilian” is recognized in int’l law. Stand open to correction.

63

Steve LaBonne 03.19.11 at 4:50 pm

It sounds to me like we’re headed for the same old interventionist 3-step.
Step 1: THIS time, unlike all those other times, things won’t go badly wrong because blah blah.
Step 2: Things go badly wrong.
Step 3: Nobody could have predicted…

64

gray 03.19.11 at 5:00 pm

Novakant @ 57
and the Canadians, Danish French . . .

Steve LaBonne @63
Sometimes it works too. Korea or Bosnia for example.

65

leederick 03.19.11 at 6:35 pm

“So when leederick says the resolution protects “civilians directly engaging in hostilities (i.e. having no command structure, no uniform, and not carrying arms openly)” I find this confusing. Esp if not carrying arms openly at all, even during engagements, these would be ‘unlawful combatants’ and therefore presumably not subject to protection.”

Just remember there are two different things going on international law at the moment. (1) The usual Laws of War protect non-combatants – pows, wounded soliders and civilians who don’t take part in hostilities can’t be lawfully targeted. Combatants – soldiers, militas, and civilian combatants can be lawfully targeted. (2) UNSC Resolution 1973 demands an end to violence and attacks against civilians, and authorises all necessary means to protect civilians.

So on Wednesday attacking Libyan combatant civilians was lawful in int’l law (under the Laws of War they’re not protected and are legitimate targets), but today it’s unlawful as Resolution 1973 prohibits it.

66

Omega Centauri 03.19.11 at 8:06 pm

Its all academic now. reports are that french Jets took out four tanks attacking Benghazi:
French Jets Defend Benghazi
The claim is the military coalition consists of 22 nations. I think we now all have more skin in this game than we are comfortable with. If Qaddafi remains in power, we could seek revenge against these partners, indeed one report claims he has threatened shipping in the Mediterranian. So the cost of allowing him to stay in power has now rachetted up to unacceptable levels.

67

maidhc 03.20.11 at 4:11 am

Things that make Libya a bit different than some other places:
– initial request from the Arab League makes it look like not totally a Western project
– Egypt is reportedly re-arming the rebels, ditto
– UN resolution
– uprising demonstrated popular support by taking over a substantial part of the country
– chance that Western countries can do the whole thing from the air a la the Balkans

Also if Gaddafi won and perpetrated hideous massacres, there would be considerable public pressure to at least stop buying oil from him. I think a lot of people were already upset that he got forgiven for Lockerbie. So in the end they would have to figure a way to get rid of him anyway if they want the oil.

This looks like the best chance to do it without an Iraq-style invasion, which has so many bad sides to it that it wouldn’t happen.

68

Rich Puchalsky 03.20.11 at 5:14 am

I admire the speed with which this has gone from a U.N. resolution to preserve civilians to another shooting war. How would people even have protested this one? Assuming that there were any sizable number of people who had been awake during the Iraq War years and who were capable of learning from the experience. Of course, one of the things learned was that protest is futile.

69

Chris Bertram 03.20.11 at 10:24 am

William Hague on the radio just now, emphasising that an arms embargo now applies to “all sides”. This rather reminds me of Bosnia, and also reinforces some of the concerns of my original post.

70

Guido Nius 03.20.11 at 10:38 am

There is at least one difference with Iraq. Whether just or not, the decision process was really an orderly one. Other than that probably everything is the same – starting with Khadaffi being officially recognized as the arse-hole he always was and ending with chaos and prolonged civil war when he is gone and the public interest is gone with it.

71

praisegod barebones 03.20.11 at 10:48 am

Rich Puchalsky @ 69

I admire the speed with which this has gone from a U.N. resolution to preserve civilians to another shooting war.

I have to say that if there’s one thing that hasn’t surprised me in this situation (and there aren’t many), it’s this – which is why @28, i found your cheer-leading comment off-beam: it struck me that if you argue for and pass an SC resolution asking for ‘all appropriate means’ to protect civilians and civilians are actually under attack, you’re going to intervene as soon as the resolution is passed.

If you wanted to protest about this the time to do so was in the lead-up to the security council resolution, not after it.

72

praisegod barebones 03.20.11 at 11:02 am

D! that should have been Rich Puchalsky @ 68

CB@69: I’d have to either check, or hope that leederrick is still around; but I think that that is one area where classing the anti-Gaddafi forces as a national liberation movement would have made a big difference.

73

logern 03.20.11 at 12:00 pm

The Iraq War didn’t start as a popularly supported uprising among Iraqis in any significant measure (at all really), whereas in Libya this seems to be case.

The Libyans are already engaged in internal life or death conflict while Iraqis were bombed out of their day to day complacency and then it was hoped they would dance in the streets in appreciation of that wisdom. I think that’s a significant difference.

74

Guido Nius 03.20.11 at 1:24 pm

There are surely many differences between Libya and Iraq but the wisdom of those intervening is not necessarily one of them. Although one can hope, mainly given the lack of wisdom of those intervening in Iraq.

75

Rich Puchalsky 03.20.11 at 3:23 pm

“If you wanted to protest about this the time to do so was in the lead-up to the security council resolution, not after it.”

What? There was a lead-up to it?

Let’s say that this is right. Then Chris Bertram’s statement:
“I certainly won’t be demonstrating against the no-fly zone and, as soon as it gets implemented (as opposed to voted on) I hope it works.”

should be seen as his blanket approval for the occupation and pacification of Libya for the next decade. Because he missed his chance.

I’m not really surprised by this either. In fact it’s why I originally characterized the posts about the no-fly zone as being similar to the Decent Left on Iraq. It’s just that with practice we’re going from “Hmm, maybe we should protect people against a dictator” to “I won’t protest this especially if it works” to “Oh I guess we’re at war now” and then presumably to “How did this become what our leaders made out of it?” with vastly increased speed.

76

Guido Nius 03.20.11 at 3:33 pm

Rich, It probably is time to remind you of the fact that to most people you come over as a …. I am certain you believe the world will end badly, and that, hedging your bets, you have decided to be against anything and anybody who is not or does not think like you.

Yours is the apocalyptical stance.

77

Andrew 03.20.11 at 3:52 pm

CB, that seems balanced.

Sure, it would have been better had the uprising been able to succeed on its own.

However, at least on my reading, the rebellion was on the brink of complete defeat.

So the successful-on-its-own uprising scenario was no longer likely.

That leaves us with: (1) Uprising crushed, or (2) intervention. Obviously many branches of possibility from each choice.

From a strictly humanitarian stance, I think – and you seem to agree – that (2) is preferable to (1).

I do have some doubts as to whether, despite the humanitarian benefits, this is an employment of the military that is fair to those who volunteered to serve.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.20.11 at 4:24 pm

Guido Nius, to me — not to “most people” — you come over as a twit. I don’t speak for “most people.” But yours is the stance of the self-satisfied person who learns nothing from recent history and only is really offended by uncivility or crudeness.

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Norwegian Guy 03.21.11 at 2:34 pm

@65 leederick:
Given reports that Qaddafi is arming civilians who support him, does this mean that these people are also protected by international law? If they get into clashes with the rebels, which side (or both?) is going to be bombed then?

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