New hope for Libya… and the Security Council?

Just a couple of hours ago, a French fighter jet fired on and destroyed a Libyan military vehicle, the first use of force by the international community under the mandate of UN Security Council resolution 1973 (2011), adopted last Thursday. This seems to signal a turn-around in the situation on the ground in Libya – Colonel Kaddafi’s luck may finally have run out.

Beyond Libya, the consequences of this bold move by France may prove even more significant. For the first time in a very long period, the UN Security Council has shown to be able to take forceful action against a leader and a state that massacres its own people in violation of international law. This is rather unique: in 1994, the Security Council failed to stop the genocide in Rwanda, and in 1999 the Council’s inertia prompted NATO’s unilateral intervention in Kosovo. As a result, many have criticized the Security Council for being irrelevant and outdated, and academics and policy-makers have actively sought ways to circumvent the Council (see, for example, the debate on a “responsibility to protect”, or R2P).

Enter resolution 1973 (2011) and its swift enforcement by the France and Britain. The current events are reminiscent of the military action by the international community in Kuwait in the early 1990s. Then, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War instilled great optimism in the future of world politics (see, for example, Bush sr.’s “Toward a New World Order” speech in 1990). Resolution 678 (1990), authorizing states to use “all necessary means” to restore peace and security in the Gulf area, was hailed as an awakening of the Security Council after decades of deadlock. Now, after some bad experiences with semi-unilateral actions in the last decade (most prominently Iraq and Afghanistan), states are returning to the Council – despite talks about its irrelevance. Thursday’s vote gives the Council renewed credibility as the primary global forum to deal with international crises. It may herald an era of new, more mature optimism about the role of the Security Council at the centre of global politics.

Another point of interest is that, this time, it is not the US who is taking the lead. Quite the opposite: the US is very careful not to be seen as targeting yet another Muslim nation. Strategically, this seems the right choice. But it demonstrates that a hitherto hegemon feels that it has reached the limits of its powers and is painfully aware of the dangers of imperial overstretch.


1 Response to “New hope for Libya… and the Security Council?”

  1. 1 A Reinvigoration Of The Security Council? | Light Sound Dimension Trackback on 19 March 2011 at 10:42 pm

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