Libya: Why the West Waited for UN Support

The United Nations Security Council has just voted to permit the creation of a “no-fly-zone” over Libya to assist the rebels in repelling Qaddafi’s troops, who were poised to move on Benghazi within days. Just as recently as three days ago (March 15), many feared that the “moment [had] passed” for intervention. Why did the West wait so long? The United Kingdom and France were clearly on board early as was the United States. The reason the West waited was to gain what they now have: the credibility and mandate that comes along with playing by the rules of international law. Receiving the go-ahead from the UN Security Council to authorize military involvement is the most authoritative source of international credibility on the planet. This permits the nations interested in removing Qaddafi to attack as permitted by the Security Council resolution without fear of reprisal or retribution from other nations. This was not the case with Iraq.

The most recent Iraq War, commenced by the US in March 2003, was not successful in large part due to its perceived illegitimacy. Many nations felt that the United States was entering on false pretences, such as a need for oil, Hussein’s assassination attempts on Bush’s father or war profiteering, etc. The invasion of Iraq without a UN Security Council mandate has certainly turned out to be a miscalculated error, except of course, to those of the neoconservative persuasion, but the war is now gaining some credibility because of the revolutions in the Arab world. The US, France and the U.K. would have liked to implement a ‘no-fly-zone’ earlier, but waited on UN Security Council approval; this reality gave Qaddafi more time to crush the rebellion before the West had a chance to assist them. Was it worth it?

We will never know what would have happened in the counterfactual (what if) scenario assuming the West had acted prior to UN Security Council approval, but what will happen is this: according to game theory, those permanent members of the Council that voted to abstain will likely be more respectful of the international rule of law and the Security Council’s wishes in the future, since the West abided by them now. Ten members (two-thirds) of the 15-member panel voted in favor of the ‘no-fly-zone’, while five abstained. Notably, Russia, China, Germany, India and Brazil abstained. Why is international law important? Who cares what the other countries think?

The United States and other nations have a serious interest in following the rules that they established together at the end of the Second World War. Like the rule of law in a domestic society, international law protects the weak from aggression and establishes a non-violent venue of redress for those states that feel they have been harmed by another state. The existence of a credible international system such as this enables American and Western, indeed most world populations to live without the threat of war and to engage in commerce with less threat of political risk (the costly risk a business encounters when investing in a region). Without this system we might be more likely to see further “world wars”, since the incentive to handle affairs peaceably would be weakened. In addition to legal recourse for states, tribunals for individual and corporate entities also exist. There are multilateral (multiple country) institutions designed to protect you from the local government if you open a business or invest overseas (ICSID). Just like breaking the speed limit on the road to get a dying person to a hospital could possibly be considered a necessary violation, there are international laws that may require exceptions on occasion. While ignoring the law whenever we wanted could be very convenient at times, the consequences of doing so regularly (just like in your local city) equate to anarchy and a more dangerous world. Libya may be a casualty of our international law-abiding caution. That would be a tragedy, and if we in the West still believe in the principles of freedom and self-determination, it is now time to fight for what we believe in.

For further information:

“Was George Bush Right?” http://www.economist.com/node/18063852?story_id=18063852

“Security Council Votes for No-Fly Zone” http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f5080b82-506a-11e0-9e89-00144feab49a.html#axzz1GvuMib7N

“Fears Moment Passed for Libya Intervention” http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/e5bcb39e-4f34-11e0-9038-00144feab49a.html#axzz1GvuMib7N

International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) http://icsid.worldbank.org/ICSID/Index.jsp

About Barry Saturday

The author is a Lexington, Ky-based financial advisor and formerly taught high school social studies for Fayette County Public Schools. Along with a M.A. in Education, his educational background consists of a B.A. in Foreign Languages and International Economics and an M.A. in Diplomacy with a concentration in Global Commerce. In 2012, he finished a two-month stint student teaching in Xi'an, China, and recently (2018) ran for City Council in Lexington, KY (District 4: Tates Creek / Nicholasville Rd area). Today's news outlets profit most from incendiary, surface-level appeals to emotion, which is poisoning much of our political discourse nationwide. Barry created this site in order to learn more about our world and share that knowledge with others. He hopes this site, aimed at an educated audience, will provide objective information for those seeking greater clarity and understanding than is often available in the current news environment. If you like what you see, feel free to comment and share with your network.

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