Over at Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, Kim Lawton interviews Notre Dame’s Gerard Powers who reassesses the US/NATO intervention underway in Libya. It’s a brief piece, but I think Powers raises the right concerns: 1) Was the intervention morally justified in the first place? 2) Are the means being employed morally justified? 3) Is attention being given to how to foster and implement post-conflict justice?
In my view, a case could have been made that the intervention was justified. There was just cause, namely, to stop the bloodshed of civilians that was underway and to prevent escalation of the violence to genocidal proportions. However, the other criteria of jus ad bellum (justice in embarking upon armed intervention) also need to be satisfied (legitimate authority, last resort, proportionality, probability of success), and I’m not sure these were satisfactorily addressed. Moreover, the armed intervention by third-party forces (US/NATO/UN) should have not taken sides in the conflict, which is actually a civil war; rather, the third-party forces should have prevented forces on either side from putting civilians in the crossfire of danger. That might have encouraged a cease-fire at some point so that a negotiated settlement might result.
As for the means used (jus in bello), I agree with Powers that the air-strike approach alone is problematic. It protects our forces’ lives, which is important, but this should not be done at a disproportionate risk to the civilian lives they are seeking to protect.
Finally, we are realizing more and more the importance of jus post bellum. We should be acting and planning in ways that will promote a just and lasting peace there. That doesn’t always necessarily mean regime change.
Hopefully we will learn from this experience as the world seeks (rightly, I think) to implement the R2P (responsibility to protect) doctrine that is emerging internationally.