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.
I apologize for the lateness of this response.
Looking through some of the objections to the intervention in Libya, three stand out.
1) The U.S. intervention in Libya is altruistic, and not in our national interest. This objection is raised to the doctrine of “responsibility to protect” in general, as well. Obviously this argument is mostly an appeal to self-interest, but there is something pragmatic to it, as well. Let’s say something really nasty happens elsewhere in the world, like Iran or North Korea, our response will be hampered because our troops are involved in Libya.
2) If it is our policy that Qaddafi needs to go, then we should use the full force necessary to remove him from power, instead of playing this game of protecting civilians. I think this is one area where the just-war criteria become very important. Even if a regime change in Libya is justifiable, that in itself does not justify the use of military force. It is at least possible that we could use military force to protect civilians while seeking regime change through other means.
3) I think the third objection has more force than the other two, and it relates to a point you make in your post. There is something a bit awkward about the role we took (or claimed to take) as referee: not fighting for one side or the other, just keeping both sides from committing fouls (i.e., targeting civilians). Has this ever been done? I know it is similar to peacekeeping operations in numerous conflicts, but in those cases the peacekeeping generally takes place at the end of the conflict to prevent a return to violence. Has anyone attempted to carry out this role to such an extent in the middle of a conflict? I think the newness of this role is apparent in the Obama administration’s uncomfortableness with it and movement toward active assistance for the rebels. The objection to this role, however, stems not only from its newness, but also from the realist mentality that the object of war is not to play by the rules, it is to win. And if we aren’t picking sides, we need to stay out of the fight.
So I think an important ethical question is, is it sustainable to use military force in the role of neutral arbiter in an ongoing conflict?