'Each man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world'
-- Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

'Artists are tricky fellows sir, forever shaping the world according to some design of their own'
-- Jonathan Strange, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Leaving Libya

'The inescapable paradox of intervention is that it aims to bring about self-government through benevolent foreign autocracy'
--Chesterton, 2005, 1

'If the enemy is to be coerced, you must put him in a situation that is even more unpleasant than the sacrifice you call on him to make. The hardships of the situation must not be merely transient - at least not in appearance. Otherwise, the enemy would not give in, but would wait for things to improve'.

'No-one starts a war-or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so-without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it'.

'We must stop an authoritarian regime from repressing its people in Europe at the end of the 20th century. We have a moral duty to do so. The responsibility is on our shoulders and we will fulfill it. All efforts to achieve a negotiated, political solution to the Kosovo crisis having failed, no alternative is open but to take military action'.

--Javier Solana, NATO Secretary General, Brussels, Belgium, 23 Mar 1999

It isn't just the lead actors in the UNSC resolution 1973, the US, UK and France that didn't clearly define an exit strategy; the lack of viable exit strategy is also the paramount concern for the estimated 140 000 refugees gathering at Libya's western (Tunisian) and eastern (Egyptian) borders. Germany has pledged 1 million euros to assist in humanitarian relief, which is 1.4 million dollars - amounting to ten dollars per refugee which quantitatively indicates the scale of the problem. The World Food Programme has mobilised US$39.2 million to provide 'food assistance to over one million people in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia and moved 6 000 metric tonnes of food to Libya's eastern border. Conflicting reports from and around Misrata suggest a rapidly shifting balance of power in the city, amidst rumours of atrocities.

Thus it seems perhaps premature to talk of the negotiating table, but the African Union on Friday hosted talks with Libyan delegates in Ethiopia and called for a transition period in Libya that would lead to elections. It's infectious, and the 'coerced democratic wave' for Libya didn't necessarily begin on that continent. Anders Rasmussen, secretary general of NATO has been stating the case for Libyan democracy for a month. Sallust wrote at the time of Caesar that 'few men desire freedom, the most desire nothing more than fair masters'. The reaction is only the beginning. At the end of the colonial era, the liberation from colonial rule did not reject the geography on which the colonies had been founded. Colonially formed territories were turned de facto into nation-state spaces but rule of space, where there is no accountability is easier than government of space, the latter including some form of representation of the public and negotiation between elite and mass. The spaces of Tunisia and Egypt face this problem now attempting to introduce, artificially, relations of reciprocity between the governing classes (which will have to be 'created' in order to develop functional unity) and the governed.

Again this is really a protest against tyranny and its ability to disenfrancise the populus, rather than a rebellion for democracy. There exists this fallacious idea that was perhaps borne of neoconservatism that if only the nation can get to elections, then it will have reached a tipping point and democracy will be assured. This is such a dangerous goal because it ensures nothing. To work for elections as the endpoint against tyranny is Western arrogance in its political systems. Our Western societies are democratic because of the pluralising interests that they have been able to secure and the competition that exists among them. Elections in and of themselves do not guarantee democracy if they are only mechanisms for legitimating governments which, once elected, are not responsive to the needs of the citizens. 

Rasmussen talks more of 'freedom' than he does of 'democracy' though talks grandly of the latter also. But what Libya will need in the coming months far more that freedom is security. Liberty must balance with safety or it will slip into anarchy because from this conflagration, myriad interested actors will emerge. A state of nature with a no-fly zone is still a state of nature. So what are we pinning our hopes on? Actually, I have a pretty good idea that two words did the rounds in the Cabinet Office Briefing Room A before Britain pushed hard for a no-fly zone; Kosovo and Iraq. Both saw strategic success enjoyed by the implementation solely of air-power into the theatre. 

The US, assisted by the UK and France enacted two no-fly zones in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War without resorting to UN backing, over the Shia dominated South (August 26, 1992, extended further north, Septemter 3, 1996) and the Kurdish North (April 8, 1991 under resolution 688, supported by 15 000 Western troops to create a 'safe haven' - they stayed two months). This was in response to massacres that Saddam was ordering against these regions in response to uprisings that were begun on the back of empty-promises, or 'political rhetoric' from the United States. Those no-fly zones were maintained until the commencement of the invasion in 2003. For the twelve year duration, only two blackhawk helicopters were lost over Iraq, and that was a friendly fire incident.

Kosovo was 78 days of intensive bombing in 1999 that apparently brought Milosevic to the negotiating table, at the cost of no NATO lives, precipitating myriad encomia such as this from John Keegan, 'I didn't want to change my beliefs, but there was too much evidence accumulating to stick to the article of faith. It now does look as if air power has prevailed in the Balkans, and that the time has come to redefine how victory in war may be won'. (For the most measured critique of Kosovo, see Byman and Waxman, 'Kosovo and the Great Air Power Debate', International Security, 2000, 24(4), pp.5-38). So there's historical precedent, recent precedent, that NATO does no-fly zones and air assault and does them well. In Iraq, it prevented further massacres and in Kosovo, it was a major factor in bringing Milosevic to the table. The air theatre, the third dimension in a three-dimensional conflict, is where the technological superiority of NATO forces is most keenly observed (Consider too, the impunity with which American drones operate in the NWFP on the Afghan border). So far so good.

And what other lessons could be learned? Nigel White, in critiquing the US stance on the Iraqi no-fly zone has written that 'although the norm for states is one of non-intervention, with the possible exception of the controversial, and generally frowned upon, doctrine of humanitarian intervention to protect basic human rights,20 the United Nations is not so restricted. Attempts were made in 1945 to embed the principle of absolute sovereignty into the UN Charter. However, the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany led to the dilution of the principle21 of non-intervention in Article 2(7) of the UN Charter which states:

Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State ; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII.

(Nigel White, 'Commentary on the Protection of the Kurdish Safe-Haven: Operation Desert Strike', J. Conflict Security and Law, 1996, 2(1), 197-204)

But it seems strange that Libya dominates the headlines in world media when, in all the interviews I have conducted recently with military personnel, one issue has been consistently raised - Afghanistan, summer 2011. Many in the armed forces see this summer as a vital one for the transition timetable in the country - when the crops are eight to nine feet high in the green zone around the Helmand river, the cover for the insurgents is increased by orders of magnitude. From a peak in 2009, beaten back in 2010, these coming months in 2011 will be vital for the ISAF and the Afghan army against the neo-taliban and related insurgent networks. So to see it lose so much ground in the media is a concern.

Chantal Mouffe, 'The Return of the Political', London: Verso, 2005. 

No comments:

Post a Comment