The U.N. authorized use of force against the Gaddafi regime is limited in scope and intent. It appears to be driven by a relatively new doctrine called “Responsibility to Protect” that attempts to fill a gap between Just War theory and Just Peace theory.
The U.N. resolution is intended to bring about peace in the form of “an immediate ceasefire” in Libya. The moral justification for the use of force in the resolution derives from this phrase: “Considering that the widespread and systematic attacks currently taking place in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya against the civilian population which may amount to crimes against humanity.” “Crimes against humanity” is the key phrase.
Just War theory does include a criterion to protect non-combatants during war. “Responsibility to Protect,” however, has the prevention of war crimes as its primary goal. The Responsibility to Protect or “Rt2P” “is a new international security and human rights norm to address the international community’s failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” It is a non-governmental Agency driven initiative to work to actually prevent these atrocities.
After the genocide in Rwanda, many in the international peace and justice community realized that just saying “never again” was not enough. How, many of us asked, do we make “never again” actually become never again? In the moral morass that was the Rwandan genocide, the dancing around the word “genocide” was part of failure of the international community to prevent genocide against between half a million to nearly a million people in that country.
Samantha Power, now a member of the Obama Administration, reveals in her Atlantic article, “Bystanders to Genocide: Why the United States Let the Rwandan Tragedy Happen,” and then in her book, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (2002), why “never again” is not enough to actually prevent genocide. “The story of U.S. policy during the genocide in Rwanda is not a story of willful complicity with evil. U.S. officials did not sit around and conspire to allow genocide to happen. But whatever their convictions about ‘never again,’ many of them did sit around, and they most certainly did allow genocide to happen.”
I taught A Problem from Hell in my January seminary course on “Peacemaking and Human Security.” It is a lengthy and truly emotionally troubling book, but after reading her extensive research including interviews with many of the U.S. policymakers, it does lead one to agree with her conclusion in regard to Rwanda. She argues “that the U.S. government knew enough about the genocide early on to save lives, but passed up countless opportunities to intervene.”
So the international community had to ask itself, when confronted with the regime of Colonel Qaddafi, both the history of his oppressive regime and his current threats to show “no mercy or compassion” for those who are fighting him, whether this was genocide in the making.
I believe, to date, that the apparent conclusion of the international community that Qaddafi was fully capable of engaging in genocidal violence against those rebelling against his regime, was correct. Thus the U.N. resolution is the right decision especially if there can be a relatively quick move to a “ceasefire.”
This is obviously a difficult and morally complex situation. It is notoriously difficult to protect civilians in war, as Just War theory mandates. It is notoriously difficult to bring about a cessation of conflict, as Just Peace theory acknowledges. But it is simply intolerable to allow genocide to take place.
Never again has to mean never again.
Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite | Mar 23, 2011 9:36 PM