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The idea behind the war on Libya: R2P

The policy underpinning the UN declaration on Libya is "responsibility to protect", otherwise known as R2P. UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon called the authorization an " 'historic' affirmation of the global community's responsibility to protect people from their own government's violence." 

According to Josh Rogin's account of "how Obama turned on a dime toward war", officials pushing for military intervention included "Samantha Power, NSC senior director for multilateral engagement; Gayle Smith, NSC senior director for global development; and Mike McFaul, NSC senior director for Russia"; those among the opposed were "National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough", as well as Defence Secretary Robert Gates. Rogin writes:

Inside the NSC, Power, Smith, and McFaul have been trying to figure out how the administration could implement R2P and what doing so would require of the White House going forward. Donilon and McDonough are charged with keeping America's core national interests more in mind. Obama ultimately sided with Clinton and those pushing R2P -- over the objections of Donilon and Gates.

Similarly, the New York Times reportsthat Samantha Power and Susan Rice, Obama's ambassador to the United Nations, were the key advocates for war: "Ms. Power is a former journalist and human rights advocate; Ms. Rice was an adviser to President Clinton when the United States failed to intervene to stop the Rwanda genocide, which Mr. Clinton has called his biggest regret."

The R2P notion has its roots in humanitarian interventionism of the 1990s. It was less high-profile during the Bush years, as the Iraq war mess tarnished the idea of the US military as a force for liberation. But it was by no means absent, since it was behind the calls to intervene in Darfur and elsewhere. Andrew Sullivan usefully notes that these ideas have been brewing within the Obama administration since his election:

The National Security Council advisers who supported the full spectrum of Libya operations earlier this week--Samantha Power, Susan Rice, and Gayle Smith--have been adamant and public supporters of the implementation of the third pillar of the "responsibility to protect" doctrine, which includes the use of military force, if necessary. All three maintained close relationships with then-Senator Obama, particularly as a result of his active engagement in the Darfur advocacy movement.

The actions of the Obama administration's foreign policy agencies--particularly the prioritization of mass atrocities prevention in the recent Quadrennial Development and Diplomacy Review and the creation of Rosa Brooks' Office for Rule of Law and International Humanitarian Policy at DoD--have indicated the Obama administration's interest in altering his administration's use of American power in the international sphere.

spiked has been at the forefront of criticizing liberal interventionism and R2P. Here are some sample articles from recent years:

And for some critiques of the notion in the specific context of recent events in Libya, see:

One Response to “The idea behind the war on Libya: R2P” Leave a reply ›

  • On the news today, they were saying regime change wasn't the goal of the air attacks was not regime change. Contrary to some leftists, the West already has access to oil from Libya. Nobody was going to go to war with Gaddafy a few weeks ago.

    I think the big picture, is this is to demoralize and redirect the budding Arab Revolution.

    Quite frankly you are right. Even Afghanistan makes more sense.

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