NATO's Greatest Mistake was Libya: the Alliance Should Have Nothing to do with R2P
As a collective security organisation for its members NATO overreached its purview and the spirit of its treaty mandate by intervening in Libya. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle adopted by the UN in 2005 should not partner or utilize with NATO's operational capability to be able to intervene in states outside of the North Atlantic Treaty. NATO should stay clear of becoming an operational arm for liberal internationalism and re-consider its humanitarian role.
NATO was created as a collective security organisation. As soon as it acted under the authority of UNSCR 1973 and Operation Unified Protector (OUP) in Libya it unequivocally exceeded its purpose as an organisation. The intervention in Libya took on a strong form of mission creep with NATO gradually increasing its role from surveillance to assisting the arms embargo to full operational control under the remit of UNSCR 1973.
There is little doubt that the regime of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi was an authoritarian and unworthy one. There is also little doubt that Libya ended up with an almost Hobbesian state of nature existing within its borders which created an even more dangerous cocktail of extremism and violence for the Libyan people.
Though the regime of Qaddafi was gone, a weak, divided and fractured country was left. NATO bears strong responsibility for the situation it helped bring about in Libya. The strategic short sightedness which was evident in Iraq and Afghanistan post-military operations was also apparent after OUP was concluded.
The use of NATO as an operational arm of the R2P principle is both dangerous and beyond the purview of what NATO should really be. As a collective security organisation NATO should only act with respect to its member nations' interests and territorial integrity such as its role in Afghanistan as a result of the Al-Qaeda attacks on 9/11. R2P allows the distorting of the purpose of NATO which results in the organisation basing its action on a principle that didn't exist in customary or international law at the time NATO was founded.
If not enough care is taken or protocols established then NATO could build on its mistake in Libya and become an operational tool for every humanitarian intervention in the 21st century. This makes NATO equivalent to a crusading military body for liberal internationalism and the fight to make ‘evil' nations ‘good'. This is contrary to the intention of what NATO was created for and if not checked, it could result in further military entanglements. If the UK and US had decided to intervene militarily in Syria then it is hard not to see how mission creep would have sucked NATO into assuming another operational command beyond its borders.
The promulgation of R2P and humanitarian interventionism has created a role which NATO could easily fill but which fundamentally transgresses its purpose. The North Atlantic treaty could if read a certain way, especially the preamble and Article 1, provide NATO the operational mandate to work alongside R2P as the principle has been taken on and approved by the UN.
It is questionable though whether the publics of NATO nations fully understand how and in what way their taxes and national armed forces are being used by liberal internationalist governments. Sending men and women to war through what has grown to be a quite unaccountable NATO involvement process such as in Libya is both disconcerting and troubling. NATO does of course have a role to play in operations outside the borders of its member nations such as in Operation Desert Storm where it utilised its command and logistical abilities to assist the coalition of the willing.
In sum. The principle of R2P has the scope to significantly alter the purpose and scope of what is permissible for NATO to undertake. NATO transforming into a crusading arm of liberal internationalism is not what the publics of its member nations understand it to be and it is inherently undemocratic and dangerous for the military Alliance to begin changing its mission purpose without national level approval. As a result:
- NATO should disavow R2P as an operational mandate for it to act in a humanitarian crisis.
- NATO should consider democratic processes and methods if it wants the Alliance to be involved in humanitarian intervention outside its borders.
- NATO should strongly consider the creation of a humanitarian intervention checklist with the necessity of all conditions being met before an intervention can be sanctioned. This will help prevent post conflict breakdown, as in Libya.
Connor Smart studied international relations at the University of Plymouth. He has his own current affairs blog and is planning to work in London with a International education charity.
This article has been submitted for category B "NATO's Biggest Mistake and Lesson Learned" of the competition "Shaping Our NATO: Young Voices on the NATO Summit". Comments are most appreciated. You can also read the other articles in this category. Learn more about this competition and how you can submit your own text or video in the categories C and D.
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