LIBYA: another catastrophic mess: Bruce Kent

With thanks to UNGA-Link Interactive and the Islington Tribune: 

Once more a war has started with very little evidence that those in favour of it, or even some of those opposed to it, have understood the requirements of the United Nations Charter.    

The United Nations was set up in 1945 not to authorise wars but primarily “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war…”  Nowhere in the Charter is there any agreement that a vote in the Security Council is enough to legitimise a war or military attack.   In Article 42 there is a very serious precondition before, as a last resort, any military action may be authorised.   

The Security Council must consider (that is, come to a reasoned judgment) that peaceful means of resolving a conflict “would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate”.   There is no evidence whatever that, once David Cameron started to push for a no-fly zone over Libya, any consideration of peaceful means of conflict resolution was on the international agenda.  

•  Were all possible economic sanctions imposed and  enforced?  

•  Was massive electronic jamming put into operation?  

•  Were all oil and gas sales cancelled?  

•  Was non-governmental intervention of any kind attempted?  

Muammar Gaddafi at one stage compared himself to the Queen.  Perhaps the Prince of Wales might have been asked to try a peacemaking visit.  Flattery can have advantages.  

Now we are again in a catastrophic mess.   The countries which, for decades, armed and supported Gaddafi and ignored his human rights violations are now his enemies.   It will not be long before there are numbers of civilian casualties.  

Arab support for what is going on is fading, and the whole venture will be cast as another Western “Christian” imperialist adventure and will not end up by protecting the insurgents.   

It is too late to lament what might have been, but there are still opportunities.   To start with the UN General Assembly could make clear its view of the legality of the current Security Council resolution.   We could make an immediate approach to the International Court of Justice with a pre-agreement to abide by any adjudication. 

Cynical or not, Gaddafi has made a ceasefire gesture.   The countries which have mounted the air strikes should unconditionally promise a ceasefire at least for a significant period of time during which UN-brokered negotiations could start and a peaceful settlement based on democratic principles might be considered.   

There is already a UN special representative in Tripoli.   It may yet be possible to negotiate a UN-authorised peacekeeping presence not made up of Western forces.   Such a force would have a peacekeeping not a peace enforcement mandate.   Those who oppose the Gaddafi regime certainly have to be protected in Libya and abroad.  There might be some British Muslim leaders willing to take part in peacekeeping visits of their own to Libya, with a mandate to explore all opportunities. 

This is, thankfully, not a conflict in which the use of nuclear weapons might be contemplated. For whatever reason, Colonel Gaddafi, who was once on the nuclear weapon trail, abandoned it some time ago.    

Perhaps that is a piece of political rationality on which we might build.  As a minimum, we have now in this country to eat a very large slice of humble pie.   Our problem is that we have been brought up in a culture which likes to believe that war ‘works’ and can be made to work.   It actually often – at massive cost – has exactly the opposite effect to the one intended.  

The fact is that we are not omnipotent and that the best we can ever do is to try to find paths towards the peaceful resolution of conflict.  

Popping cruise missiles into other people backyards is not one of them. 

Bruce Kent, a former parish priest at St Aloysius in Somers Town, is vice-president of the Movement for the Abolition of War 

COMMENT on UNGA-Link site – 1

Bruce Kent’s idealistic position would be admirable if we were not human and had no aggressive feelings and did not respond to being attacked by an urge to defend ourselves and those we support. 

Gaddafi is one of many aggressors who does not respond to offers to negotiate. The latest African Union delegation may yet produce something we shall see but has only been seen in Tripoli because the rebel cause has been forcefully supported by the UN.

In the meantime Tripoli’s war against its rebels has killed many Libyans and maintains Gaddafi in power. 

If the UN Security Council had done nothing Benghazi would have fallen and the Gaddafi family could have continued in power for another 40 years. 

 The other course advocated by Bruce Kent is Peacekeeping  which works sometimes but can lead to great disasters such as Srebrenica. In the Congo the UN has its largest Peacekeeping Operations but massacres, pillage and rape continue. The UN hasn’t yet learnt how to implement the responsibility to Protect it has assumed but it will not be achieved by turning the other cheek. 

COMMENT on UNGA-Link site – 2

Bruce Kent’s position is civilised and pragmatic. Some points made in the comment are taken up: 

  • A reference to ‘an urge to defend . . . those we support’ needs examining. ‘We’, our leading politicians, academics and government, embraced and supported Colonel Gaddafi for years, so by the writer’s logic we should be defending him. 
  • Similarly ‘an urge to defend ourselves’ does not apply here: he was no threat to this country. 
  • “In the meantime Tripoli’s war against its rebels has killed many Libyans”: it will be found that ‘our’ intervention has also killed many Libyans. 
  • “The other course advocated by Bruce Kent is Peacekeeping which works sometimes but can lead to great disasters such as Srebrenica”:  a book like Ferguson’s ‘Not Them but Us’ has an excellent chapter on successful peacekeeping interventions, which we must remember. 

I think Bruce set out the outline of a civilised intervention framework on which people of good will could build – if powerful vested interests, in particular the oil and arms industries, can be kept at arms length.

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2 Responses to LIBYA: another catastrophic mess: Bruce Kent

  1. Ian Flintoff says:

    Naturally I agree with every word! Ian F.

  2. Ian Flintoff says:

    The comment which says that Bruce Kent is wrong because he doesn’t take into account the realities of human behaviour seems to me, respectfully, fatuous in that it overlooks the same arguments which have been used from time immemorial to justify barbarity.

    In their time “witches” had to be ducked to prove they were witches; people were bloodily hanged, drawn, and quartered because that was “the only punishment they understand”; women were excluded from intelligent occupations because “that’s not what women are”; children were flogged to “teach them a lesson”.

    Happily, like Bruce Kent, there are many people about who want to help humanity to grow up and cast off the centuries of insane conditioning that we have had inflicted upon us by bullying twerps regarding “enemies” and the necessity of wiping them out.

    The progress has been slow – but we no longer persecute witches, hang, draw or quarter offenders and even allow women the occasional job equal to their intelligences and insight. Never, please, use the “human nature” argument. We are, to a great extent, what we choose to be.

    Ian Flintoff, Oxford, England.

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