Libya and the Impotent Internationalists

Canada was instrumental in passing the United Nations' Responsibility to Protect resolution, but where is Canada, and the world? Rex casts his eye on the international response, or lack thereof, to the crisis in Libya.

Canada was instrumental in passing the United Nations' Responsibility to Protect  resolution, but where is Canada, and the world?  Rex is not impressed, to say the least, with the international response to the crisis in Libya.

Read a transcript of this Rex Murphy episode

March 10, 2011

It was Cain's surly response to the Almighty after the murder of Abel: "Am I my brother's keeper?"

A great and complicated question  - then and now.

I think in the grand sense the answer always supposed to be: Yes.

But in real life - Libya right now - the international community, and Canada as part of it, is having a real problem facing up to that question, when they are not avoiding it altogether.

In starkest terms when a four-decade dictator, of noticeably little conscience, who sanity is a mirage and who is unacquainted with mercy, starts to fire on his "own" citizens – call in mercenaries, or gun ships to 'disperse' Libyan protestors - does the UN, the international community, NATO have a responsibility to protect those being shot at by their own government? Are they their brother's keeper?

Well, actually and explicity - they are.  It's an obligation they willing placed on themselves more than half a decade ago. The UN and Canada in particular, brought forth a doctrine called the Responsibility to Protect – which outlined a responsibility, a duty, to intervene in the affairs of any state that had turned horrendously against its own citizens.  Libya under Ghaddafi fits that so perfectly R 2 P could have been written with today's headlines in mind.

I emphasize Canada was very much the leading voice or author of this wonderfully grand concept - the Responsibility to Protect - embodied it in the machinery and action of the United Nations.

Well, that being the case, why are we not hearing from the Liberals, and the Conservatives that Libya is precisely a case for the doctrine to apply.  But that - you see - would lead to more questions, detail of response and hard choices.

Which country's jets will strafe the Libyan capital?  How much intervention is enough?  Will Canada's armed forces be doing some of the shooting?  If NATO or the UN, urged by Canada, were to establish a no fly zone - what would that commit the world and Canada to further down the line?

What is strange in this debate here in Canada is how little the leadership from any of the parties have   brought up this doctrine – largely of our making – and if they believe in it – are not insisting on action in Libya every day in the Commons before Ghaddafi slaughters thousands. 

Did we believe in this doctrine when we sold it, when we celebrated its adoption? Well where is it now?  Where was it in Darfur?  Where in the Congo?  Zimbabwe? 

As with so much that comes out of the pious and sentimental wing of foreign policy in essence Responsibility to Protect is little more than a perfumed phrase. It has changed nothing, excited hopes where hope was best left slumbering, and exists mainly as a grandstanding posture from impotent internationalists.  

For The National, I’m Rex Murphy.