Civilian Protection in Libya: Putting Coercion and Controversy Back into RtoP

| August 2011
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It is unclear how the crisis in Libya—and NATO’s ongoing aerial campaign—will affect the fortunes and trajectory of the principle of the responsibility to protect (RtoP). There is much wisdom in Thomas Weiss’s statement that today “the main challenge facing the responsibility to protect is how to act, not how to build normative consensus.” As I will suggest later, there have been costs to the current secretary-general’s diplomatic strategy for building support for RtoP, which has placed great emphasis on so-called root-cause prevention and state capacity building. At the same time, it would be too rash to conclude that the Libyan case ends the debate over RtoP’s status, meaning, and strength in contemporary international society. Indeed, the very fact that Resolution 1973 mentions only the “responsibility of the Libyan authorities to protect the Libyan population” and not the responsibility of the international community suggests that the latter notion was still contested by some members of the Security Council as an appropriate rationale for military action.

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Category: Issue 25.3, Roundtable: Libya, RtoP, and Humanitarian Intervention, The Ethics of War and Peace

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