David Bosco: How Libya made humanitarian intervention less likely
Gareth Evans: Can we stop atrocities without launching an all-out war?
Micah Zenko: After Qaddafi, every dictator will want to get his hands on a nuclear weapon
The world has entered an era characterized by two contradictory dynamics. The first is the "responsibility to protect" (R2P) doctrine, which states that each government is individually responsible for protecting its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. If a government cannot -- or will not -- meet its R2P obligations, then the international community can use military force to protect that state's populace and, potentially, to ensure the removal of offending regimes -- as has happened in the Ivory Coast and Libya this year.
The second dynamic is the prevention or rolling-back of states' acquisitions of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missiles. As authoritarian governments face escalating international scrutiny over their treatment of their people, they have an increasingly greater incentive to develop WMD programs to deter foreign military interventions enforcing R2P. In short, advocates of R2P may be inadvertently encouraging proliferation, because no government possessing WMD has ever been invaded and overthrown by an outside military force.
Toppled Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi gave up his country's nascent nuclear program in 2003 and 2004, removing the potential capability that would have deterred the NATO-led intervention. When Qaddafi handed uranium-enrichment centrifuge components and nuclear weapons blueprints to the United States, he sealed his own fate. Qaddafi's daughter, Aisha, promised that the lesson to take from Libya is that "every country that has weapons of mass destruction [should] keep them or make more so they will not meet the same fate as Libya."
Policymakers and analysts increasingly use the term "R2P" to describe malevolent state behaviors that fall outside the four specific crimes and violations mentioned above, and sovereign governments are held accountable for them under the obligations of R2P, with evidence immediately provided by citizens using social media, human rights investigators, and journalists. In Libya, for example, only 77 days passed between the country's referral by the U.N. Security Council to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the issuing of indictments and arrest warrants for Qaddafi and two senior officials by ICC prosecutors.
Combined with such scrutinized governmental behavior, the international community likewise increasingly faces R2P obligations to protect vulnerable populations through diplomatic, economic, and coercive military means. In August, U.S. President Barack Obama declared as much for the first time: "Preventing mass atrocities and genocide," he stated, "is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States."
Libya will assuredly not be the final country that faces coercive threats for treating its population poorly. Depending on how you define them, there are between 20 and 45 authoritarian governments in the world. Several are already pursuing WMD and have either never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Chemical Weapons Convention, and Biological Weapons Convention or are suspected to be in violation of treaty obligations.
Qaddafi told then-International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei in 2003 that he did not believe that his nuclear program enhanced Libya's security. He was either lying or wrong. Saddam Hussein, meanwhile, told FBI interrogators that he maintained the perception of having WMDs to not appear weak and to deter another invasion of his country. He was right -- not having nuclear weapons made him weak. Authoritarian governments will have learned lessons from both examples of outside regime change, and those will be applied to their own decisions about whether to pursue the bomb.