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Emmanuella Bonga

GOVT 572
November 6, 2014
A case against summary intervention
Criticism of international or multilateral interventions often hold that the
responsibility to protect noncombatants is simply rationalization used to mask
ulterior motives by the concerned forces. This is a view that Alan Kuperman outlines
in A modern Humanitarian Intervention?: Reassessing NATOs Libya Campaign. He
begins by presenting three schools of thought on intervention. The first holds that
intervention is beneficial and ethically required, despite potential costliness. The
second begins with a very Luttwak-like argument that intervention at best provides
a suspension of natural and inevitable outcomes, but takes it further in stating that
intervening is an unethical waste of resources on goals outside of natural interest.
The third school, to which Kuperman belongs and which claims to be a middle
ground between the first two, posits that interventions are justified only when they
are guaranteed to do more good than harm, cases which, it argues, are fairly rare.
Kuperman attributes the perceived rarity of the necessity of intervention to
two factors: the slowness of interveners relative to perpetrators, and the impact of
interventions as rewarding to militants and thus encouraging rebellion. Thus, his
argument is that intervention should only be used in cases where noncombatants
are intentionally targeted. With this article he lays out a conventional narrative of
the events in Libya prior to and during the NATO intervention, exposes the flaws in
these narratives, and proceeds to compare consequences of the intervention to
estimates of the possible outcomes if it had not taken place. By reviewing available
data and examining patterns of conflict related deaths prior to the intervention, he
comes to the conclusion that the NATO intervention in Libya did more harm than
good, and that future endeavors to follow its path should be meticulously examined.
He begins working out his argument by asserting that general discourse
surrounding and media coverage of the events in Libya are flawed. First, he holds
that the idea that protesters were unarmed is flawed. He uses some convincing
evidence to demonstrate that they actually were armed, and that the governments
initial response was non-lethal. However, his fixation on the number of women and
children killed (or not killed) as an indicator of government care was a bit reaching.
Several times in the article, he demonstrates that the number of corpses counted
by medical staff only included about 3% of women and children in some of the most
populated and central areas of conflict. From this he concluded that the government
was being careful about who it targeted. In this instance, I disagreed with his
methodology, or at least the logic he applied to the facts presented. To say that the
relatively low number of female victims shows prudence on the part of the
government assumes that all males or at least all males killed, were combatants,
which is saying a bit a much.

He also introduces the claim that NATOs primary was not to protect the
civilians, at least not once they got on the ground, but rather to overthrow the
Qaddafi regime. This, he says, jeopardizes the humanitarian mission that the
organization claims to be on. He estimates through an interesting calculation
process that without the NATO intervention, only 1,100 people would have been
killed as opposed to the estimated 8,000- 11,500. Add to this the assumption that
the intervention prolonged the conflict by an additional six or so months, the
contagion that regime overthrow sparked for Tuaregs returning to Mali and the
increased ethnic and racial unrest, and you have all of Kupermans reasons as to
why this particular intervention should not have happened, and why interventions in
general should rarely be undertaken. This contrasted Ivo Daalders readings, in
which not only were NATO interventions praised, but their expansion was
recommended and much anticipated.
I found Kupermans argument to be compelling, though very much narrow
minded. He assumes, much like Luttwak did, that the absence of the NATO
intervention would have automatically meant more stability in the end, and less
lives lost. This assumption does not take into consideration the unpredictability of
civil wars as a rule, particularly in Africa. Looking at nearby Egypt and Tunisia, the
fact that public unrest sparked the war in the first place indicates that though
initially quenched, conflict probably would have sparked up again anyways, possibly
much worse than before. All in all, this was an interesting read, and he makes some
thought provoking observations.

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