Questions on Libya and R2P

By: /
June 20, 2011

I am honoured to be associated with three such experts. In fact, it is not really clear to me why I was asked to be part of this Roundtable. I am certainly no expert on international issues or Canadian foreign policy.

True, as a journalist for now nearly 35 years, I have had to think and write about a wide range of issues, including these ones. I’ll do my best to bring to this discussion what may be a different perspective than the one academics may have. Of course, being from Québec, I may also contribute a different approach to some issues, or at least try to communicate how Quebecers feel about those. (Hopefully, readers will pardon my very imperfect written English…) Finally, since I have been given access to such prominent people, I will do what I do most in my day job: ask questions.

The NATO mission in Libya underlines the difficulties in translating R2P into action. The Security Council 1973 made very clear that the goal of the Libya mission iss to protect civilians, not to affect regime change. Yet here we are bombing Libya with the explicit goal of bringing Gaddafi down.

Now we know from the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan that regime change is very costly, both financially and in human terms. We also have learned that the results are far from certain. Who are these rebels who we are supporting in Libya? Are they democrats? Are we sure that Libyans would be better off with them than with the weird and cruel "Guide"? It becomes sadly ironic to pretend we are protecting civilians when some NATO bomb misses its intended target and kills… civilians.

The Western world’s interpretation of R2P is bound to be inconsistent, since there are many more populations mistreated than we can afford to protect. Why are we bombing Tripoli and not Damascus?

So let me throw these questions to my fellow panelists: although obviously undeniable in principle, is R2P possible to put in action with reasonable chances of success? How should we define success? How do we choose which people we should protect? Can we protect without launching an all-out war that may cause more damage to a country than a dictator’s rule?

I want to make it clear I am all in favour of R2P. I am just worried that it may be very difficult, if not impossible to carry it out.