The Unknown Unknowns of Humanitarian War
111 American Journal of International Law - Unbound 297 (2017)
7 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2017 Last revised: 12 Oct 2017
Date Written: October 10, 2017
This essay is part of a Symposium published by the American Journal of International Law – AJIL Unbound titled “Unauthorized Military Interventions for the Public Good?” This essay discusses the failure of the 2011 NATO-led intervention in Libya to argue that definition of victory articulated in the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) is conceptually deficient and strategically hazardous.
The authors of RtoP defined a successful intervention as one that prevents or halts atrocities against civilians. This definition of success is, however, deficient because it fails to establish a sufficient nexus between the responsibility to prevent atrocities and the responsibility to foster a secure and stable post-intervention environment that enables reconstruction and reconciliation in what are often war-torn and socially-fragmented societies. This essay argues that planning and executing a successful intervention to protect civilians must not be limited to the military aspects of the operation or its humanitarian components, such as the provision of humanitarian assistance, but must also include a post-intervention strategy that is suited to the political and socio-economic realities of the country in which intervention is being undertaken.
This essay also argues that the humanitarian impulse to protect civilians and prevent atrocities often masks the strategic hazards of RtoP. Despite its altruistic objectives, humanitarian war, like all war, is a political act. This means that intervention will have domestic, regional, and global political ramifications that are often not wholly considered by states and international organizations intervening to prevent atrocities against civilians.
Therefore, this essay highlights the need to consider and plan for the unknown unknowns of humanitarian war. These are the domestic, regional, and international chain reactions, contingencies, and consequences of consequences that will inevitably occur as a result of intervention. This essay argues that the powers intervening in Libya failed to plan for domestic, regional, and global impact of the intervention, and failed to develop and execute a post-intervention reconstruction plan that would avoid Libya’s descent into chaos. In short, the failure to plan for the unknown unknowns of humanitarian war could ultimately cause greater human and state insecurity.
Keywords: jus ad bellum, the use of force, the responsibility to protect, humanitarian intervention, jus post bellum, Libya
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