The Korea Herald


[Park Sang-seek] Libya war: Three tasks for the world

By 최남현

Published : March 29, 2011 - 17:56

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The United Nations, which has avoided direct military involvement in the popular revolts in several Arab countries, is launching military attacks on the Gadhafi regime to protect the rebel forces. The U.N. action, the composition and nature of the multinational force formed under a Security Council resolution, the reactions of major powers and Arab states to the Libyan civil war, and the U.S. action have exposed the essential characteristics of the current international order: Does the U.N. action signal the emergence of a new international political order? Is humanitarian intervention (or responsibility to protect) becoming a principle of international law? Will the democracy movements in the Arab world lead to the final victory of Western democracy or throw the world into chaos? Actually, they are the very tasks the nations and peoples of the world must cope with.

If the U.N. action is examined carefully, it reveals some characteristics which are distinctively different from previous U.N. actions. Since the cold war ended, the U.S. has intervened in domestic and international conflicts unilaterally or through multi-national forces. Even in the latter cases it has led the forces. This time, the U.N. Security Council has asked member states to participate in a multinational coalition force individually or through regional organizations. Under this broad and vague guideline, major powers of NATO and a couple of Arab states are individually participating in the military campaign under NATO leadership. More noticeably, the U.S. refuses to lead the multinational force and opposes the use of ground forces.

Another important feature of the U.N. action is that a majority of NATO members refuse to contribute their troops and two permanent members (China and Russia) and two Third World leaders (India and Brazil) maintain a neutral position. All this reveals that the U.S. hegemonic position is visibly weakening. It seems that the U.S. is moving away from its global hegemonic leadership to resort to multilateralism through the U.N. and build a kind of concert-of-powers system to handle global security issues. In this connection, it is worth noting how China and Russia justify their neutral positions: China objects to the domination of the world by the West, led by the U.S., and attempts to prevent the Western world from dominating the Arab world. Russia takes a similar position.

When the Western powers decided to intervene in the Libyan civil war, it invoked the principle of humanitarian intervention. Humanitarian intervention has been a major subject of controversy in the international arena in the post-cold war period. Most Western countries support it, while most non-Western developing countries reject it. The non-Western developing countries argue that a civil war is a domestic matter of the individual state under international law and therefore no country can intervene in a civil war for humanitarian reasons. They even oppose the Western view that the U.N. can invoke Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter which permits the use of force if it decides that a civil war constitutes a threat to international peace or a breach of peace.

In the case of the Libyan civil war, the Western powers argue that even in a civil war the U.N. has the right and duty to prevent mass killings by the Libyan government forces because the U.N. Charter upholds both the principle of national sovereignty and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms of all peoples. They go further and advocate the “radical” view that when national sovereignty and individual sovereignty are in conflict, the latter should prevail over the former. The non-Western developing powers, particularly China, reject this view, claiming that the nation-state can guarantee human rights better than any other political entities and humanitarian intervention is a new form of Western imperialism.

It seems that the U.N. intervention in the Libyan civil war has become a litmus test of whether the principle of individual sovereignty will prevail over the principle of state sovereignty. If it does, the nation-state system will be further eroded and the U.N. will further be transformed into a transnational organization, casting off its inter-state-organization cocoon.

Whether the democratic revolutions in Libya and the Arab world will succeed and, if so, whether the whole world will become democratic will determine the future of humanity. China seems to believe that those people’s rebellions will end up in either national division or a persistent civil war. Nobody can confidently predict that Western democracy will eventually prevail over non-democracy. Francis Fukuyama too hastily predicted its victory.

If all the above three developments continue without interruption and simultaneously, the world will become more peaceful and humanity will become more fraternal. There will be no end of history; instead, there will be the end of “man” and the beginning of “human.”

By Park Sang-seek

Park Sang-seek is a professor at the Graduate Institute of Peace Studies, Kyung Hee University. ― Ed.