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Lessons from Libya

What lessons might other leaders be drawing from the NATO intervention in Libya? What is becoming apparent is that the UN resolution authorizing action came from a conjunction of factors which may not be easily replicated when it comes to other cases crying out for humanitarian intervention.

This is a subject I tackle in greater detail over at World Politics Review today, in a so-called "dictator's primer":

The first is that a government ... that is worried about international sanctions arising from its domestic activities needs to assiduously cultivate a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. ... Neither Beijing nor Moscow, however, had any incentive to help out the "Brother Leader," who up to this year was aggressively cultivating Western companies to develop his energy sector and whose eccentricities in flirting with pan-Islamic movements over the years had not endeared him to either Eurasian power. It was not worth it to either China or Russia to complicate relations with the West by blocking action in the U.N. for Gadhafi's sake.

The second is the importance of using one's own indigenous forces to suppress any domestic rebellion, or at least to keep outside combatants discreetly dispersed throughout the security forces. What is noteworthy about U.N. Security Resolution 1973 is its repeated focus on Gadhafi's use of "mercenaries" to hold on to power. ... the very public spectacle of non-Libyans attempting to put down a popular uprising was a key factor in the Gadhafi regime's loss of any legitimate claim to rule on behalf of the Libyan people. Indeed, the U.N. ambassadors from the U.K. and Colombia, in citing their governments' support for Resolution 1973, explicitly highlighted this "loss of legitimacy" as a reason for their support.

The third and related lesson is that in a globalized world with 24/7 satellite news channels, repressive leaders have to watch their mouths and avoid inflammatory rhetoric. ... Gadhafi's use of this type of language, combined with his employment of mercenaries, created a plausible scenario that the fall of Benghazi would lead to a humanitarian catastrophe, making it more likely that countries that opposed the U.N. resolution would abstain. This was certainly the case with both Brazil and India. ...

Finally, a government needs to secure its relationships with its immediate neighbors. ... The BRIC powers -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- all cited the Arab League's position as the reason why they would not oppose the resolution, even if they could not vote for it, either. For instance, China's Ambassador Li Baodong, acting as the president of the Security Council, noted that the Chinese government had serious reservations about the proposal, but "had not blocked the passage of the resolution . . . because it attached great importance to the requests of the Arab League."

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