Reliable Security Information

The Post-Libya Environment

Does the fall of Muammar Gadhafi signal a shift both in how U.S. and European foreign policy is conducted and in the global environment as a whole?

Although there was an attempt to paint Gadhafi as a "clear and present" danger to U.S. national security, in the end, the NATO intervention was justified largely on humanitarian grounds. Unlike the 2003 Iraq invasion, which was still cast as defense of the homeland against a WMD threat, the 2011 Libya operation was much more clearer undertaken as part of a broader "responsibility to protect." As a result, it appears that while traditional concerns of statecraft -- among them access to energy and security cooperation -- remain as key motives for Western policy in the Middle East, the question of how governments in the region treat their populations is gaining prominence as a motivation for action. Indeed, European embargos on Iran and Syria to protest human rights violations were undertaken even though there would be commercial damage to their economic interests.

I raise the following questions today at World Politics Review:

The first is whether Libya will prove to be the exception or the rule. ... Will this new activism be carried onward to countries that are much more difficult -- starting with Syria? The second is what happens to China's own search for a larger global role, should other governments unresponsive to their populations be overthrown by a combination of internal unrest and external support. In recent years, China's soft-power offensive has been predicated on its absolute commitment to noninterference in the internal affairs of other states and a strong reluctance to becoming involved in assessing how other countries are ruled. This attitude has won Beijing friends throughout the global South as governments unable or unwilling to meet Western criteria have found in China an alternate partner for economic development. But if a post-realist, "just enough" activist policy leads to the successful overthrow of more of the existing regimes in the South, from Zimbabwe to Venezuela, what happens to China's efforts to project its power forward? The final question is whether governments around the world are reconsidering the degree of force they can use to secure their positions. Is there a certain level of violence that is tolerable but beyond which any escalation triggers definitive sanctions? Is, for instance, President Bashar al-Assad's response to the ongoing efforts to unseat him in Syria being tempered by the perception that, should he attempt to follow his father's example and completely level Hama, humanitarian outrage would ensue? Is he wary that the presumption of the powers of the rising South to protect state sovereignty would be trumped, causing Beijing, Moscow, New Delhi and Brasilia to abstain rather than vote against punitive measures introduced in the U.N. Security Council?
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