Libya and the politics of the Responsibility to Protect
The Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) norm is usually framed in apolitical terms of civilian protection. This paper aims to challenge that depiction and demonstrate the deeply political nature of the RtoP, which is often elided or denied by its proponents. In order to achieve this, the paper will first look to the RtoP literature to demonstrate the depoliticisation of the norm, evident in the reference to the ‘international community’ or the ‘conscience of mankind’ as decisive factors in determining when the responsibility to protect has been breached and what should be done to rectify the situation. I will then turn to a case study of the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya. In this situation, the initial calls for intervention were premised upon the protection of civilian life against the murderous intent of the Gaddafi regime. The NATO action that followed the initial UN authorization, however, went far beyond the authority to protect civilians and strayed into the highly political realm of regime change, to the extent that the intervening forces became heavy participants in the forced displacement and massacre that occurred during the siege of Sirte. Taking sides, in this case, meant participating in violence against civilians of a similar nature to that which called forth the intervention in the first place. This example will be used to demonstrate the inevitable ‘fall’ into politics – and a profoundly ‘sovereign’ politics at that – that will accompany any physical attempt to protect civilians in the context of a civil war.