Libya: Rethinking humanitarian intervention and the dilemmas of counterinsurgency in Africa

Dauda Abubakar


The increasing incidence of a humanitarian catastrophe, especially within the context of civil war and insurgency conflicts has opened up a vibrant debate among scholars around issues of international intervention, global security and state sovereignty; and how these could be reconciled with the complex dilemmas of self-determination and civilian protection in armed conflicts (Wheeler, 2000; Duffield, 2006; Mamdani, 2009; Kaldor, 1999; Hehir, 2013; Autesserre, 2014; Prinz & Schetter, 2017; Lamont, 2016; Doyle, 2016; Abrahamsen, 2016). Advocates of neoliberal interventionism (Kaldor, 1999; Thakur, 2006; Weiss, 2007; Bellamy, 2005, Bellamy, Alex, & Williams (2011); Pattisson, 2010; Deng, 1996; 1CISS, 2001) assert that with the rising tide of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the principle of sovereign autonomy over internal affairs of the state should be reconstituted in such a manner as to empower the international community to “protect” innocent civilians if the state is unable or unwilling to protect its citizenry. This has led to the emergence of the doctrine of “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) following the submission of a Report by The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (1CISS, 2001). However, critiques of the doctrine of R2P (Hehir, 2010; 2012; 2013; Abubakar, 2017; Mamdani, 2010; Kuperman, 2013; De Waal, 2007; Hobson, 2016; Cunlifle, 2016; Wai, 2014) contend that while the notion of civilian protection in armed conflicts may save innocent lives, such intervention should not be instrumentalised as a Trojan horse in pursuit of major power geostrategic and national interests in the global South. More often than not, paternalistic neoliberal intervention in armed conflicts may degenerate into deeper humanitarian tragedy by destroying not only the institutions and infrastructures of the state; but it may, as in the case of Libya, exacerbate internal factional and militant insurgency violence that leads to the displacement of the same civilians that ought to have been protected (Pradella & Rad, 2017; Ronen, 2017; Cunliffe, 2010). Such unintended consequences and the human catastrophe it generates not only reveals the limits of the neoliberal project in post-colonial Africa, but also demonstrates that paternalistic approach to human protection neglects local agency and knowledge; and, more often than not, likely to fail in securing population (Mavelli, 2016; Chandler & Reid, 2016; Kuperman, 2012, 2013; Autesserre, 2012).

The purpose of this Chapter is to critically evaluate North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) 2011 humanitarian intervention in Libya and its aftermath, especially the outbreak of violent insurgency and the subsequent rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) in the conflict. 1 argue that although the intervention was framed within the narrative of R2P and legitimated by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, NATO’s use of military force in Libya exceeded its mandate through regime change. By equipping and supporting the rebel movement during the Libyan “Arab Spring”, NATO’s military intervention facilitated the ultimate capture and assassination of Muammar Qaddafi; as well as the destruction of Libya’s socioeconomic infrastructure, exacerbation of rival militia insurgency and creating a political vacuum that led to the insertion ot Islamic State (ISIS) fighters and a lull-blown counterinsurgency conflict. 1 develop this argument in three related sections. In the section that follows, I outline a conceptual framework ot humanitarian intervention as a form ot subjectification, drawing on the notions of conditioned state sovereignty as inscribed in the doctrine of R2P, and the biopolitics ofneoliberal intervention based on the extant literature (Foucault, 2003, 2010; Prinz & Schetter, 2017; Mavelli, 2016; Kuperman, 2013; Mamdani, 2010; Cunliffe, 2016; Hobson, 2016; Reid, 2010; Mavelli, 2017). Embedded within the notion of post-Cold War humanitarian protection is a subtle imperial logic that the population, as a target, is being “saved” from some form of self-destructive maladaptation and “barbarism” (Mamdani, 2010; Wai, 2014). As the liberal peace narrative goes, Libyan civilians are vulnerable to Qaddafi’s imminent atrocities and must, therefore, be protected through international intervention, to avert a repeat of Rwanda (Muller & Wolft, 2014). However, the limitations of this logic, as 1 will demonstrate in this Chapter, is that it inadvertently removes the democratic rights of citizens to change their government or enact change in accordance with the principle of self-determination and autonomy. In the neoliberal discourse of R2P, state sovereignty is conditional upon fulfilling certain norms and “standards of civilisation” including the capacity' to ensure the rule of law, protection ot civil and political liberties and the autonomy of the market in state-society relations. “Failed” or so-called “collapsed states” and “ungovernable spaces”, so the neoliberal argument goes, are “outside the normative model of a state and its relationship with society” (Prinz & Schetter, 2017; Jabri, 2007; Mavelli, 2016) and constitute an existential threat to Western civilisation and global security (Reid, 2010). As Jabri (2007) rightly puts it, such cosmopolitan neoliberal solidarities are always constituted hierarchically ..not simply in terms of technological and material resource capacity, but in a self-understanding that sees itself in moral terms, constructed in terms ot saving others, just warriors engaged in the rescue ot other distant populations.” Furthermore, such conception of international morality not only demonises the violence of African authoritarian regimes as mass violence that ought to be stopped but confers legitimacy on perpetrators of other forms of structural violence. Such a conception of social change depoliticises violence as a productive agency in the socio-structural transformation of state-society relations in the periphery. As Mamdani (2010) rightly alerts us, the politics of labelling performs a vital function in a hierarchical global order: “It isolates and demonises the perpetrators ot one kind of mass violence, and at the same time confers impunity on perpetrators of other forms of mass violence.” In the third section, I discuss how NATO’s neoliberal project of humanitarian protection in Libya metamorphosed into illegitimate regime change; thereby' providing the enabling environment for various militia groups to engage in fratricidal conflict over state power, oil resources and territory' (Ronen, 2017; Pradella & Rad, 2017; Doyle, 2016; Jebnoun, 2015). The gradual disintegration of the Libyan state after the elimination of Qaddafi, I argue, provided an opening for ISIS to insert itself into the conflict thereby exacerbating population displacement, extra-judicial killings, and counterinsurgency warfare in Libya. The failure ot R2P in Libya, I contend, had an unintended consequence for the continuing insurgency war in Syria where thousands ot civilians have been killed and over one million displaced as refugees. Ironically, the same refugees from both Libya and Syria conflicts have been restricted from entering Western European countries over the fear of terrorism. The biopolitics of neoliberalism which unilaterally determines who shall be saved and, therefore, live; or who must die, certainly alerts us to the imperatives ot critically rethinking the implications of humanitarian intervention in Africa. The fourth section of the chapter turns to the counterinsurgency war in Libya and its implications not only tor the civilian population in the country but also the ramifications at regional and global levels. The conclusion summarises the key arguments advanced in the Chapter and provides viable solutions for the continuing insurgency conflict in Libya in particular, and postcolonial Africa in general.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >