17 March 2011
The UN delegitimizes Khadafi
With two of the veto-bearing members abstaining, the United Nations Security Council has authorized the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya, asserting for itself the prerogative to protect the civilian population of a country from the country's ruler and at least theoretically constraining the ruler's sovereign right to suppress an insurrection. Endorsing the vote, the French foreign minister has called it a revolutionary moment in global affairs. That may be so if the move is as unprecedented as the comment implies, but it will be truly revolutionary only if it comes with a commitment to apply the empowering principle with absolute consistency. Unless the UN deals with every subsequent civilian-endangering internal conflict in the same manner, all today's vote proves is that Col. Khadafi is a profoundly unpopular man. He must be, if Russia and China, normally defenders of unconditional national sovereignty against all moralizing objections, have acquiesced in such an allegedly precedent-setting measure. Admittedly, the UN has not committed itself to overthrowing Khadafi, and to my knowledge it has not explicitly challenged his standing as the ruler of Libya. But the Security Council vote clearly makes Khadafi less sovereign than his peers, if it has not implied that no nation can suppress rebellion by all means necessary. If that was actually the world body's intention, it could say so more clearly, and I might respect its action more. Please take none of this as an endorsement of Khadafi's government of his country. I have no special desire to see him continue in office. My concern is that the Security Council has acted arbitrarily, for reasons cynical or sentimental, rather than taking a real step toward effective and principled world government. The world may cheer it for doing so now, but it may not the next time.