For the moment, at least, the resolution seems to have had a positive effect; Libya’s foreign minister has said that country will declare an immediate ceasefire. But the situation remains extremely uncertain. It isn’t clear how rebel forced might respond, nor is it clear how durable a ceasefire might prove in the absence of an occupying force.
And having involved itself here, it’s not clear how the mobilising powers will be able to avoid action elsewhere in the Middle East. ~Free Exchange
The resolution called for a cease-fire and the grounding of all aircraft, and this appears to be what the Libyan government just agreed to do. The intervening governments may have caught a lucky break in that Gaddafi’s desire for self-preservation has given them a way out of going through with the folly of attacking Libya. This is temporarily a good outcome for Libya’s rebels, but there are several reasons why this may still prove to be bad for the U.S. and our allies. Intervening governments that have committed to providing defense for civilian areas in Libya and enforcing a no-fly zone are now stuck with that commitment for the foreseeable future. That could tie up military resources for as long as the conflict continues, and there’s no telling how long that might be. We can expect to see a lot more agitation from hawks here and in Europe that Gaddafi cannot be allowed to remain in power, and they are likely to see Gaddafi’s acceptance of a cease-fire as an unacceptable maneuver to buy time. Interventionists sold a Libyan war primarily on humanitarian grounds (“saving” Benghazi, etc.), but they will not be satisfied at all by a cessation of hostilities.
The more significant problem is that this has set a precedent that the states that were prepared to intervene in Libya will be expected to do the same in many more cases. An arbitrary, rather odd decision to treat the Libyan civil war as the greatest political crisis in the world will create the expectation of foreign support in other internal conflicts. That is likely to encourage rebellions and civil conflict. If a group believes it can win foreign support and political concessions by provoking a sufficiently brutal crackdown, that will make it more likely to rise up against its government, which may lead to humanitarian catastrophes that the “responsibility to protect” is supposed to prevent. As Alan Kuperman has argued (via Michael), the “responsibility to protect” creates a moral hazard:
The emerging norm, by raising hopes of diplomatic and military intervention to protect these groups, unintentionally fosters rebellion by lowering its expected cost and raising its likelihood of success. Intervention does sometimes help rebels attain their political goals, but it is usually too late or inadequate to avert retaliation against civilians. Thus, the emerging norm resembles an imperfect insurance policy against genocidal violence. It creates a moral hazard that encourages the excessively risky behavior of rebellion by members of groups that are vulnerable to genocidal retaliation, but it cannot fully protect these groups against the backlash. The emerging norm thereby causes some genocidal violence that otherwise would not occur.
There was nothing all that extraordinary about the Libyan case, and nothing that really set it apart from other conflicts around the world, and the willingness to intervene helps to enforce the norm Kuperman describes. Having set the bar very low for what qualifies a conflict for humanitarian intervention in Libya, it will be harder to reject intervention in the future. Our willingness to take military action against Libya probably isn’t going to deter other governments from cracking down brutally, as the lesson they will learn from this is that they need to quash rebellions more quickly. It is going to encourage rebels around the world to expect foreign support. Supporters of UNSCR 1973 are making an implicit commitment to countless groups around the world that they will side with them if their governments are violently oppressing them, and it is a commitment that these governments will not be able and are not going to honor.