Recognition by the United States (and other countries) of the NTC as the “legitimate governing authority” of Libya is especially unusual under international law because the NTC does not control all of Libyan territory, nor can it claim to represent all of the Libyan people. Indeed, as a general rule, international lawyers have viewed recognition by states of an insurgent group, when there is still a functioning government, as an illegal interference in a country’s internal affairs [bold mine-DL].

Recognition of the NTC while the Qaddafi regime still controls extensive territory and exercises some governmental functions also raises other legal and practical problems, such as which group bears the responsibility for Libya’s treaty obligations. For example, does the Qaddafi regime still have international obligations under the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations and Consular Relations to protect foreign embassies or to provide consular access to captured foreign nationals, such as members of the press? Will the United States enter into diplomatic relations with the NTC? No doubt these are among the “various legal issues” that Secretary Clinton says the State Department is working through. ~John Bellinger III

It would be a bit late to start worrying about illegal interference in another country’s internal affairs at this point where Libya is concerned, but it is striking that standard U.S. policies and international law are both to be turned on their head for the sake of vindicating the weaker side in a civil war in a country of no great importance. If it were of vital importance to the U.S. and our allies who governed Libya, perhaps there might be some practical reason for making the rules up as we go along, cutting corners, and generally making a mockery of our support for a “rules-based” international order, but it has never been all that important. These are the kinds of haphazard decisions that follow from a poorly-conceived, hasty intervention that serves no discernible national interest.