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The Legal Complications of TNC Recognition

The Washington Post has interviewed John Bellinger on the U.S. decision to recognize the TNC as the Libyan government. Bellinger previously discussed the legal implications here. As Bellinger explains, one of the problems created by recognition is the uncertainty over which regime has the responsibility to adhere to Libya’s international obligations:

It really does raise questions as to whether the NTC now owes international obligations to the United States and the outside world and whether the Gaddafi regime, which is no longer recognized by the United States and certain other countries, no longer has those obligations.

The State Department has not made clear exactly how it is going to treat the question of treaty obligations. I suspect that they want to do both … that they want to both recognize the NTC as the governing authority but, at the same time, they don’t want to let Gaddafi regime off the hook and certainly not suggest that the Gaddafi regime no longer has the obligation to comply with the Vienna Convention or human rights law or the laws of war.

No doubt they would like to do both, but I’m not sure that they can. Bellinger speculates on how the administration overcame the reservations of the lawyers at the State Department:

To my mind that means essentially that the lawyers were pressured into going along with this formulation while throwing down the yellow flags to say there are some problems here and that these are still being worked out.

He also observed that many of the other governments represented at the Istanbul meeting were unwilling to endorse formal recognition:

What’s interesting to me is what some of the other countries have done at the same time. The U.S. government’s statement by Secretary Clinton goes farther than what the Libyan Contact Group’s statement said last Friday. The 32-member Contact Group was only apparently willing to say that they agreed to quote “deal with” the NTC and does not use the word “recognize,” which to me means they could not get 32 countries to agree on the word “recognition” and the U.S. than went further out on its own.

One of the countries that apparently didn’t go that far was Great Britain. Britain, which has historically been a stickler for finer points of international law, has been willing to go along with the “deal with” formulation but has pointedly refused to recognize the insurgency because of the various international legal problems it raises.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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