Some time ago, in one of my most popular postings in terms of page-views, I discussed the resolution for intervention in Libya. Now that it appears that Gadaffi is about to fall it is worth pointing to what this entails for the doctrine of R2P. In the conflict that is coming to a close the appeal to R2P was founded in the first instance on a manifest threat to the civilian population from the forces of Gadaffi's regime. Nonetheless, the intervention from NATO that followed the passage of the resolution clearly led to an alteration in the balance of forces and the eventual defeat of the government.
Sunny Hundal argues that the move that happened in the execution of the UN resolution represented "mission creep" whilst the folk over at Left Foot Forward, by contrast, focus on the difficulty of sustaining interventions in an era of cuts. Both these responses have some validity. It is true that R2P has undergone a clear extension since the "protection" of civilians was understood here to mean that the government could no longer be trusted to act with a duty of care towards its own people. There are good reasons for thinking this was a correct verdict with regard to Gadaffi. However that does not, in itself, correct Hundal's point which is that the official original rationale for the mission was not the real operational meaning of it.
The argument that the intervention is one that it is hard to imagine being sustained in a climate of general budget cuts is a good one and points to one of many problems that afflict the austerity regimes now in place across the Western world. One of the most unpopular measures of the UK's coalition government has been its protection of the overseas aid budget and there are few on the "progressive" wing of politics who have argued for retention of a serious defence budget.
There are four matters of importance that come out of this situation:
1. The need for a dimension of foreign policy that retains commitment to a humanitarian dimension.
2. The requirement of foreign policy and foreign aid to be inter-related on the grounds of a shared human rights agenda.
3. The need for an understanding that 1) and 2) are requirements that cannot be downgraded due to the impacts of "austerity".
4. For the future, and in this situation also, a need for the follow-through on the policy to be given high priority. This requires not abandoning the countries in question as the revolution comes to a close but rather seeing the "transition" as central to the success of the policy. Any good elements in the Iraq fiasco were wrecked by failure to attend to this and this should not happen either in Libya or elsewhere. Failure to attend to this will doom the case for humanitarian intervention.