Several thousand marines are headed for the Mediterranean. Their officers say
that they are available for "flexible" action. One Colonel says the
Marine Expeditionary Unit
"is able to perform a
wide variety of missions, from humanitarian and relief efforts to combat
The line between humanitarian relief efforts and
combat while protecting those efforts is blurry. If these troops go into
Libya, the U.S. and the marine officers will unilaterally decide where to
draw that line. It’s obvious that they will want to protect themselves.
They no doubt have been heavily trained to do so, and so they will respond to
any provocation at all with a great deal of force. They will tend to unleash
battle. Think how our domestic police officers are over-reacting and
justifying excessive force in so many instances. Marines are unlikely to be
any less fussy if they encounter any resistance at all, real, imagined, or
The marines threaten Gaddafi with a two-front war if
they land. Up to now, he was able to retreat in orderly fashion and draw the rebels into an extended position open to
counter-attack. He now faces the possibility of attack at his rear or along a
long front. Obama and the marines can make a case for an
humanitarian effort (supported by marine firepower) at any of a number of
locations. This complicates Gaddafi’s tactics.
Obama and Hillary Clinton are considering arming the rebels. Obama has not ruled this out. Neither has William
Hague, the British foreign secretary. Presumably, they are thinking in terms
of heavier arms and vehicles. This would be a major step since it involves
logistics, training, and supplies. Some Western forces would be required in
such efforts. This is another threat against Gaddafi and another possible
escalation as this war unfolds. There have been earlier reports that Egypt was arming rebels with small arms.
The Italian foreign ministry warns that arming the rebels may divide the
"international community". This may occur because such action goes
beyond the U.N. mandate in its Resolution 1973. A critical part of the resolution calls for
enforcing an arms embargo on Libya.
Another critical part of that document
"Authorizes Member States...to protect
civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan
Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation
force of any form on any part of Libyan territory..."
The war to date makes clear that there is and has
been no line drawn between protecting civilians against attack and attacking
Gaddafi’s forces. The air attacks against Gaddafi’s forces have
taken place as support for the rebel advances, among other things. Any
advance of Gaddafi’s forces can be construed by the U.N. as a threat to
civilians and populated areas.
The shape of U.N. "humanitarianism" is
strange. Any and all air attacks in support of this mission are allowable,
but no force on the ground is permissible. That is, the U.N. construes air
power as defensive in nature and as a safe means that does not itself take
civilian lives. Neither assumption is factual. It construes ground forces as
somehow either offensive or an unsatisfactory means of advancing its
objective, although ground forces might resolve the situation expeditiously
and with the least loss of lives.
Why does the U.N. make this distinction? The U.N. is
attempting to save civilian lives in a civil war. At the same time, it
doesn’t want to undermine the principle upon which it itself is built,
namely, that the nation-state is sovereign within its territory. Its members
do not want to open the door too widely to U.N. invasions of their countries.
But the U.N. also supports the principle of self-determination and consent of
the governed to their government. This principle comes into conflict with the
notion that the State has a given territory over which it is sovereign. The
U.N. supports contradictory principles.
Self-determination and consent of the governed raise
questions. When a rebellion occurs and a challenge to the government’s
legitimacy, who is to decide whether that State
shall be divided? Who is to decide if the rebellious group speaks for all the
people or a part? Who is to decide if the existing government lacks consent
or is not legitimate?
My opinion, often expressed, is that the only
peaceful method of answering these questions and implementing consent of the
governed is to do away with the principle that a State or government’s
territorial borders are sacrosanct. If a group of people wishes to opt out of
their government and remain living where they are, their right to do so
peacefully should be recognized. Their freedom of association gives rise to
such a right. The right to opt out of a government (or by extension to
associate and establish governing methods of one’s own) is the right to
be governed by consent. Many associations can co-exist within what are now
the borders of many States, and these associations can provide whatever
beneficial services that those in these associations want. They can replace
existing territorial governments.
Rebellious groups that use violence in order to
replace one territorial government by another do not resolve these questions.
Whether or not successful revolutions that alter governments improve the
well-being of the people is another matter entirely. They may and they may
not. Even if they improve matters, my point is that this is not the end of
the story; and it won’t be the end of the story. Groups of people will
disagree with even an improved government. They will want to opt out or alter
their relations with that government. We need to recognize that any government
that by its borders controls everyone within those borders whether they like
it or not is an illegitimate government that lacks consent.
In the Libyan situation, we are very far from these
ideals of course. The rebels have taken up arms. Gaddafi is determined to
crush the rebellion. There is no peaceful approach being used by anyone at
present, including the U.N.
The U.N. cannot save lives without supporting the
rebel side. In fact, many of its members have already announced that Gaddafi
is no longer a legitimate leader. Therefore, the U.N. and its member states
are active war-making powers, no matter what their professed goal is. They
have at present limited their war-making, but there is nothing to stop them
from enlarging it. They have made themselves or are trying to make themselves
the determiner of what the shape of the Libyan state shall be, who shall not
be its ruler, and, to some extent, what groups or persons shall have the
predominant role in establishing and shaping a new state and possibly leading
it. None of this is a peaceful approach to the question of consent. None of
it resolves the basic contradiction between the principle of the sovereign
territorial state and the freedoms of association and consent to one’s
government. If the U.N. has its way and its chosen protagonists win, perhaps
at best some vastly diluted version of consent will come in at a later date
in some sort of referendum vote on a new constitution. A new domestic rivalry
and a new politics will then ensue. The same old problems will crop up again.
This kind of voting outcome papers over the basic
rights of freedom of association and freedom to opt out of a government.
These imply the right to fashion one’s own government with consent on a
non-territorial basis, if one wishes. They do not imply being given a yes or
no choice on a new constitution for a new territorial state.