Right now it is impossible to watch the News on TV, to open a newspaper, or to go online, without coming across discussion about the merits or otherwise of international intervention in Syria and Iran. In the case of Syria the main driver is human protection in response to the government’s brutal crackdown on its citizens, whereas in Iran the issue revolves around the threat to international peace and security posed by the government’s continuing refusal to meet IAEA demands for transparency about its nuclear programme. Nevertheless a common element is an acceptance in Western policy, academic, and media circles that coercive intervention is a perfectly legitimate subject for discussion; one may be strongly for it, strongly against, or somewhere in between, but there is little if any questioning of why we are discussing this at all. Is this not rather odd?

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Rumours of rebel victory a few days ago in Libya were replaced by a reemergence of government forces in the Gaddafi compound.  Rebel claims to have captured the Gaddafi heir apparent Saif al-Islam were followed by his defiant tour of certain streets in Tripoli in government vehicles, demonstrating that he was still, in fact,  at liberty. Such is the chaos of war. The victory often goes not only to those with the superior guile and might, but also to those who can demoralize the enemy by telling the best story.

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The U.K.’s leading non-governmental aid agencies have launched an appeal for funds to support their work with people affected by the devastating drought in the Horn of Africa. The DEC appeal, launched on 8 July, will no doubt once again demonstrate the generosity of the public when they are asked to respond to this kind of emergency. But there are also lessons to be learned in terms of how we understand and categorise international intervention.

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Sir Michael Aaronson addressed the Plenary lecture of the annual Political Studies Association, in London on the 21st of April. Further details about the PSA 2011 Conference can be found on their website: http://www.psa.ac.uk/2011/

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Why does my heart sink when I hear the current UN-mandated action in Libya described as “humanitarian intervention”? After all, over the last 20 years the term has acquired currency — not only among Western politicians but also academics — as a description of coercive, usually military, intervention ostensibly for humanitarian purposes.

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NATO is at war in the skies above Libya. Or is it? It is striking that there are two distinctly opposed narratives describing the current international intervention: the first that NATO is acting impartially to protect civilians under UNSCR 1973, and the second that it is supporting the rebels in a civilian conflict against Col Gaddafi. Which of these two descriptions is accurate, and what does each imply in ethical, legal, and political terms? Continue reading »

Posted in Libya | Tagged | 2 Comments