Notes on European political culture




The International Community recreates itself

The International Community’s role in the crisis in Libya changed dramatically when NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced on Saturday that NATO Allies ‘have decided to take on the whole military operation in Libya under the United Nations Security Council Resolution’ (see announcement here). The step, he continued, ‘proves NATO’s capability to take decisive action’. Fogh Rasmussen explained that NATO had already in the previous week put together ‘a complete package of operations in support of the United Nations Resolution by sea and air’. The Secretary General in effect suggested that NATO would take over leadership in principle that de facto is exercising.

Security Council Resolution 1973 was in many regards momentous and without precedent. It builds on principles developed but never fully implement in the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect. Born in the 2001 report of an intergovernmental commission, it central provisions have survived in the fine print of a number of UN resolutions and documents. The doctrine essentially asserts that states have a responsibility to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, etc. and that where they fail to take action on this responsibility, or are themselves the actual cause of these sufferings, then the responsibility falls to the International Community. Though the resolution does not mention the doctrine, it specifically evokes its language.

The immense challenge that immediately unfolded was a practical one. Who is to implement? Who will apply the no fly zone called for in the Resolution? Who will protect the citizens as required in the Resolution? In the Resolution it is ‘Member States’, ‘acting national or through regional organization or arrangements’ to ‘to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country who are under threat or attack’. The Resolution ‘authorizes’, but does not require Member States to act, nor does it specify which Member States should implement.

Arguably this ambiguity plays an important role in making political action possible. Without it, many potential participants in an international action would remain reluctant. The International Community is self-organizing. That is its virtue and its bane. In its response to the Resolution it is a certain International Community, not necessarily the International Community that rises to the challenge. Which one?

A certain International Community assembled in Paris on 19 March to discuss the crisis, including members from the US, Europe and the Arab World. Another (the African Union) united to formulate a proposition on behalf of the African continent, a third (the Member States of the UN) finished their intervention at the moment of Resolution 1973, while a fourth (the Arab League, representative of the Arab world) consulted. A fifth International Community (the EU) carried out its own political discussions: A sixth (NATO) insecure of its own relevance, waited in the wings. A seventh International Community again collaborated in forming a military coalition (Britain, France, Norway, Denmark, Italy, Greece, Qatar). An eighth participated directly in military attacks on Gaddafi’s military forces.

All the while, the traditional ‘communities’ of security actors, NATO above all, but also the European Union and individual nations, primarily France and the United Kingdom, have all negotiated, tacitly or explicitly their potential roles as the representatives of the International Community.

Which world? Which International Community?

It’s true that the role of the International Community has indeed changed. Yet what imposes itself in a more forceful and potentially constructive way, is a far more dynamic self-understanding of the International Community. The identity crisis of the International Community emerges as a reexamination of its own origins and aims, its representatives and constituents, its values and ambitions, its debt to a geopolitical past and its gaze toward the future.

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