Nick Clegg lays down five principles of intervention – but doesn’t explain the Ivory Coast

In a major foreign policy speech in Mexico this week, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg laid out five reasons why intervention in Libya was the right course to take and different from Iraq.

However, applying those five reasons to the Ivory Coast raises the question of why it is being treated so differently from Libya.

In his speech, Clegg said that Libya different from Iraq because:

First, the Libyan action is unambiguously legal. Iraq was not.

Second, there is a clear humanitarian case for intervention in Libya. In Iraq the case rested solely on the danger posed by weapons of mass destruction, a case which turned out to be illusory.

Third, the Libyan action has strong support in the region, not least from the Arab League. For Iraq there was strong opposition from many neighbouring countries.

Fourth, there is today a strong emphasis on post-conflict stabilisation and aid, led by the UN – compared to the chaotic aftermath of Iraq.

Fifth, the military action in Libya is taking place within strict constraints and with clear aims, compared to the all-encompassing military action in Iraq in 2003.

As reasons for treating Iraq and Libya different, it is a pretty good list – especially when you remember that the Liberal Democrats have traditionally been willing to argue in favour of military intervention, most notably in the Balkans but also supporting it in places such as Sierra Leone.

However, apply those five tests to the Ivory Coast and it is not at all clear why Britain pushed for intervention in Libya in a way it has conspicuously failed to do for the Ivory Coast, despite the UN estimating that up to a million people have fled and the UN warning that war crimes may have been committed.

On Nick Clegg’s first and second points, there is already a limited UN force in the Ivory Coast and a draft UN resolution to strengthen its mandate was tabled last week. The combination of widespread inhumanity and feared war crimes provide strong grounds for supporting the new UN resolution. If it were to be passed, the legal and humanitarian cases for further action in the Ivory Coast would be at least as strong as in Libya.

On his third point, neighbouring countries in West Africa are calling for stronger UN action, partly because of fears that a refugee crisis may cause violent unrest in neighbouring countries. This is an intervention that would be welcomed in the region, not one that would be opposed.

On Clegg’s fourth and fifth points, if the international community chooses there can be an emphasis on the post-conflict state of the Ivory Coast and, given the presence of a democratically elected President who has been kept out of office by force, there is a clearer route to a stable and democratic country than there is in Libya. In neither country is it straight-forward or likely to be easy, but if the difficulties are not reasons to hold off in Libya (and I don’t think they are), then they are certainly not reasons to hold off in the Ivory Coast.

So the difference amounts to the lack, so far, of a further UN resolution in the Ivory Coast – and as a permanent member of the Security Council, that is something the UK could be pushing for. Based on Nick Clegg’s five tests, the hundreds of deaths and the hundreds of thousands of refugees, it should be doing just that.

One response to “Nick Clegg lays down five principles of intervention – but doesn’t explain the Ivory Coast”

  1. I think there is a very important principle missing from the list – and that is the view of people in the country in question. One would seriously have to question the morality of any military action, even if it lived up to all five of these principles, if it was not welcome in the nation in question. In the alternative one could make a cogent case for military intervention, even in violation of some of these principles, if we were clearly being asked by the majority of inhabitants. After all it is over their houses that any military action will take place so it is only fair that their views be taken into account.

    But, morality aside, this principle is even more important as a matter of pragmatics. The true lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan and several thousand kilos of academic research is that stable, democratic, regime change is virtually impossible to impose externally. There has to, at the very minimum, be a strong internal hunger for it and even then external forces will struggle. Lasting democratic change is almost only ever successful when it comes from indigenous forces. Moreover one can do incredible damage to opposition forces by ill thought out demonstrations of support: a “blitz effect” rallies support around the leader – no matter how hated – and the democratic opposition can be effectively painted as the tools of foreign oppression. It was for this reason that during the green revolution the Iranian opposition were begging the US and Europe not to help and it was for this reason that personally I believe NATO action in Kosovo prolonged Milosevic’s beleaguered regime for a further 20 months or so.

    For me the big difference between Libya and Iraq is the only difference that matters.In Libya a significant proportion of the population is begging us to intervene, in Iraq almost the entire population was begging us not to. As for CIV, I agree with your analysis of the situation, I think we should do more, and I think we should mobilize so we are in a position to offer military intervention. But for me the key guiding principle is that Outarra has not asked for our help, and until he does I would be very wary of intervening. After all at the moment Outarra is winning, but if the colonial overlord turn up all heavy handed that may shift popular support back Gbagbo’s way.

    Right after all that I think I’ve deserved a plug. Here’s my CIV profile: http://whoruleswhere.com/2011/01/21/cote-divoire/
    (if you scroll down the bottom you will find a link to some truly horrific pictures, I do not at all recommend you follow the link, but if you want evidence as to the seriousness of the situation it is there)
    And here’s me on the elections:

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