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.