From Humanitarian Intervention to the Responsibility to Protect: From Kosovo to Libya and Beyond
AIR COMMAND AND STAFF COLL MAXWELL AFB AL MAXWELL AFB United States
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In 1999, NATO engaged in a humanitarian intervention without the authorization of the United Nations Security Council to stop ethnic cleansing by Serbians against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. While the Serbian campaign against the Kosovars eventually ended, the NATO operation took longer than anticipated, caused hundreds of civilian deaths, and set the conditions that enabled the crisis to become worse before it ended. Following the intervention, the international commission established to review the operation deemed it legal, but unlawful, as it ended the crisis, but did so by the use of armed force against a sovereign state without the consent of the Security Council. In an attempt to reconcile the competing interests of sovereignty and protection of civilians, an international commission proposed the responsibility to protect, which it placed on the pillars of prevention of, reaction to, and rebuilding after crimes against the civilian population. States had the primary responsibility as sovereigns to protect civilians under their power. If they failed to do so, the responsibility fell to the international community. This concept was accepted by the international community, and was the rubric under which NATO conducted its operation in Libya to protect civilians during the 2011 uprising. The operation was marred by accusations of overreaching, the effects of which were felt almost immediately in the response to Syrias attacks on its civilian population. Given the unwillingness of the Security Council to approve resolutions dealing with the Syria situation, the application of the responsibility to protect must either revert to the extralegal humanitarian intervention model of Kosovo or rely much more heavily on its non-military aspects.