The Obama administration declined to use military force in Libya until obtaining the authorization of the U.N. Security Council. Put aside for now whether such authorization was necessary and whether U.S. Congressional authorization also was needed.
The U.S. and coalition offensive military action clearly exceeds the mandate of the U.N. Resolution, thereby (1) removing the legitimacy supposedly conferred by the Resolution, and (2) making the likelihood of cooperation by Russia and China in the future, on issues which unlike Libya may actually concern our vital national security interests, much less likely.
First, the text of U.N. Resolution 1973 (2011) clearly is limited to preventing attacks on civilians, not conducting offensive military operations in areas where civilians were not threatened (emphasis mine):
“4. Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory, and requests the Member States concerned to inform the Secretary-General immediately of the measures they take pursuant to the authorization conferred by this paragraph which shall be immediately reported to the Security Council….
6. Decides to establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians ….
8. Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, to take all necessary measures to enforce compliance with the ban on flights imposed by paragraph 6 above, as necessary, and requests the States concerned in cooperation with the League of Arab States to coordinate closely with the Secretary General on the measures they are taking to implement this ban, including by establishing an appropriate mechanism for implementing the provisions of paragraphs 6 and 7 above….”
“United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 authorized Member States, under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in Libya, including the establishment and enforcement of a “no-fly zone” in the airspace of Libya. United States military efforts are discrete and focused on employing unique U.S. military capabilities to set the conditions for our European allies and Arab partners to carry out the measures authorized by the U.N. Security Council Resolution….
The United States has not deployed ground forces into Libya. United States forces are conducting a limited and well-defined mission in support of international efforts to protect civilians and prevent a humanitarian disaster. Accordingly, U.S. forces have targeted the Qadhafi regime’s air defense systems, command and control structures, and other capabilities of Qadhafi’s armed forces used to attack civilians and civilian populated areas. We will seek a rapid, but responsible, transition of operations to coalition, regional, or international organizations that are postured to continue activities as may be necessary to realize the objectives of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973.”
Having voluntarily wedded ourselves to U.N. authorization and purporting to act solely pursuant to such authority, aren’t we then bound to actually honor the authorization?
Yet there simply is nothing in the U.N. Resolution which provides for the offensive bombing in assistance of rebel advances toward government-held towns and cities which has been underway for several days. This is a point the Russians are making in objecting to the bombing.
One could make the argument that we did not need U.N. authorization to prevent an imminent humanitarian disaster or to protect our vital national security interests, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t announce that we are unable to act until the U.N. conveys authority, but then exceed that authority.
Seeking U.N. authorization, but then exceeding such authorization, has two negative results.
First, whatever purported legitimacy was conveyed by the U.N. Resolution has evaporated. We no longer are enforcing a no-fly zone or protecting civilians; we are engaging in regime change and taking sides in a civil war. We may like the result, but we should not delude ourselves into thinking such result was authorized by the U.N.
Second, we have damaged our ability to obtain U.N. Security Council resolutions in the future, when we actually might have vital national interests at stake. This makes helpful resolutions on Iran more difficult to obtain, as Russia and China will be hesitant to give us an inch in fear we will take a yard.
This whole scenario demonstrates the futility and false imagery of the Obama foreign policy.