“When governments commit mass murder against their own citizens, the international community has a right and an obligation to act,” says David Cortright, director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. “Too often, nations have failed to respond, but in the case of Libya, the Security Council has set a precedent for swift and effective action to save lives and bring down a murderous tyrant.”
The United Nations Security Council made history on Feb. 26 by responding rapidly to the crisis in Libya with the imposition of sanctions against the Gaddafi regime.
“The Security Council acted forcefully and with unprecedented speed,” Cortright says. “Together, the measures amount to effective international action to pressure and further isolate those responsible for the killing of innocent civilians.”
The Security Council referred the situation to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and called for a report within two months on preparations for legal action against those responsible for the mass killing of Libyan citizens. It imposed a comprehensive arms embargo, a travel ban and the freezing of financial assets and adopted an immediate list of sanctions targets, rather than waiting as is usually the case for the sanctions committee to develop a list. It also invited all states to submit names for additional designations of sanctions targets, a step that will allow for quicker action to impose measures on other violators.
“The United States acted wisely in working through the United Nations and cooperating with European states and the Arab League,” Cortright says. “Actions by the U.S. alone or only the Western powers might have given Gaddafi fodder to rally support for his faltering regime. If the regime does not fall soon, the United States should go back to the Security Council to seek support for a no-fly zone. The goal would be to prevent Gaddafi from using military force against the liberated parts of the country. This should be done in cooperation with the Arab League.
“Even if Egypt or Morocco send only a few planes, this would be hugely important in terms of the political legitimacy of the operation,” he says. “A no-fly zone alone would send a powerful message of further international condemnation and isolation of the regime. The final fall of Gaddafi’s regime will come when additional military units and senior commanders switch loyalties and side with the people. International criminal indictments, multilateral sanctions and a possible no-fly zone will increase the incentives for such loyalty shifts and in the end may be decisive factors in ending Gaddafi’s reign of terror.”
Cortright has been involved in peace-related issues since enlisting in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. He has published 16 books and has advised agencies of the United Nations, the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, the International Peace Academy, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.