Libya Could Be the Last Place Where the West is Allowed
"Every major rising power opposed the
exhortations of London and Paris to go to war"
By Shashank Joshi
The Telegraph (UK)
September 3, 2011
Nato's job in Libya is all but done. As the conquering
heroes met in Paris yesterday, there was no "Mission
Accomplished" banner in sight. In place of
triumphalism, we've substituted lessons galore - about
how durable Nato remains, and its discovery of a new
model of apparently riskless war.
But have those who gathered in the halls of Old Europe
missed a darker lesson lurking beneath their victory?
It is surely a warning sign that every major rising
power, every aspirant to a permanent seat on the United
Nations Security Council except docile Japan, opposed
the exhortations of London and Paris to go to war. That
applies not just to the two Asian giants, India and
China, but even to Germany, the economic linchpin of
Europe, and a diplomatically energised Turkey, whose
influence in the Middle East is at its highest since
the days of the Ottoman Empire. . . .
When Nato went to war over Kosovo in 1999, the world
was a different place. Russia was an economic basket-
case led by a drunk. India, which faced international
isolation for testing nuclear weapons, was growing at
half the rate of 2010. China was neither the world's
second largest economy nor Washington's biggest
creditor. Today, all that has changed. True, it would
still be foolish to underestimate the global reach and
technological edge of Western military might - or, more
particularly, American military might. But flexing
those muscles will not be as simple as before.
When asked about a no-fly zone back in March, Turkey's
prime minister lambasted the West's use of Libyans as
"pawns in oil wars". Vladimir Putin hit out at the
"medieval calls for crusades". Brazil lamented the
illegitimacy of a war championed by "an old world
order". China's state-controlled press declared that
"the air attacks are an announcement that the West
still wants to dominate the world. . . ."
The growing web of constraints on the West can be seen
in Nato's reluctance to step in to stop the carnage in
Syria (although there are, admittedly, plenty of other
reasons for inaction). Neither India nor China will
stop buying oil and gas from Damascus, as the US
demanded last month - why should they sever their
economic lifelines for the slender hope that Syria will
turn into a democracy? Turkey, which has considerable
sway over its neighbour, will hedge its bets to the end
rather than prematurely burn any bridges. Syria sits at
the very heart of the Arab world, and most regional
powers would sooner see President Assad level every one
of his cities than welcome a major Nato operation in
In Paris, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy will find
themselves feted by the Libyans. They may even find
time for a few self-congratulatory moments. But growing
powers have growing vetoes. Further down the road, it
is these states that will write the rules of the game
and set its tacit expectations. Advocates of full-
throated humanitarian intervention should not be
surprised if Libya is one of its last hurrahs.
Shashank Joshi is an associate fellow at the Royal
United Services Institute.
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