Yesterday, I published a piece on “securing a peaceful resolution to the Libyan crisis” for World Politics Review. It starts from some pretty uncontroversial propositions:
The ebb and flow of the Libyan civil war has led most American and European commentators to draw two conclusions. First, the conflict will end with a negotiated settlement. Second, international peacekeepers may be required to make any deal work.
What sort of peacekeepers might be required and where might they come from? I argue that, in spite the intensity of recent violence, Libya may not be a case for “heavy” peacekeeping (i.e. the full panoply of helicopters and infantry brigades deployed in places like Liberia). Instead, a fairly light contingent of military observers – possibly with protection units – could monitor a peace deal. Why go for a light option? The Libyan rebels do not seem to want a heavy outside military presence on their soil, and Gaddafi loyalists (and Al Qaeda) could paint a large force as an occupation.
Where could the observers come from? Here are my thoughts:
Early in the war, I argued that the European Union might deploy soldiers to oversee the peace. This no longer looks possible. Having faced repeated NATO bombardments, Gaddafi’s forces are unlikely to welcome Western officers, even if under an EU banner.
A U.N.-flagged mission is the most likely option. It might make sense for countries that have not joined or endorsed the campaign against Gaddafi, such as Brazil and India, to offer relatively impartial observers. Germany, having abstained on the U.N. resolution authorizing airstrikes, could provide air and sea logistics for a rapid deployment. All these countries would probably want to work alongside some sort of Arab presence too.
I hadn’t expected those particular paragraphs to stir much controversy. I was wrong. Here’s David Bosco’s reaction over at Foreign Policy:
India is already a mainstay of U.N. peacekeeping operations. Brazil contributes significant forces, and China participates much more actively than it used to, so it’s not implausible that they would offer up forces. But I doubt they want to be associated so directly with an intervention they didn’t support.
And if you won’t take David’s word fot it, here’s a pretty straightforward tweet from the wonderfully pithy and pseudonymous Indian security expert “Pragmatic Desi”:
No, Richard Gowan, No. BRICS are not the new UN. They won’t send military observers to Libya.
To which I can only reply: why the devil not? If I had called for the BRICs to deploy large-scale peacekeeping forces to mop up after NATO’s air campaign, then I’d fully understand a negative response. But in military terms, I’m only talking about a small force – somewhere in the low hundreds – of observers to help secure an initial peace deal in Libya. And, as my original article clarifies, I only see this is as a short-term expedient to consolidate the deal, not an open-ended military presence.
Meanwhile, I’d argue that the BRICS have both (i) a potential political advantage as observers; and (ii) a certain responsibility to play this role. The potential advantage is pretty clear: Brazilian and Indian personnel have a far higher chance of being accepted as impartial observers than, say, Brits or Italians.
The responsibility part is probably more controversial: as members of the Security Council, all the Brazil, Russia, India and China voted in favor of UN Resolution 1970 of 26 February, calling on the Libyan authorities to protect civilians and demanding an “immediate end to violence.” While they abstained on last month’s Resolution 1973, which authorized force, the BRICs are on the record as supporting a peaceful resolution to this crisis. That doesn’t legally obligate them to send a single officer. But I’d argue that they have a certain political responsibility to help out.
Update: I respond to follow-up comments by David and Pragamtic Desi here.