Alternatives to the Libya bombing
IT is said that the United States raid on Libya had at least the useful result of waking up the US's European allies to the need to tighten their internal security, particularly at airports, and expelling the Libyans in their countries who might be involved in further violence. But there has always been a much more direct, less costly, and simpler way: presenting an international claim to those allies through routine diplomatic correspondence.Skip to next paragraph
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When an American child [Natasha Simpson, 11 years old] is killed at the Rome airport [Dec. 27, 1985] for lack of Italian ``due diligence'' (to use the legal phrase) to protect the lives of foreigners, Italy is internationally liable. The modern law on such liability dates back to a rather exaggerated British claim against Greece in 1847 growing out of the Greek government's failure to divert the then habitual Easter pogrom in Athens from invading the house of Don Pacifico, a Gibraltar-born British subject.
There is really very little doubt about the substance of the law today: A money claim and possibly the freezing of an Italian or Austrian government bank account in the United States would have done more to wake up friends of the United States than bombing Libya and thus destroying the United States position, in the eyes of the European populace, as a supporter of reason and law.
The international law of self-defense requires that all other avenues be exhausted before force is used.
So the United States military action was not only unnecessary, but illegal to the degree that its objective was to achieve the only positive thing it did in fact achieve.
After establishing that the rule of law -- and not advantage and empty symbolism -- is the objective, it would have been easy to talk about economic and other possible sanctions against Libya as a multilateral effort.
Is nobody considering the long-term advantages to the United States (1) of placing respect for law as the bottom line in US foreign policy, instead of imitating the Soviet Union's emphasis on respect for force, and (2) of seeking to pull states together in their common interests instead of seeking to polarize them into ignorant armies that clash by night?
Alfred P. Rubin is professor of international law at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.