Libya no-fly zone: Moment of reckoning for the United Nations?
The United Nations' early response to the Libya crisis shows it can be relevant, some say. Now the Security Council is poised to take up a no-fly zone.
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"The UN has basically been irrelevant on Libya," says John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN under President Bush. "There's no evidence the sanctions or the referral to the ICC has had the slightest impact on the ground. I can appreciate that the diplomats are feeling the need to do something," he adds, "but so far at the UN it's been the usual – all talk and no action."Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Bolton says action against Qaddafi would be more definitive if based on the critical national interests at stake – and if the action were led by the US. "There are at least three key American interests in the balance here, and that should be more than enough to act," he says.
Bolton says these interests are:
3. Qaddafi, if victorious, "would very likely decide to resume his nuclear program."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Libyan opposition leader Mahmoud Jibril in Paris Monday to discuss ways in which the US could aid rebel efforts. Mr. Jibril asked for US military assistance and enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya, US officials said. Secretary Clinton has said the US would not support a no-fly zone without UN backing.
Even US proponents of the UN, who argue that the UN is experiencing a renewed sense of purpose in the wake of the Middle East upheaval, say the jury is still out on its actions.
"This is a really tough test," says Mr. Luck of the International Peace Institute. "What the institution faces now are the risks of relevance." In short, it needs to deliver on rising expectations, he says.
Others caution that disappointment is bound to develop because the UN is invoking moral authority, which cannot deliver as immediate a response as military action might.
"The problem is that the kinds of actions the UN is taking are really long term in their delivery, but in many ways the international institutions will be judged by what happens in the short term," says Monica Serrano, director of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect in New York.
She notes, for example, that other leaders seeing the international pressures placed on Qaddafi might think twice before following in his footsteps, but such impact won't be immediately apparent.
Yet no matter how the Libya crisis plays out, what seems certain is that the global perception of what role the UN should play in such situations has evolved dramatically in a decade.
"A lot of people 10 years ago would have looked at Libya and said, 'That's a domestic issue,' " Luck says. "Now you have Libya's peers calling on the UN for action, which suggests a shift in values and in what catalyzes an international response that is really quite striking."
IN PICTURES: Qaddafi burns oil pipelines in Libya