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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 August 2011


The NATO-led intervention in Libya, Operation Unified Protector, is noteworthy for two central reasons. First, it is the first instance in over a decade of what Andrew Cottey calls “classical humanitarian intervention”—that is, humanitarian intervention that lacks the consent of the government of the target state, has a significant military and forcible element, and is undertaken by Western states. Not since the NATO intervention in 1999 to protect the Kosovar Albanians from ethnic cleansing has there been such an intervention. To be sure, since 2000 there have been some robust peace operations that fall in the gray area between classical humanitarian intervention and first-generation peacekeeping (such as MONUC, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo). But, even if these operations were to some extent forcible, they had the consent of the government of the target state.

Roundtable: Libya, RtoP, and Humanitarian Intervention
Copyright © Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs 2011

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1 Cottey, Andrew, “Beyond Humanitarian Intervention: The New Politics of Peacekeeping and Intervention,” Contemporary Politics 14, no. 4 (2008), pp. 429–46, at 440CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Weiss, Thomas G., “The Sunset of Humanitarian Intervention? The Responsibility to Protect in a Unipolar Era,” Security Dialogue 35, no. 2 (2004), pp. 135–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 ICISS, The Responsibility to Protect (Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, 2001)Google Scholar; and United Nations General Assembly, “2005 World Summit Outcome,” A/RES/60/1, October 24, 2005;

4 See, e.g., Hehir, Aidan, “The Responsibility to Protect: ‘Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing’?International Relations 24, no. 2 (2010), pp. 218–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Bellamy, Alex J., “The Responsibility to Protect—Five Years On,” Ethics & International Affairs 24, no. 2 (Summer 2010), pp. 143–69;CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Luck, Edward, “The Responsibility to Protect: Growing Pains or Early Promise?Ethics & International Affairs 24, no. 4 (Winter 2010), pp. 349–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 An example was the invocation of RtoP by the UK Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, in the House of Commons debate on Resolution 1973. Miliband argued that standing by and doing nothing “would be a dereliction of our duty” and cited the ICISS precautionary principles: Hansard Parliamentary Debates, March 21, 2011, col. 716.

7 See Ban Ki-moon, “Report of the Secretary-General on Implementing the Responsibility to Protect,” UN Document A/63/677, January 12, 2009. The other two pillars are “the protection responsibilities of the state” (pillar one) and “international assistance and capacity-building” (pillar two).