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Libya: Proceed With Caution

As many as 40 Libyan civilians may have been killed in Tripoli in late March by coalition air strikes meant to weaken forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. This is not good news for the U.N.-sanctioned air campaign intended to protect civilians and enforce a no-fly zone and an arms embargo against Libya. Nor is it good news for the emerging doctrine of the responsibility to protect. More verifiable unintended deaths among noncombatants on the Qaddafi side should rightly compel the end of this large-scale intervention. There is more at stake in the intervention now than the ousting of a despot.

It has taken almost a century for the international community to come to terms with the problems of genocide and crimes against humanity. As an international doctrine, responsibility to protect is still in its youth, emerging out of failures to intervene in Congo, Rwanda and the Sudan. It will likely take a long time before the idea hardens into a widely accepted protocol that would trigger multilateral intervention to forestall a country’s criminal use of force against its own people. There will surely be missteps as this doctrine evolves. The multilateral campaign in Libya should not be one of them.


The coalition has already begun what appears to be a dangerous if predictable expansion of the aims of the campaign from protecting civilians to ensuring the survival of the Libyan revolution. More civilian deaths or the failure to achieve the coalition’s changing goals could set back the responsibility to protect just as this important doctrine is beginning to find its place in the diplomatic world. It could be years before confidence in the responsibility to protect is restored, while in the meantime any number of people may perish as new crimes against humanity go unaddressed. The West needs to proceed with more caution than it has so far demonstrated.

Send in the Drones

On March 17 news outlets reported that missiles fired from C.I.A. drones killed 26 people at a rural council meeting in Pakistan. Some of those killed were Taliban mediators; most were local tribesmen and elders. This was the sixth day of drone strikes that week.

The day before, reports appeared of U.S. drones carrying on spy missions deep inside Mexico, with the cooperation of Mexican president Felipe Calderón, to help the so-called war on drugs. These missions had been kept secret to avoid upsetting Mexican citizens wary of U.S. influence.

Late on March 17, television news reported that the United States was using a drone to monitor the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan to help fight the nuclear meltdown there. “Drones for Peace,” perhaps?

The Pakistanis are outraged that U.S. drones are killing their fellow citizens. The Mexicans suffer from drug-related violence but do not like the United States spying on them. The Japanese reaction to drone surveillance has not yet been noted.

Armed or unarmed, drones show an amoral efficiency. Some hit the innocent while targetting the guilty but do not go to jail and can continue to operate. They get shot down or malfunction but are easy, though expensive, to replace. They do not think or feel or suffer. (The toll on their remote handlers is a different story.) They are not accountable for what they do—they are only following orders.

Vanishing Religion?

A popular story tells of a prediction made by the 18th-century philosopher Voltaire: “One hundred years from my day,” he said, “there will not be a Bible on the earth except one that is looked upon by an antiquarian curiosity seeker.”

As the bestselling book of all time, the Bible is still around, as are predictions about the demise of religion. Recently, U.S. researchers used a mathematical formula to predict that in nine Western countries, the number of individuals affiliated with organized religion will all but cease to exist. The study drew on 100 years of census data from Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Nether-lands, Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland and Switzerland. In 1961, 0.04 percent of Ireland’s population claimed no religious affiliation; in 2006 the number was 4.2 percent. Today, 40 percent of the population of the Netherlands is unaffiliated, a number expected to reach 70 percent by 2050. The researchers observed that individuals tend to want to be affiliated with a majority and that in countries where religion is seen as in decline, it is socially and politically useful to disassociate oneself from it.

Does all this really add up to the extinction of organized religion in these locations? Not necessarily. The desire to belong to a religion goes beyond the utilitarian; and human behavior and patterns of belief are far more complex than can be accounted for by any mathematical formula. Even within the same family tree, religious beliefs can cover a wide range. In 1881, just over 100 years after Voltaire’s death, his great grandniece gave birth to a son, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The Jesuit paleontologist could perhaps be labelled an “antiquarian curiosity seeker,” but he certainly was not the only man around with a Bible.

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Robert DuBrul
7 years 9 months ago
One of the first recorded examples of the "responbsibility to protect" was Peter in the garden after the Last Supper.  And his  "doctrine" was immediately quashed, with an explanation why.  Responsibility to protect is merely code for taking up arms again, the one thing we really know how to do.  Will we ever "get it," what Jesus was trying to tell us?
David Pasinski
7 years 9 months ago
Two thoughts: Libya - NY Times article on April 7  pointed out the fractious and sadly ludicrous group of rebels who have no chance with the current men at arms and equipment of toppling Gadhafi. The West has set them up for a colossal failure without much greater intervention. The so called humanitarian response was an error - not Rwanda or Kosovo.  Now, we have created a modern Saigon, but they'll be no helicopters and who knows how Gadhafi will respond... a tragic, quixotic "intervention.."
Teilhard - never knew of who his great grand-uncle  was - his heritage and thought so wondrous yet... would love to imagine the dialogue between the two "somewhere beyond"


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