Looking back iv

Interesting post by Stewart Patrick on the Foreign Affairs website looking at Libya in the context of Obama’s Presidential Study Directive 10 (August 4, 2011), which establishes an interagency Atrocities Prevention Board.   This Directive might suggest a new enthusiasm for American interventionism but there are two key sentences in there that indicate this is not necessarily the case:

In the face of a potential mass atrocity, our options are never limited to either sending in the military or standing by and doing nothing.  The actions that can be taken are many    they range from economic to diplomatic interventions, and from non combat military actions to outright intervention. 

By institutionalizing the coordination of atrocity prevention, we can ensure:  … that we are optimally positioned to work with our allies in order to ensure that the burdens of atrocity prevention and response are appropriately shared.

In this context, Patrick’s conclusion seems sensible:

Libya has demonstrated the viability of a well-implemented RtoP intervention. Yet just because the doctrine has survived a significant test, one should not assume that the United States and its allies will apply it universally. As atrocities emerge in other contexts, the international community will need to cultivate and weigh other policy options against armed intervention, so it is not faced with stark choice of military action or inaction. The Obama administration’s PSD-10 is a step in that direction.

Elsewhere, the New York Times (NATO’s Teachable Moment) congratulates Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama but complains that

Europe’s military capabilities fell far short of what was needed, even for such a limited fight. … It is reasonable to expect the wealthy nations of Europe to easily handle a limited mission in their own backyard that involved no commitment of ground troops. Reasonable, but, as it turned out, not realistic. … For decades, European nations have counted on a free-spending Pentagon to provide the needed capabilities they failed to provide themselves. The Pentagon is now under intense and legitimate pressure to meet America’s security needs more economically. It can no longer afford to provide affluent allies with a free ride.

The age of defence austerity, in other words, means ‘burden sharing’ will necessarily be at the forefront of the Atrocities Prevention Board’s thinking; and it could well be that if the Europeans ‘do not follow from the front’ they may find America ‘unwilling to lead from behind’.

About Jason Ralph

Jason Ralph, Professor of International Relations, University of Leeds
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