With its call for regime change even before the Libyans began to rebel, American hypocrisy has been looming large over the U.S. war with Libya. UN resolution 1973 was its pretext, humanitarian intervention its justification. No doubt, humanitarian intervention is urgently needed in Libya. But, when the U.S. acts as the world’s policeman, it decides which massacres to overlook, which ethnic cleansing to ignore whether in Gaza or in Rwanda, which militias to arm, which psychopathic leaders to court. Humanitarian missions only come into play when they serve the U.S.
The real issue encircling the question of whether the US should be at war with Libya is “if not the US, then who?” Necessary humanitarian intervention in Libya including establishing a no-fly zone without massive bombing would only be genuinely possible if they could be provided by a neutral party whose directive is to save lives and protect human rights. But as long as the U.S. holds undisputed military power over the world, the next time humanitarian intervention is required, the next massacres or ethnic cleansing the problem will be the same.
The inability of the United Nations to intervene as a neutral party, and its inevitable acquiescence to the world’s most powerful state, right now the United States, and its dependence on the U.S. military, renders it powerless to act and to hold the U.S. accountable for war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United Nations failure is not one of leadership but of its subordination to the dominant state powers and their militaries. As long as the Security Council controls the U.N. with its one dissenting vote and its power over the General Assembly, the world’s most powerful states will always decide the fate of the rest of the world. That reduces U.N. resolutions to justifications for whatever action the US decides to take. Already in a John Yoo approach to torture under the Bush administration, Obama has secretly ordered violation of international law to arm the rebels in Libya. With that possibility, newscasters from MSNBC to the BBC, acting as front men for the US President, are making its case, portraying the rebels as unequipped and untrained, which they likely are. But more armament, as we saw in Iraq and still see in Afghanistan, means more fighting, longer wars.
In Unmaking War, Remaking Men I propose another approach – a global peace-making force trained to protect human rights, obligated to incur minimum harm not maximum bombing in its actions. A global peace-making force would come into force under a world plan for global demilitarization of nation states. While each state would retain its own internal police force, the global peace-making military would be deployed when there is a threat of ethnic cleansing, genocide, massacres of peoples. While this proposal may seem utopian, the globe is already populated with demilitarized states, many such as Costa Rica that are not military backed by any other state militaries.
Sound fantastic and far-fetched? Consider the alternative – the U.S. as the world’s police until its power sinks so low it is replaced by the next state to achieve that prominence. Successful revolutions of people against colonial powers such as in India, against apartheid in South African have involved dispossessed peoples planning for their country’s future while they are occupied. In a globalized world, planning for our future without war is as essential as our struggles against war. Right now, Libya is the case study for why we cannot continue as we are. It is an example of why, when we do not envision and articulate the kind of world we want, we are stuck with the U.S. exploiting for its own ends people who are abused in their own lands.
If we move toward the development of a global peace-making force, who will deploy it? As a feminist who has struggled against violence against women for decades, I do not approach this question lightly. Unmaking war requires remaking masculinity of war, the same masculinity that is sustained with its violence against women. Otherwise we’ll be left with one patriarchal power replacing another.
My point here, as it is in Unmaking War, Remaking Men, is that unless we posit different possible futures, different forms of world governing, unless we dare to establish long range goals for means of addressing the kind of problems we face with the US bombing of Libya right now, we are doomed to rely on the most powerful state to police the world which in turn exempts that state and its military from scrutiny and insures its ongoing crimes against humanity.
Kathleen Barry, feminist, sociologist and Professor Emerita is the author of the new, acclaimed book Unmaking War, Remaking Men: How Empathy Can Reshape Our Politics, Our Soldiers and Ourselves. Her first book, Female Sexual Slavery launched an international movement against traffic in human beings.