NEW YORK – Ten months ago, the United Nations Security Council, with no dissent, authorized the use of “all necessary measures” to protect civilians at imminent risk of massacre in Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi’s Libya. Those lives were saved – and, if the Security Council had acted equally decisively and robustly in the 1990’s, so might those of 8,000 others in Srebrenica and 800,000 in Rwanda.
I and many others hailed the agreement to intervene in Libya as the coming of age of the responsibility to protect (“R2P”) principle, unanimously embraced by the world’s governments in 2005. Its core idea – countering centuries of treating sovereignty almost as a license to kill – is that states must protect their own people from genocide and other mass atrocity crimes. If they manifestly fail to do so, the international community has the responsibility to act – by persuasion, if possible, and by coercion, if necessary.