Why it is right to intervene in Libya


Last night I voted to endorse the Government’s decision to intervene militarily in Libya.  I have believed for several weeks that outside intervention would be necessary to save the civilian population of Libya from a violent and brutal repression by Colonel Gaddafi.

Inevitably, some people have asked me how could I support another war given my record in opposing the disastrous war in Iraq and my long running scepticism about our role in Afghanistan.   I believe the case of Libya in 2011 is fundamentally different. Our intervention in Libya is to uphold the United Nations principle of “Responsibility to Protect” civilians from death at the hands of a repressive government.  This is not primarily about our own security nor any desire to secure economic interests or a regional power base.  It is about a commitment to uphold the sanctity of human life.  We could not stand by and observe the indiscriminate slaughter of Libyan civilians as their deranged ruler exacts revenge for rebellion against his despotic regime.

I felt a similar way in 1991 when Saddam Hussein was attacking the Kurds and from 1992 when Yugoslavia unravelled.  I was angry then that NATO hesitated too long in Bosnia and acted only in the nick of time in Kosovo in 1999.  Our intervention there was to save life and our action now in Libya has the same aim.

The other very clear difference between now and Iraq exactly eight years ago is that the UK has co-sponsored a successful United Nations Resolution and has the prior support of the Arab League.  Also the UK Attorney General has given clear and unequivocal advice to the cabinet that we are acting in accordance with international law.

Of course there are risks and there are issues to resolve.  I want the Government to plan for the aftermath, on the assumption that Gaddafi is thwarted or even removed.  The failure of Bush and Blair to plan for the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq compounded their folly.  The Foreign Office and the International Development Department should be as involved as the MoD.  As to Gaddafi, I do not believe it should be a mission priority to kill him.  I would prefer his fate to be determined by the Libyan people (a Mussolini type end perhaps…) or better still an indictment and trial in the International Court, where Milosevic and Karavic eventually ended up.

It looks as though we have already succeeded in preventing Gaddafi from re-taking Benghazi, a city roughly the size of Greater Bristol.  We are unfortunately too late to save the civilians in the rebel-held towns in between Tripoli and Benghazi that were captured last week.  I hate to think what terrible scenes are taking place there.  We know that Gaddafi is capable of the most heinous crimes against his own people as well as sponsoring terror abroad.

I am glad that Britain is playing a key role in this humanitarian mission.  After a series of disastrous military entanglements we are now acting in accordance with international law and I believe our actions are just and proportionate.


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