May 13, 2011

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Nation-States, the UN, and the Illicit War in Libya

We have watched the various rebellions in the Middle East with the sadness that comes from having predicted the events years ago and realizing that these revolts are in response to the natural desire for a proper, personal government based upon joint moral obligations and that successful rebellions may, in the long term, be worse than the status quo because the rebels only know what they don't want.

But our greatest sadness is reserved for what is happening in Libya, which shows the inherent contradictions of Western democracies as well as the decline of their military power.

Others have spent a great deal of energy discussing the military weaknesses of the European powers exposed by this debacle, so we will focus on the seemingly-ignored contradictions blatantly displayed by the Western democracies.

The only true legal definition of a nation-state is from the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States in 1933. This convention defines a nation-state as follows;

The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.”

The Convention goes on to explain in Article 3 that;

“The state has the right to defend its integrity and independence, to provide for its conservation and prosperity, and consequently to organize itself as it sees fit, to legislate upon its interests, administer its services, and to define the jurisdiction and competence of its courts.”

In other words, a nation-state can defend itself from invasion ('independence') and rebellion ('integrity') as well as define its own government, etc.

Article 8 is very straightforward, although often ignored;

“No state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another.”

So the Montevideo Convention is very clear; a nation-state has the right to suppress rebellion and other nation-states are forbidden to invade one another or to aid the internal rebellion of another state.

Now, the Montevideo Convention is largely about the Western Hemisphere, so it might not apply to Europe... except that the UN Charter repeats the key points of the Montevideo Convention and add to them. For example, Article 2, paragraph 4 states;

“All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

Article 51 goes on to say;

“"Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self- defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations”

And last, the Nuremberg Trials established the notion of a 'Crime against Peace', or 'the unlawful initiation of force to permanently deprive a nation-state of territory, political independence, and/or sovereignty'. This concept is repeated in the UN Charter in various places, as well as other treaties.

Or, in brief, any nation has the right to defend itself from both external invasions and internal rebellions. Also, no nation that is a signatory of the Montevideo Convention or the UN Charter can use force against another member without a Security Council resolution. Of course, a Security Council resolution cannot deny a member the right to defend itself against invasion or rebellion (as per the charter).

And yet a handful of members of the UN are attacking Libya, a fellow UN member, in blatant violation of the UN Charter. While the Security Council authorized the use of military force against Libya under the pretext of 'protecting the human rights of Libyans' the actions themselves are in direct support of an armed rebellion aimed at overthrowing the Libyan government, including direct attempts to kills the current head of the Libyan government. Of special interest (and irony) is the fact that Libya was chair of the UN Human Rights Cimmission from 2003 until 2006 and was re-selected to be on the Commission less than a year before some UN members began bombing them.

Edan is no friend to the current government of Libya and does not support them directly or indirectly. Indeed, in the opinion of HRM Richard the fact that Libya is a member of the UN is an indictment of the UN itself. But the fact remains: Libya is a member of the UN and thus is entitled to the equal protection of the law. Indeed, in a modern, secular state that eschews a monarch, a faith, or any overt moral code, the only source of justice can be the laws as they are written. When a secular democracy ignores its own laws and treaties to do what expedient it is abandoning its only ethical compass, an act that is even more dangerous when it is popular with the voters because it reinforces that in a democracy you can do whatever you like so long as enough voters like it.