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  • Political Rationale and International Consequences of the War in Libya ed. by Dag Henriksen and Ann Karin Larssen
  • Ronald Bruce St John (bio)
Political Rationale and International Consequences of the War in Libya, edited by Dag Henriksen and Ann Karin Larssen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. 336 pages. $95.

After antiregime demonstrations in Libya turned into a full-blown revolution, the United Nations Security Council in late February 2011 unanimously passed Resolution 1970, imposing sanctions on Libyan leader Mu‘ammar al-Qadhafi and his inner circle and calling on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate widespread and systematic attacks by the government on its citizens. As regime forces advanced on rebel positions in Benghazi threatening a massacre of regime opponents, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973 in mid-March, imposing a no-fly zone over Libya and authorizing member states, nationally or through regional organizations, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack. One week later, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) agreed to enforce the UN-mandated no-fly zone.

In Political Rationale and International Consequences of the War in Libya, Lieutenant Colonel Dag Henriksen and Ann Karin Larssen, a professor and an assistant professor at the Royal Norwegian Air Force Academy, respectively, “use the Libya intervention as a case study to explore the dynamics of international interventions in so-called ‘wars of choice’” (p. ix). In so doing, the editors recognize at the outset that the Libya case was somewhat unique in that the legitimization for military intervention leaned heavily on the principle of responsibility to protect (R2P). Publicly, the Libya intervention may not have been rooted in self-interest; however, the various chapters reveal that national interest was a key rationale for the nations and organizations involved.

The editors group the 16 essays included in this book into five categories based largely on the different perspectives of the nations concerned. The opening section addresses the rationale and consequences of the intervention for the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States voted in favor of both resolutions and were active participants in the NATO effort. China and Russia voted for Resolution 1970 but abstained on Resolution 1973, later criticizing the Libya intervention on the grounds it went beyond the mandate of the second resolution. The five essays in this section offer competent summaries of the individual roles of the UN Security Council members, but with their involvement widely discussed elsewhere, the essays offer little new insight or information.

Without the support of the Arab world, it is highly unlikely that the UN Security Council would have passed Resolution 1973, which made military intervention feasible. China had long opposed the principle of international military intervention, in part out of concern that it might set a precedent for future intervention against its own regime, and its decision to abstain, as opposed to vetoing, Resolution 1973 was heavily influenced by Arab League support. In the section on Arab perspectives, Ranj Alaaldin’s essay on the conduct of the Arab League in legitimizing the intervention in Libya is noteworthy as its role before, during, and after the intervention has been underreported and poorly understood. The essays on Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — by Kristian Coates Ulrichsen and Jean-Marc Rick-li, respectively — add to our knowledge of their participation in the intervention, and they also increase our understanding of the significant role both states continued to play in post-Qadhafi Libya.

The three Scandinavian nations of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden had a surprisingly high profile in the Libyan intervention. Denmark and Norway were by far the highest per capita contributors to the NATO effort, and in the early phase of the war, both states’ willingness to attack difficult targets was widely recognized. According to Peter Viggo Jakobsen, an associate professor at the Royal Danish Defence College, the intervention confirmed that “Denmark has become a warrior nation viewing military [End Page 161] force as a natural and legitimate tool of statecraft” (p. 192). Sweden’s first international deployment of combat aircraft since the early 1960s and its positive view of the experience, coupled with the...


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