International Relations Paper

Title: The complexity of the humanitarian intervention in Libya

Summary

This paper discusses the subject of the complexity of the humanitarian intervention in Libya during the uprising that led to the toppling of the country’s authoritarian leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. It is divided into three sections. The first one discusses the notion of responsibility to protect (R2P) and its applicability to the Libyan crisis. The second section examines the notion of humanitarian “coup” as described by Rony Brauman, one of the critics of NATO’s involvement in resolving Libya’s humanitarian crisis. The third section highlights the various challenges raised by the Libyan case.

The paper concludes that the UN could have achieved a middle ground at the beginning of the Libyan uprising but failed to do so. It could have deployed its forces to enforce the No-Fly Zone. Failure to do this created a vacuum that was soon exploited by NATO forces. These forces not only pursued the goal of humanitarian intervention but also sought to entrench political and ideological of NATO member states. Through these failures, the UN ended up making the humanitarian intervention needlessly complex. Consequently, Libya is at crossroads; it is at the risk of turning into a failed state like Somalia. At the same time, the UN is at a critical moment that will determine how future efforts to resolve ongoing or anticipated human rights violations are handled in terms of maintaining a healthy balance between the right to interfere and the responsibility to protect.

Contents

Summary. 1

Introduction. 3

The responsibility to protect 4

The right to interfere versus the responsibility to protect 4

Resolution of 1973. 5

Article 2(4) of the UN Charter 5

The R2P, established in the UN 2005 World Summit 7

Reason for the birth of the “pre-emptive self-defense”. 8

Problematic notions of the Libyan case. 9

“Soft laws”. 10

Subjective interpretations of the UN Charter 11

The humanitarian ‘coup’ 12

Protecting civilians by acts of war – Resolution 1973. 12

When human rights concerns are turned into political and ideological instruments. 13

The challenges raised by the Libyan case. 14

A worsening situation: The fear of a second Somalia. 14

Consequences: Washing dirty hands with good intentions. 15

The UN was confronted to its major weaknesses. 16

Conclusion. 17

Works Cited. 18

 

Introduction

The thesis of this paper is that the complexity of the humanitarian intervention in Libya arises from the fact that human rights concerns have been turned into political and ideological instruments, thereby leading to the blurring of the line between the right to interfere and the responsibility to protect. This crucial issue at stake in this debate is humanitarian intervention. As the Libyan crisis unfolded, the dominant theme that motivated calls for the toppling of the Libyan government was the need to prevent the Muammar Gaddafi, country’s authoritarian leader, from killing Libyan citizens (especially in Benghazi) who were exercising their democratic rights by participating in demonstrations.

Libya is an Arab country located in Northern Africa. Its neighbors include Sudan, Chad, Tunisia, Algeria, Niger, and Egypt. To the north, the country is an integral part of the Mediterranean coast. This position has enabled Libya to witness numerous civilizations and to become a strategic trade hub. The political structure in Libya takes the form of “Jamahiriya”, which means “state of the masses”. People’s Congress and committees are used for purposes of governance. This governance structure was founded by Muammar Gaddafi, the country’s longest-serving leader. The country relies heavily for its oil and gas deposits, making it a preferred strategic trading partner for many countries from different parts of the world.

The current situation in Libya is very worrying. A civil war has erupted in the wake of a revolution that culminated in the fall of its president, Muammar Gaddafi. Consequently, the country is facing a serious test of national cohesion and political stability. The civil war raises a number of critical issues in international law. Many people see it as an outcome of flaws within the international law system (Zifcak 18; Glennon 542; Murphy 706; Byers 187). It is not clear what the stance of international law is regarding the right to intervene on the one hand and the responsibility to protect on the other.

The aim of this paper is to investigate the concept of responsibility to protect (R2P) and its applicability to the Libyan crisis. The paper also examines the extent to which a humanitarian “coup” may be said to have occurred in Libya. Lastly, it addresses the various challenges raised by the case in terms of the weaknesses of the United Nations, the threat of a worsening political situation in the country, and the problematic nature of the existing human rights system.

The responsibility to protect

The right to interfere versus the responsibility to protect

The doctrine of Responsibility to Protect R2P was introduced in 2005 during the United Nations World Summit (Chesterman 282). In this summit, global political leaders sought to establish a framework to govern how states should behave politically on the international platform. They agreed that the primary responsibility for preventing mass atrocity crimes always rests with the specific sovereign state where such crimes are occurring or are anticipated. However, if a sovereign state is unable or fails to exercise this responsibility, a corresponding duty to provide protection to civilians may be assumed by the international community. In such a case, the mandate of the international community should be restricted to the protection of civilians from attempts by anyone to commit crimes against humanity and genocide.

In 2011, the world witnessed a situation where civilians were under a serious threat of becoming casualties of fighting between rebel and government forces in Libya. The UN Security Council had to make a decision on whether a humanitarian intervention should be authorized to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Eventually, the UN Security Council decided to sanction an immediate intervention by NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) forces. This decision was made in accordance with the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect.

Resolution of 1973

The UN Security Council adopted resolution of 1973, which outlines the circumstances under which a No-Fly Zone can be established (Payandeh 120). Consequently, a ban on all flights on the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya airspace was imposed with the stated objective of helping protect civilians. The Council also authorized all UN member states, acting at the national level or via regional arrangements, to put in place measures aimed at protecting civilians threatened by attacks from the Libyan government.

The resolution also authorized air strikes against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to achieve the goal of protecting civilians. Moreover, this decision was made in light of the fact that the UN Secretary General had already called for an immediate cease-fire in the country. Through these airstrikes, the UN Security Council also hoped that the plight of foreign workers and refugees who had been compelled to flee violence within the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya would be eased off. This decision constituted a decisive step towards the protection of civilians, delivery of humanitarian assistance to them, and the cessation of hostilities in the North African country.

Article 2(4) of the UN Charter

The subject of humanitarian intervention in Libya may not seem complex until one reads article 2(4) of the UN Charter. In this article, all UN member states are required to refrain from the use of force or threat against the political independence or territorial integrity of any sovereign state or in any other manner that is contrary to the purposes of the UN (Weiss 291). The gist of this article is that every UN member state must respect the sovereignty of all other member states. The Libyan crisis is one of the case studies that researchers may need to examine in attempts to investigate the conflicting goals of R2P and article 2(4) of the UN Charter.

In many situations where two or more UN member states have been in conflict, article 2(4) has been invoked to ensure that all parties demonstrate maximum restrain and that they do not use any force or threats of the use of force against one another. On the same basis, efforts have been made to discourage states from engaging in provocative military activities or exchanging hostile statements. In these efforts, the case for the non-interference principle has been backed up by notions of regional cooperation and good neighborliness.

A number of exceptions to the prohibitions of the use of force have also been provided for under Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. One of them is that although regional organizations are not allowed to take any enforcement actions including military strikes, they are allowed to do so with the Security Council’s authorization (Powell 299). The second exception is that countries have a right to self-defense either individually or collectively (Powell 299). This provision should be invoked whenever a UN member has been subjected to an armed attack.

Whenever one sovereign state makes a decision to attack another sovereign state, whether as a group or individually, the most fundamental question under Article 2(4) is whether that state undertook such action as a self-defense or it did so upon authorization by the UN Security Council. In the case of Libya, a sound legal basis for NATO’s military action could only be provided via an authorization by the UN Security council. Otherwise, NATO could be said to have been in violation of Article 2(4). The question to be answered is on whether NATO’s military action in the country was authorized by the Security Council.

The objective of creating a No-Fly Zone over Libya through Resolution 1973 was to protect civilians. The Security Council indicated that only states that had notified the Secretary General of the League of Arab States (LAS) and the UN Secretary General acting individually or through regional arrangements could take all necessary steps to ensure compliance with the ban on flights. However, the main problem at this point is that NATO is not a regional organization but a mutual defense pact. Against this backdrop, one may conclude that the decision to leave NATO out of Resolution 1973 was not a mistake in the drafting process. Rather, the drafters of this resolution wanted to clearly indicate that the intention was not to make NATO a beneficiary of the Resolution 1973 mandate. The historical rationale for being a collective self-defense entity was that it intended to free all its actions from prior authorization by the Security Council, to which all regional organizations are bound by Chapter VIII of the UN Charter. Therefore, NATO’s military action in Libya was not authorized by the Security Council.

The R2P, established in the UN 2005 World Summit

The R2P was established in the UN 2005 World Summit. Since R2P was conceived nearly a decade ago, it has attained a very influential standing within international diplomatic and political communities. However, the ideal time for it to be tested in terms of credibility and applicability came following the Libyan uprising. During this uprising, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s leader uttered words that were reminiscent of the series of events that triggered a massacre in Rwanda (Nanda 11). Gaddafi said that those who were protesting in the city of Benghazi were “cockroaches” and would be hunted down “house to house” and executed (Nanda 11). In fact, the concept of “Responsibility to Protect” may not have been conceived if it were not for events such as those that unfolded in Rwanda (Nanda 11). This explains why the time to test the credibility and practicability of R2P had come immediately Gaddafi uttered those words.

During the UN World Summit of 2005, political leaders from different parts of the world were unrelenting in their quest for a new doctrine that would govern how states behaved politically at the international level. They categorically conferred upon sovereign states the primary responsibility of ensuring that mass atrocity crimes and genocides were not committed under their watch. They also added that whenever such crimes were anticipated or were occurring and a state had shown failure or reluctance to exercise that responsibility, the international community had a corresponding duty to offer protection to civilian populations from the threat of crimes against humanity and genocide.

Reason for the birth of the “pre-emptive self-defense”

Other than authorization by the UN Security Council authorization in the pursuit of R2P, the only other ground provided for one state to use force against another state, although highly problematic,  is “pre-emptive self-defense” (Richter 61). States are allowed to use force if this is done in self-defense, although this exception continues to be a subject of much debate (Richter 61; Dunne and Gifkins 517). Much of the controversy arises from differences in the interpretation as well as the application of Article 51 of the UN Charter. In recent times, the debate has shifted towards the concept of pre-emption. It is not clear whether military force that has been used preemptively is justified in the context of self-defense.

In Libya, the concept of pre-emptive self-defense was used to implement a No-Fly Zone. However, when one starts to examine the limits of this doctrine, the complexities of humanitarian intervention in the Libyan crisis become more evident. For instance, Article 2(4) of the UN Charter prohibits the use of force. Instead of going into details about the applicability of the concept of pre-emption, the Article simply outlines the core purpose of the UN, which is to maintain peace and security.

Moreover, in Article 51, the common understanding is that the words “armed attack” strictly limit the scope of self-defense under the UN Charter, and therefore indicate that this right cannot be justified for anticipatory or pre-emptive military strikes. This view negates the whole purpose of humanitarian intervention in Libya, which was primarily motivated by the doctrine of pre-emption.

Problematic notions of the Libyan case

The provisions of Article 51 raise several problematic notions in regards to the Libyan case. One of them is the subject of authorization by the UN Security Council. Another one is the extent to which the doctrine of pre-emption was applicable as a basis for self-defense. As NATO moved in to enforce the No-Fly Zone, the notion of pre-emptive self-defense was being promoted to explain the need for the protesting Libyan citizens to take appropriate measures to reprise attacks by Libyan government forces. For instance, there was an expectation for them to cooperate with NATO forces in ensuring that the No-Fly Zone was enforced effectively and efficiently.

In international politics, the idea of self-defense always seems convenient when used to explain an action of a state that feels that an attack by an enemy state or non-state actor is imminent. Indeed, Libya could have used the very notion of pre-emptive self-defense to justify military action against NATO forces. The only weak point in this argument could have been the absence of any objective to deal with humanitarian concerns such as a threat of mass atrocities, massacre, and genocide. The Libyan government could not provide any legitimate justification for the use of force against NATO based on humanitarian concerns.

Nevertheless, the Gaddafi regime could easily raise legitimate concerns regarding the true intentions of the West in the country’s crisis. In fact, Gaddafi was categorical that protestors were working on cahoots with foreign invaders to topple his government. It may be wrong for one to dismiss these claims since in its present form, the doctrine of pre-emptive self-defense can easily be manipulated to serve the national interests of powerful states at the expense of their poorer counterparts.

Powerful states may form a habit of intervening militarily on humanitarian grounds only when it is politically convenient for them to do so. In that case, human rights concerns may be said to have been turned into political and ideological instruments. In such a scenario, it becomes extremely difficult to tell whether the state behind the humanitarian intervention is exercising its right to interfere or the responsibility to protect.

“Soft laws”

To understand the complexity of the humanitarian intervention in Libya, one needs to put into perspective the “soft laws” that influenced various decisions by the international community. Through this understanding, one is able to provide a comparison between the right to interfere and the responsibility to protect in reference to the Libyan crisis.

The term “soft law” is used to refer to rules that are of legal significance but which are not strictly binding in nature. This means that they are somewhat “weaker” than binding international law instruments, which are normally referred to as “hard law”. The use of soft law by international actors in the Libyan intervention seems to have equipped the contemporary multilateral system with a very powerful tool for protecting civilians during conflicts.

The adoption of soft laws or policy choices in Libya provides the world with a constitutional moment; the international community is faced with a choice of whether to adopt the component of R2P that addresses collective responsibility. This component would provide for a framework of collective assistance or action by the international community in situations where individual states are unable or unwilling to meet the responsibility to protect their own citizens.

Subjective interpretations of the UN Charter

The biggest problem with the adoption of soft laws is that they are likely to be interpreted subjectively in different contexts. For example, the international community may be accused of interpreting R2P subjectively in the Libyan crisis in order to topple Gaddafi from power. The decision by the UN Security Council to enforce Resolution 1970 may be viewed in the context of such a subjective interpretation. This is simply because of the long-running disagreements between Libya and the West over the former country’s opposition to the role of the US in international politics. It is not clear whether resolution 1970 was adopted objectively as the ideal precursor or follow-up to peacekeeping efforts and humanitarian action.

It is worthwhile to note that Article 1(3) of the UN Charter is grounded in Article 55. The objective of Article 55 is to create the conditions necessary for friendly and peaceful relations among nations on the basis of the principles of self-determination and equal rights. It is against this backdrop that the UN Security Council felt obliged to pursue the goal of ensuring that fundamental freedoms and human rights of the Libyan people were protected. As the Libyan uprising unfolded, the Human Rights Watch anticipated that a humanitarian crisis would follow. Nevertheless, this alert did not wash away concerns about the possibility that human rights concerns were quickly being turned into political and ideological instruments, thereby leading to the blurring of the line between the right to interfere and the responsibility to protect.

The humanitarian ‘coup’

Protecting civilians by acts of war – Resolution 1973

The international community may be said to have instigated a humanitarian “coup” in Libya. This “coup” was necessitated by the need to protect civilians by an act of war as provided for in Resolution 1973. The enforcement of the No-Fly Zone effectively meant that Gaddafi’s forces could not launch strikes against protesting citizens without facing reprisal attacks from the enforcers of the No-Fly Zone. The response of the UN was fast and proactive in a bid to stop Gaddafi from executing his stated objective of executing the protestors.

Nevertheless, a number of problematic areas arose during this process. These issues made the action taken in Libya to look more like a humanitarian “coup” than a humanitarian intervention. To begin with, Resolution 1970 raised several issues in terms of the way it was enforced. For instance, the decision to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court, through necessary, did not provide any immediate reprieve to Libyans who were desperately seeking to escape the wrath of Gaddafi’s forces. Other aspects of Resolution 1970 included the supply of humanitarian assistance, the imposition of targeted sanctions on top regime figures, and the imposition of an arms embargo and other arms-related restrictions.

The enforcers of Resolution 1970 seem not to have fully obeyed their mandate by killing Gaddafi. This is simply because no explanation was offered on why his death was necessary for the lives of civilians under threat of attack to be protected. Since 1970 resolution had already referred the matter to the International Criminal Court, one of the options for handling Gaddafi may have involved handing him over to the court. This is not by any means to say that the death of Gaddafi was not necessary; rather, it is to say that going by the way Resolution 1970 on Libya was enforced, it is not clear whether legal norms really matter much when it comes to international military actions.

When human rights concerns are turned into political and ideological instruments

Rony Brauman, former president of the humanitarian organization MSF – Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without borders) made a controversial statement in reference to Libya (Richter 61). He argued that although preventing major human rights violations in Benghazi was a legitimate goal for the international community, there was no need for this protection to be extended to the “liberation” of the entire country (Richter 61). According to Brauman, doing so would be tantamount to swinging over to a war of absolute aggression (Richter 61). Brauman argued that the consequences of such a war were unpredictable and would cause more harm to the country than if the country was left alone (Richter 61).

Brauman’s controversial statement sheds some light on the problematic aspects of the contemporary human rights system. It provides insights on the notion of cultural relativism and its impact on the human rights system. The risk in this case arises from a situation where the Security Council authorizes coercive action based on ad hoc geopolitical reasons that are unrelated to human rights. This makes the humanitarian intervention seem like a political weapon instead of a defense of the rule of law. The Libyan intervention may also be compared to the Iraq War of 2001, which started against the backdrop of “pre-emptive self-defense” in the absence of approval by the UN Security Council. Furthermore, in the case of Iraq, no proof of the reasons that invoked the war was provided.

The invasion of Iraq by the US ultimately started being referred to as “liberation war”. The Iraqi people were purportedly being liberated from Saddam Hussein. President Chirac refused to join the war, thereby triggering anger from Bush administration. Unlike his predecessor, President Sarkozy was a strong supporter of the American foreign policy. During the Libyan war,  France and the UK seemed to be making up for their failure to participate fully in the Iraq war by fully joining the humanitarian intervention that quickly turned into a “liberation” war. It is in the context of this realization that Rony Brauman refers to the Libyan war as a “humanitarian coup”.

The challenges raised by the Libyan case

A worsening situation: The fear of a second Somalia

A major concern in Libya is that the situation there may become worse, thereby creating a second Somalia. This concern was expressed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon after he failed to achieve the ceasefire that the African Union had proposed. Crisis-hit areas were encountering a shortage of medical stocks. There was also a shortage of medical personnel and food was scarce. Moreover, Libya had been divided by the worsening political situation. The UN resolution seemed to create a situation where concerted efforts needed to be undertaken to prevent the North African country from falling apart.

Once the humanitarian crisis was dispensed with, the post-conflict period was also problematic. Libya could easily turn into another Somalia because it is a tribal country. Like in Somalia, Libya’s political structure has historically been rendered unstable by shifting alliances (Western and Goldstein 58). This phenomenon has traditionally made it very difficult for the international community to understand local political dynamics (Western and Goldstein 58). The post-conflict phase is characterized by inter-tribal conflicts that are motivated primarily by the urge to control the country’s oil resources. Such a situation is likely to worsen the country’s humanitarian crisis.

Consequences: Washing dirty hands with good intentions

It is in the best interest of Western countries not to experience a situation of economic and political instability in Libya. This explains their reluctance to intervene in the country’s crisis. Many European countries depend on Libya for oil. If the crisis lasted longer than expected, their economies would be adversely affected. Moreover, the crisis came at a time when these countries were seeking to boost economic production in order to deal with the effects of the recent global economic recession. Oil revenue has been providing Gaddafi with a lot of revenue to entrench his leadership.

At the same time, Gaddafi was always been keen to ensure that he plays a critical role in preventing African migrants from reaching European coasts. Moreover, he had been making concerted efforts to endear himself to Europe as an opponent of terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. These issues are at the core of fears that motivated the emergence of xenophobic parties across Europe during the first decade of the 21st century. Moreover, in Italy and France, the goal of partnership had been extended to reach the threshold of “diplomatic friendship” (Pattison 275).

In this context, the issue of legality of the UN Security Council’s resolution may need to be revisited. The call of the Arab League as well as that of the National Transitional Council (NTC) played a critical role in the decision by the UN to endorse this resolution (Western and Goldstein 55). This decision is contentious because Arab League has not always been actively participating in the context of the international community. In fact, the member states of the Arab League have been perpetuating the same atrocities against their own people as those perpetuated by the Libyan government during the uprising.

The UN was confronted to its major weaknesses

The way the Libyan conflict was handled has been subjected to a lot of criticism. Most of it is directed to the UN, which is the main custodian of international law. First, the question of how to interpret Resolution 1970 and Resolution 1973 has refused to go away (Jones 51). It is unclear whether NATO exceeded the measures provided for under these resolutions (Jones 51). It is also unclear whether it was necessary for all Gaddafi’s centers of power to be attacked (Jones 52). Moreover, concerns are often raised regarding the move to impose an embargo on Libya as a whole instead of restricting it to Gaddafi’s forces.

The UN decided not to deploy its own peacekeeping forces perhaps against the backdrop of experiences in Somalia and Yugoslavia. This is in spite of the fact that Chapter VII of the UN Charter would allow such a move. Since there was no peace or cease-fire agreement, the expectation would have been for the UN to deploy its forces. It is problematic that such an important role had to be taken over by NATO, the only transnational military organization that was capable of handling this issue. In the process, there were obviously some political and ideological goals to be achieved, and therein lies the failures of the United Nations.

The UN is to blame for the complexity of humanitarian intervention in Libya. It paved the way for the establishment of a no-fly zone in Libya without deploying its own troops to enforce this resolution. This triggered a problem of enforcement, thereby necessitating the move by NATO to take advantage of the vacuum by taking over the humanitarian efforts as well as the “liberation” process. If the UN acted in the right way, the humanitarian intervention could not have turned out to be such a complex affair. During the onset stage of the conflict, the UN could have adopted a middle way by putting more political and diplomatic pressure on the Libyan government. This could have been achieved through a single, clearly-articulated voice. This should have been followed by a move by UN forces to fly over the threatened city of Benghazi while at the same time demonstrating substantial presence on the ground to prevent any civilian atrocities from being committed.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the humanitarian efforts in Libya turned into a complex undertaking simply because human rights concerns were quickly turned into political and ideological instruments. This led to the blurring of the line between the right to interfere and the responsibility to protect. The blame for this turn of events rests squarely on the United Nations. The UN failed in its role of deploying forces in Libya, enforcing a No-Fly Zone, preventing civilian casualties, preventing political and ideological interests from creeping in. This series of failures greatly complicated the humanitarian intervention in its entirety. Consequently, Libya is faced with a risk of turning into becoming a failed state like Somalia.

 

Works Cited

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Dunne, Tim. and Gifkins, Jess. “Libya and the state of intervention.” Australian Journal of International Affairs, 65.5 (2011): 515-529.

Glennon, Michael. “Fog of Law: Self-Defense, Inherence, and Incoherence in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.” Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy 25.2 (2002): 539-552.

Jones, Bruce. “Libya and the Responsibilities of Power.” Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, 53.3, (2011): 51-60.

Murphy, Sean. “The Doctrine of Preemptive Self-Defense.” Villanova Law Review, 50.15 (2005): 699-711.

Nanda, Ved. “From Paralysis in Rwanda to Bold Moves in Libya: Emergence of the Responsibility to Protect Norm under International Law – Is the International Community Ready for It.” Houston Journal of International Law, 34.4 (2012): 1-29.

Pattison, James. “The Ethics of Humanitarian Intervention in Libya.” Ethics & International Affairs, 25.3 (2011): 271-277.

Payandeh, Mehrdad. “United Nations, Military Intervention, and Regime Change in Libya.” Virginia Journal of International Law, 52.2 (2012): 119-153.

Powell, Catherine. “Libya: A Multilateral Constitutional Moment?” American Journal of International Law, 106.8 (2012): 298-316.

Richter, Chris. “Pre-emptive Self-Defense, International Law and US Policy.” Dialogue, 1.2 (2003): 55-66.

Weiss, Thomas. “RtoP Alive and Well after Libya.” Ethics & International Affairs 25.3 (2011): 287-292.

Western, Jon. and Goldstein, Joshua. “Humanitarian Intervention Comes of Age.” Foreign Affairs, 90.6, (2011): 48-59.

Western, Jon. and Goldstein, Joshua. “Humanitarian Intervention Comes of Age – Lessons from Somalia to Libya.” Foreign Affairs. 90.3 (2011): 48 -69.

Zifcak, Spencer. “The Responsibility to Protect After Libya and Syria.” Melbourne Journal of International Law, 13.1 (2012): 1-35.

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