Gregorie Lalieu interviews Jean Bricmont.
Can you remind us of what humanitarian imperialism consists of ?
Jean Bricmont: It is an ideology which aims to justify military interference against sovereign countries in the name of democracy and Human Rights. The motive is always the same : a population is the victim of a dictator, so we must act. Then all the usual references are trotted out : the Second World War, the war with Spain, and so on. The aim being to sell the argument that an armed intervention is necessary. This is what happened in Kosovo, Iraq or Afghanistan.
And now comes Libya’ s turn.
There is a difference here because a United Nations Security Council resolution makes it possible. But this resolution was passed against the principles of the Charter of the United Nations themselves. Indeed, I see no external threat in the Libyan conflict. Although the notion of the “responsibility to protect” populations had been evoked, many short cuts were taken. Besides, there is no proof that Gaddafi massacres his people just for the sole purpose of slaughtering them. It is a bit more complicated than that : it is an armed insurrection, and I know not of any government that would not repress an insurrection of this kind. Of course, there are collateral damage and civilian casualties. But if the United States knows a way to avoid such damage, then it should go and tell the Israelis about it, and apply it themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is also no doubt that coalition bombings arecausing cause civilian casualties.
From a strictly legal point of view, I think the U.N.S.C. resolution is questionable. It is, in fact, the result of years of lobbying for the recognition of the right to interfere, which proves here to be legitimized.
And yet, many – even among the parties of the left – deemed it necessary to intervene in Libya in order to stop the massacre. Do you think it is an error of judgment ?
Yes, I do, and for several reasons. First of all, this campaign ushers in the reign of the arbitrary. Indeed, the Libyan conflict is not exceptional. There are many other conflicts anywhere in the world whether it may be in Gaza, in Bahrain, or in the Congo, which happened some years ago. As for the latter, it occurred within a context of foreign aggression on the part of Rwanda and Burundi. The enforcement of the international law would have saved millions of lives but it was not done. Why not ?
Besides, if we apply the underlying principles of interference behind the aggression against Libya, it means that anyone can intervene anywhere they want to. Imagine that the Russians intervene in Bahrain or the Chinese in Yemen : the world would be a general and ongoing war. Therefore one major feature of the right to interfere is the infringement of standard international law. And if we had to change international law to new laws justifying the right to interfere, it would result in a war of all against all. This is an argument to which the advocates of the right to interfere never give an answer.