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Roaring in Libya, Whispering in Others: UN Security Council’s Posture During the ‘Arab Spring’

This paper examines the position of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) during the Arab revolutions of 2010-2013. In the early 1990s, the UNSC devised the doctrine of ‘humanitarian intervention’ which was premised on the view that systematic and comprehensive human rights violations within a state could pose a “threat to international peace and security.” Nevertheless, the Security Council consistently failed to act during the course of Arab uprisings due to a number of structural and procedural problems, including the primacy of national interests, permanent members’ disagreement about the meaning of ‘collective security,’ and the isolated nature of decision-making whereby the substance of major resolutions is negotiated behind closed doors.

Roaring in Libya Whispering in Others UN Security Council s
Libyans protest the General National Congress in major cities last December. EPA
 

Major Problems in the Doctrine of Humanitarian Intervention

The doctrine of ‘humanitarian intervention’, which the UNSC expounded in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War era, gave the Council new powers, inter alia, against regimes that violate human rights on a grand scale. According to Sean Murphy, humanitarian intervention can be defined as:

“threat or use of force by a state, group of states, or international organization primarily for the purpose of protecting the nationals of the target state from widespread deprivations of internationally recognized human rights.”1

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