The Ethics of Intervention

The main headline of every news source today probably has an update on the conflict in Libya, followed by a group of Libyan rebels heroically raising their firearms in a victory cry. If one were to read the article, it would most likely describe the recent success of the rebels due to the airstrikes of U.S. and NATO forces. The news would have us believe that this multi-national intervention is a good thing because Muammar al-Qaddafi is a tyrant and an enemy of democracy. However, for the intervention to be justified, it must not be that simple; just war never is. So let us take a closer look at what just intervention means for America.

The American people have, understandably, raised many concerns about our involvement in Libya. Why should our troops die in another country’s war? What business is it of ours? Is our entrance into the conflict justified? We can all agree that Muammar al-Qaddafi was a bad leader who needs to go. He is an oppressor of his people and a flagrant violator of human rights. But his actions had very little, if any, direct effects on the people and policies of the U.S.

Indeed, at a second glance it seems that perhaps it is not worth our soldiers’ lives to enter into this foreign affair. But let us take a step back. The U.S., since WWII, has been crucial in maintaining world peace. We were that world power that checked the ever-threatening forces of Communism and, through foreign intervention, were able to save many peoples and nations from the intense sufferings of the Soviet regime, people who otherwise could not defend themselves.

As in any war, negative consequences will arise, but the benefits and the sustenance of peace outweighed the consequences. The American soldiers who died during the Cold War in foreign lands did not die in vain. Rather, they fought for the side that stood for peace and for freedom, rights which all humans ought to enjoy. It seems, then, that intervention is just if the nation in question cannot defend itself and if human rights, especially peace and freedom, will be disrupted. In Libya, the civil war is definitely disrupting the peace, not only in that nation but in several surrounding countries which, spurred on by the Libyan rebellion, are experiencing the beginnings of social upheaval. And in terms of defense, the Libyan rebels certainly needed help against the stronger forces of Qaddafi.

However, another problem still remains. What about the question of pre-emptive strikes? Libya certainly did not attack the U.S. in any way. What gives us the right to directly attack the forces of Qaddafi with military power? I think it is important to remember our role here. The U.S., whether we like it or not, is in the position, and has the responsibility, of helping to promote peace where no other help is available. Qaddafi is directly opposing peace through his oppression of his people. The rebel forces have attempted to oust him from power but without our help it seems that they would have failed. If we had let this happen, would we be fulfilling our goal and the goal of all mankind to achieve and promote world peace? It is as if Muammar al-Qaddafi has already made the first strike by suppressing his people and violating human rights.

So is our intervention in Libya a good thing? Are the sacrifices that American soldiers are making on foreign soil for a foreign nation necessary? I think the answer is a clear Yes.

Subscribe to the Stanford Review