Monday, March 28, 2011

When Diplomacy Fails

On Monday night, President Barack Obama addressed the country on the coalition military campaign in Libya. Although the US is working in coordination with other nations to enforce a UN Security Council authorized no-fly zone and will transfer control of the mission to NATO Wednesday, Obama, and the US in general, have come under much criticism for getting involved in yet another military campaign in yet another Arab country. The president's speech was intended to to quell public and Congressional concerns over the military action. Any presidential speech of the sort is a monologue, or one-way communication from the Commander-in-Chief to the people, foreign and/or domestic. As we have discussed in class, there is a place for monologue in diplomacy, however it cannot be the only form of diplomacy. Dialogue and collaboration help round out diplomatic efforts and create more understanding and better partnerships.

This speech was intended to be a "soft power" response to the "hard power" action the US and its NATO allies have recently begun in Libya. It acknowledged that "publics" matter and "public opinions" matter as Obama outlined the case for intervention in Libya. The president reaffirmed the American values that led the country into this fight, stating, "To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and — more profoundly — our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different." (source: NPR transcript) He also emphasized that the allies had only turned to military hard power after traditional diplomatic measures of intervention had failed and especially stressed that the US was working in collaboration with the other NATO forces.

This entire situation seems to have been brought about by globalization, as Copeland outlines in his article. He says "By subverting repressive, authoritarian structures, it [globalization] contributes to liberating political change, even as its tendency to sharpen economic inequalities undermines the delicate social contract upon which all representative institutions ultimately depend,” (100). This would be the impetus for the uprisings in Libya. In addition he states that dialogue "cannot flourish in the absence of a commitment to development or in a violent climate where large-scale and generalized insecurity is treated mainly by the application of force," (101). This would be consistent with Ghadafi's reaction toward any sort of rebellion. Progress for both (or really either) side cannot be achieved until non-violent means of change and development are adopted.  

However, Copeland does not provide much hope for traditional diplomacy. While he states that historically diplomacy has at times been effective in preventing these incidents, "The widespread presence of conflict, a reliance on hard power and threats, the militarization of international policy and the growing number of unresolved global issues all testify to diplomacy's failings," (98), which is what has occurred in Libya. Ghadafi's continued defiance of the international community have led to NATO's military involvement in Libya's crisis. 

Despite these arguments maligning hard power and traditional diplomatic efforts, it is difficult to see what else (if anything) could have been done in the diplomatic realm or through public diplomacy in order to quell this conflict. In spite of the progress made in diplomatic theory and practice, including building up soft power and sustainability, sometimes it seems there is no alternative to hard power interventions as had occurred in Libya (other than just doing nothing). At least this time the US acted collaboratively.

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