The Libya question

The House of Commons voted to support a three-month extension of Canada’s mission in Libya on Monday, voting 189 to 98 in favour of the extension (Stephanie Levitz, “Commons approves three-month extension to Libyan mission,” Globe and Mail, 26 September 2011). The Conservatives, the Liberals, and Bloc supported the extension, and the NDP and the Greens opposed it.

The question of whether and to what extent Canada should be involved in Libya continues to divide Canadians. As part of the Ottawa Out Front Speaker Series and the 2011 Ottawa Peace Festival, the future of the Libya operation was discussed last week by a panel consisting of  Walter Dorn (Associate Professor RMC, author of Keeping Watch: Monitoring, Technology and Innovation in UN Peace Operations), Daryl Copeland (author of Guerrilla Diplomacy: Rethinking International Relations), and Peggy Mason (Senior Fellow at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs and former UN Ambassador for Disarmament), with moderator Carl Meyer (Embassy Magazine).

Dorn, who supported extension of the mission, felt the operation aligned strongly with the guidelines of just war theory and the responsibility to protect (R2P), arguing that it has been “done the right way, with the right force,” and for the right cause.  Copeland and Mason, on the other hand, expressed concern about using just war theory as a basis for Canada’s involvement in the region.  Copeland felt that alternative options for resolution of the conflict were not considered or exercised before the decision to intervene militarily was decided upon, and for her part, Mason expressed concern about NATO handling a UN mandate, as well as the problem of the mission moving from civilian protection to fighting on behalf of a particular side in a civil war.

Questions from the audience raised issues about the mission’s effect on Canada’s international reputation, the motives of the regional actors, and the problematic line between intervention and peacebuilding.

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