In TIME’s international editions, Jorge Castañeda, a former Mexican Foreign Minister, rates the “winners and losers” of the Libyan imbroglio, praising Western leaders like French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British P.M. David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama for pressing for intervention. Countries that abstained from action — like Germany — or specifically warned against it — stand up Russia, China, India and a host of other influential emerging nations — are “losers” in Castañeda’s eyes.
What exactly either camp has actually gained or lost is something of a mystery to me. The success of the NATO-led Libyan intervention in unseating the tyrannical Gaddafi regime provided many liberal hawks in the West a boost of confidence, a pat on the back after years of often hollow moral posturing or heavy-handed war mongering. The mission in Libya, in comparison to, say, Iraq or Afghanistan, has been relatively easy and quick, led largely “from the rear” with air support and next to no boots on the ground. It confirmed for some — ostensibly Castaneda — a new doctrine for Western humanitarian interventionism around the globe.
What Castañeda fails to admit is that few other conflict situations will prove as easy to resolve as Libya (if it is even resolved right now), which is relatively sparse in population and geo-politically inconsequential. Yet he upbraids the Libyan scenario’s “losers” for now bringing their fossilized suspicions to bear when pondering options for Syria.
For Brazil, India and South Africa, the principle of nonintervention is the bedrock of any multilateral foreign policy: humanitarian considerations are subordinate to defending national sovereignty from foreign interference. This informs their reluctance to intervene in other crises, including the Syrian regime’s brutal crackdown on protesters. Although they sent a delegation to Damascus in the naive hope it might persuade President Bashar Assad to stop murdering his people, they remain opposed to sanctions by the Security Council and, together with Russia, have tied the U.N.’s hands on Syria. By sticking to a stance that failed them in Libya, these nations are showing they are not ready for a bigger role in international affairs.
This is something of a mischaracterization of the foreign policies of the BRICS or BASIC countries, as they’ve come to be grouped. While the old non-aligned movement sniffed warily — and not without valid cause — at the Western, perhaps “imperialist” penchant for intervention, many of these nations now are gradually evolving their thinking on international engagement. Perhaps it’s not as cavalier or as righteous or as much in lockstep with certain Western democracies as Castaneda would like, but emerging power democracies like India are slowly recalibrating their geo-politicking away from decades of fusty Cold War groupthink.
Nor do these countries’ relative inaction vis a vis the crisis in Syria truly “tie the U.S.’s hands.” The U.S. has tied its own hands after a decade of unpopular, money- and morale-sapping wars in the Middle East and West Asia. And it’s far from clear whether a tough regime of sanctions would really break the back of the cornered Assad regime.
It’s true that the new leaders of the emerging world — particularly its democracies — ought to be more vocal when other regimes perpetrate injustices and abuses. But I still am baffled by what they “lost” by expressing doubts over going to war. Sure, the people of Libya will not give South African President Jacob Zuma or Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the same rapturous reception offered to Sarkozy and Cameron this week. But it’ll be in the interest of the new Libyan government to maintain robust ties with all the BRICS, especially as the West wanes, teetering under the pressures of domestic economic woes. Sarkozy and Cameron may have “won” in Libya, but they’re not winning anywhere else.