Military intervention in Libya: perspectives from China, Russia and India
China, Russia and India abstained on UN Security Council Resolution No. 1973, which authorized a no-fly zone over Libya and the use of force to protect civilians. As military intervention in Libya enters its sixth day, what are the Chinese, Russian and Indian views and reactions?
Officially-sanctioned views, as reflected in the People’s Daily, lambast the military intervention in Libya and cast it as a Western initiative.
- “How humanitarian is Western intervention in Libya?” asks one op-ed. “This so-called ‘humanitarianism’ is actually just the first step toward overthrowing of another country’s political power.”
- They point to Libya’s oil resources as the underlying motive. “The military involvement of Western coalitions in the Middle East is closely associated with oil reserves and strategic interests. Iraq was invaded for oil. Now it is Libya.”
- It is noteworthy that the criticism is generally directed at the “West,” and not specifically at the United States, since “the U.S. withdrew to the second line this time.” The U.S. position is understood to be “a compromise between the realism of the secretary of defense and the idealism of the secretary of state.”
The way to act responsibly, on the other hand, is to follow China’s example, says the People’s Daily. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China voted in favor of sanctions on Libya but “did not block” the resolution on a no-fly zone because it took into consideration the positions of Arab countries and the African Union. “China once again insisted on consistent principles and showed the image of a responsible country.”
Much attention in Russia is on the apparent split between President Dmitry Medvedev and Premier Vladmir Putin over the Libyan crisis. Putin had called the military intervention in Libya a “medieval crusade,” and said that U.S. militarism had become a steady trend. Medvedev dismissed Putin’s language as “unacceptable,” and explained that the reason Russia did not veto the UN resolution was because it “broadly reflects our view of what is happening in Libya, although not across the board.”
This dispute between Medvedev and Putin, as well as Russia’s abstention on the UN resolution, have sparked heated debates over Russia’s role in global politics and the overall direction of its foreign policy.
- According to Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, Medvedev reflects the view that Russia is a regional power whose vital interests are geographically limited, whereas Putin represents the belief that Russia should assert itself and resist US attempts at global hegemony.
- Some argue that Russia’s ambiguous position is advantageous, because it allows Russia to “distance itself from hostilities that lead to civilian casualties” while staying on good terms with the West and being able to “retain its assets in Libya after the overthrow of the dictator.”
- Others say that Russia cannot sit on the fence, because whether it positions itself as a regional or global power, “showing that its authorities lack a coordinated policy…is particularly damaging in view of the growing chaos in the world.”
- Opinion is also divided on the implications for the “reset” in Russia-US relations. An op-ed in the Moscow Times says that Russia’s abstention shows quite clearly that the country is moving along a “Western-friendly course.” The more pessimistic view points to the Russian media’s depiction that the military operations are largely US-led, and that this “bitterness over Washington’s decision to go to war with Libya makes any fundamental changes in U.S.-Russian relations highly unlikely for the time being.”
General assessment of the military intervention also reflect diverse opinions. Alexei Arbatov, head of the International Security Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences, worries that Iran, Syria and other countries proliferating weapons of mass destruction will now think that Gaddafi should not have given up his nuclear program several years ago. Lyudmila Alekseyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia’s oldest human rights organization, believes that the military strike, under the auspices of the UN, is “the right thing to do” because it will stop the civil war in Libya.
Commentary in India generally supports the country’s abstention on the UN resolution, while opinion of the military intervention ranges from worry and skepticism to outright denunciation.
- The centrist Times of India sounds a cautionary note, for both the U.S. and the prospect of democracy in the region. While commending President Barack Obama for ruling out the involvement of American ground troops, the editorial urges the West to avoid a heavy-handed intervention at all costs, because that would “only provoke a nationalist backlash in the Arab world, putting at stake the democratic resurgence taking place in the region.”
- Harsh criticism was voiced in an op-ed by Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu, the left-of-center paper: “The bombing of Libya by France, Britain and the United States demonstrates beyond doubt that these three imperial powers are a threat to international peace and security.“ Moreover, he says, the decision to attack Libya rests on “dubious legality” for violating the UN Charter, and because the “responsibility to protect” doctrine is not yet part of customary international law.
- An editorial in the liberal-globalist Economic Times, as well as an Asian Age op-ed by Inder Malhotra, former editor of the Times of India, both criticize the double standard of intervening in Libya but not Bahrain, and speculate whether “the Western objective might be to partition Libya into eastern and western regions, between the east ruled by the rebels and the west by Col. Gaddafi and his sons.”
- The Hindustan Times characterizes the US as a “reluctant player” that “went along because its European allies insisted and because some members of the Democratic administration were worried of accusations that it passively allowed a humanitarian crisis a la Rwanda.” On India’s abstention and its later denunciation of the air strikes, the paper commented, “India has continued its tradition of pleasing no one and sounding confused.”