[Marxism] New Texts Out Now: Ayca Cubukcu, The Responsibility to Protect: Libya and the Problem of Transnational Solidarity

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed May 29 07:18:28 MDT 2013

Ayça Çubukçu, “The Responsibility to Protect: Libya and the Problem of 
Transnational Solidarity,” Humanitarianism and Responsibility, special 
issue of Journal of Human Rights 12 (2013).

Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this article?

Ayça Çubukçu (AÇ): This article originated in a piece I wrote for 
Jadaliyya during the vitalizing days of the Arab Spring, in the heat of 
debate about the virtues of an international military intervention in 
Libya. As Jadaliyya readers would recall, following the February 2011 
uprising against Colonel Qaddafi in eastern Libya, there were calls for 
the international community to intervene, if necessary with violence, 
into Libyan affairs. A global public was told, left and right, that the 
international community had the responsibility to protect Libyans from 
impending massacres by Colonel Qaddafi’s forces.

Yet proposals for the use of international military force against the 
Qaddafi regime led to passionate disagreements, even among familiar 
proponents of humanitarian intervention. Such proposals also divided 
those traditionally opposed to military interventions along 
anti-imperialist lines. This article emerged as an effort to make sense 
of these disagreements and to identify some of the conflicting (as well 
as common) political and ethical dispositions grounding them. While I 
attempt to distill from these debates different visions of what 
transnational solidarity demands in the contemporary political 
conjuncture, I also adopt a historical perspective in analyzing the 
Responsibility to Protect doctrine, and the sensibilities of 
cosmopolitanism that it mobilizes.

I must add that the impetus for this article was a desire to clarify my 
own thinking in conversation with political and intellectual companions 
who either took an explicit stance in support of the military 
intervention in Libya or decided to oppose it publicly. Then, of course, 
there were those who could not but inhabit a space or moment of 
“indecision,” for lack of a better characterization.

J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the article address?

AÇ: The first part of the article examines some of the legal, ethical, 
and political dimensions of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine by 
engaging with cosmopolitan proposals for its application to Libya before 
the international military action to enforce it was initiated in March 
2011. It presents reflections of a historical kind on state sovereignty, 
international community, and the political theology of humanitarian 
intervention. In this section, I also attend to the nature of the moral 
imperative underpinning cosmopolitan assertions of responsibility to 
save lives in Libya.

The second part reflects on the official recognition of the Transitional 
National Council as the sole legitimate authority on Libyan territory by 
the enforcers of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, and situates 
this act of recognition within a history of colonial practices in the 
domain of international law. It argues that the language of “protection” 
deployed throughout the intervention in Libya should occasion more than 
a passing thought on the similarities between actual practices now 
associated with the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, and the colonial 
practices that European empires effected within the legal framework of 
“the protectorate” in the late nineteenth century. In this section of 
the article, I also discuss the prominence of imperial sensibilities in 
the Responsibility to Protect doctrine.

The last and the most provisional part of the piece evaluates 
disagreements among certain anti-imperialist commentators—Gilbert Achcar 
and Alain Badiou, to name two—over the desirability of a military 
intervention in Libya. Here, by analysing arguments over its proper 
requirements in the case of Libya, I explore the politics of a 
transnational solidarity with anti-imperialist commitments.  While 
calling for a renewed critique of violence, I conclude the article by 
highlighting telling difficulties that afflict attempts to differentiate 
acts of “foreign intervention” from acts of “transnational solidarity.”

I argue that what resides in the difficulty of distinguishing acts of 
transnational solidarity from acts of foreign intervention are the 
mutable borders of the political communities we imagine, the importance 
we attach to their autonomy, and who we take to be the proper subject of 
politics within those borders. Without those borders, neither the 
distinction between “national” and “foreigner,” nor the distinction 
between “solidarity” and “intervention,” would make much sense.

As for particular literatures that “The Responsibility to Protect: Libya 
and the Problem of Solidarity” addresses: I am thinking in the article 
alongside critical scholars in the fields of political and social 
theory, international law, intellectual history, international 
relations, and postcolonial studies. There are also a variety of public 
commentators outside academia who are my interlocutors in this piece.


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