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Fighter planes seen through barbed wire
Most Latin American countries want the warplanes out of LibyaImage: dapd

No intervention wanted

March 28, 2011

The majority of Latin American countries do not agree with the legitimacy or practicality of foreign military intervention in Libya. Two German experts, Günther Maihold and Manuel Paulus, explain why.


Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin was expected to explain to the country's congress on Tuesday why the country had voted in favor of UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorizes, among other things, the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya.

Deputies from the ruling party support the position of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, which is to back the majority of NATO and European Union nations in supporting the intervention.

However, the opposition has complained that backing the action contradicts the stance that most countries in the region are taking. Though Peru has broken off relations with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, that course of action has not been typical.

No: the prevailing response

Günther Maihold, deputy director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs
Maihold says intervention violates the fundamental principle of Latin American politicsImage: SWP

Of the diplomatic voices coming out of Latin America, most are demanding a ceasefire and dialogue - disapproving of both the legitimacy and the practicality of Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya. "The idea of saving lives with bombs doesn't make any sense," said Uruguayan President Jose Mujica.

Brazil, the only other country with a voice and vote as a temporary member of the UN Security Council, refused to support Resolution 1973.

Günther Maihold, deputy director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, and Manuel Paulus, a political scientist from the University of Rostock, are united in identifying the main motive behind the condemnation from Latin America against the creation of a united front against Gadhafi.

A matter of principle

"The determining factor is the perception that this military operation is an act of aggression against Libyan sovereignty, like a foreign intervention into a country afflicted by civil war. This violates one of the fundamental principles of the external politics of Latin American countries, that of not meddling in the internal affairs of their neighbors," said Maihold.

Paulus agreed, adding that there was another element.

"Brazil is trying to establish a multi-polar world order in which Washington does not play the principal role. Its position and that of its neighbors can only be described as a consequence of this," said Paulus, adding that the policy of Latin American countries in relation to Libya cannot be explained solely from the point of view of its ambivalent relationship with the United States or Europe.

Manuel Paulus, a political scientist from the University of Rostock
Paulus says countries with a colonial past have another view of the worldImage: Manuel Paulus

Historical traumas vs. realpolitik

"Countries with a past of being colonized have another view of the world than Europeans. I don't consider the positioning of Latin America with regards to Libya as a strategic distancing from the United States but I do think that the Latin American countries discern the possibility that the military operation will culminate in the invasion and occupation of Libyan territory," said Paulus.

"They compare that scenario with the experiences of their own countries," he continued. "It is fitting to ask if the past political and military excesses of the United States and Europe, as colonizers, as those acting in their own interests, as champions of ideological and economic systems, have weakened their credibility as protectors of the Libyan people."

The burdens of the past

"It can always be argued that intervention only takes place in national conflicts when there is an interest in that country's raw materials. However, in this case the request to intervene came from the Arab League and not from Western countries. Therefore, I don't really think you can make comparisons that stretch from the colonial era to the present."

According to Maihold, the colonial and post-colonial traumas of Latin America continue to be "important rallying points of identity that influence analysis of current events."

However, he warned it was necessary to distinguish between former colonizers and their interests on one hand and, on the other, international authorities such as the United Nations and the Security Council.

"Certain comparisons do not make sense when we talk about the situation in Libya," said Maihold.

Author: Evan Romero-Castillo / rc
Editor: Rob Mudge

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