China’s state-run media has been even more caustic. Recalling the Western military interventions in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq 2003, The People’s Daily noted what it sees as a pattern of Western interference in other countries’ internal affairs. One commentary warned, for example that, ‘The blood-soaked tempests that Iraq has undergone for eight years, and the unspeakable suffering of its people are a mirror and a warning’ of what might ensue should the West persist in its military operations in Libya.
With feelings running so high, Beijing and Moscow might have been expected to block Resolution 1973, or at least do more to ensure that Western powers were more tightly constrained in their use of force. After all, both governments strongly support traditional interpretations of national sovereignty, which severely restrict the right of foreign powers or international organizations to intervene in a country’s internal affairs.
So why didn’t they? Certainly it wasn’t because there was a widespread belief among Chinese and Russian policymakers that the Western initiative was really based on the humanitarian reasons proffered by NATO. Indeed, to Russia and China, such justifications over Libya bore a striking and uncomfortable resemblance to the arguments used over intervention in Kosovo. Back then, the coalition decision to provide military support to the separatists in Kosovo (who also claimed to be democrats) held the disturbing implication that the United States might also intervene militarily to defend Taiwan and Georgia against attempts at forceful reunification, or to support separatist aspirations in Chechnya, Tibet, or Xinjiang. It’s a line of thought that is likely no different under current circumstances.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
In addition, China and Russia ultimately want to create a multi-polar international system in which the United Nations and international law dominate decision making on all important questions, including the possible use of force. In recent years, Chinese and Russian officials have led the opposition against imposing rigorous sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and other countries that have pursued policies that Western governments consider violations of international laws and norms. The fact that both China and Russia—and in particular, their government agencies and nominally independent private defence trading companies—have been sanctioned on numerous occasions by the United States and its allies has likely contributed to their distaste of such measures.
It therefore took some considerable skilled Western diplomacy to persuade Beijing and Moscow that it was in their interests to at the very least acquiesce in the West’s military campaign in Libya.