Mercenaries and Modern Revolutions

The factor that’s tipped me toward tepid support for this week’s UN intervention in Libya has been the Libyan government’s alleged use of mercenaries against civil opposition. While there are obviously huge questions of how the peace is to be managed afterward, importing mercenaries to crush revolts crosses a line that the international community cannot afford to tolerate. It’s an ultimate marker of lost political legitimacy that Qadhafi would feel the need to draft  outsiders to run internal security (in this case, some of the mercenaries appear to have not so much been “drafted” as tricked into getting on planes thinking they were working other jobs, then had guns thrust in their hands and were threatened with death if they didn’t shoot protesters).

For the world to allow this is to tolerate a norm not only against democracy, but against the very ideal of self-determination that defines the modern nation-state: the idea that dictators with zero internal support but lots of money are free to hold a country literally hostage for as long as they can keep paying outsiders to shoot their own people. Authoritarian states that nonetheless have some measure of popular support are one thing, and their internal troubles can reasonably go into the box of “civil conflicts” that we shouldn’t be meddling with. This is quite another, and the trend needs to be stopped in its tracks right now.

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