21 March 2011

Blattman and Easterly on Libyan Military Intervention

Chris Blattman expands on Bill Easterly's thoughts on military intervention in Libya. In short, Blattman sums up many of my gut thoughts on an issue which I do not know nearly enough. So, I will make no commentary but quote the part that I think is the strongest and encourage you to read the posts from the two academics.
In the face of failure, one has to decide whether to give up or persist. I think it depends whether you think that experimentation, however risky and costly, is going to lead to better practices and institutions, and thus better outcomes.

I for one was very surprised that the UN Security Council endorsed military action against Libya. This is big. I suspect the UNSC’s failure to act in Rwanda and the Congo, and to some extent Iraq, played a big role in their decision. That is institutional evolution in action. That makes me hopeful, because I think unified responses and moral authority matter.

Another thing that makes me hopeful: If we evolve to the point where the UNSC, or some other body, can make consistent and credible threats of prosecution and intervention, they’ll probably need to use force far less.

On the other hand, if the world threatens and then backs down, or rewards the most thuggish leaders with coalition governments, we could move in the opposite direction.

The tricky thing: however they turn out, we’ll learn very little from the cases of Libya and Cote d’Ivoire. The effects and institutions will emerge over decades rather than years. So not only do we have low accountability, we have bad feedback.

Even so, I would rather see the world try.