The Realist Prism: Gratitude vs. Neutrality in Post-Gadhafi Libya

The Realist Prism: Gratitude vs. Neutrality in Post-Gadhafi Libya

Post-Gadhafi Libya is set to become the next major test of two competing approaches to international affairs -- the "gratitude doctrine" of the Western alliance pitted against the "strict neutrality" practiced by Beijing.

The "gratitude doctrine," in short, is the West's assumption that providing assistance to those seeking to overthrow a repressive regime -- especially in the form of timely military aid to counterbalance the overwhelming advantages enjoyed by the forces of the dictator -- will produce a successor government that will be more receptive to U.S. and European influence and more responsive to their interests and concerns. The doctrine's record in the past has been mixed. NATO intervention in Kosovo, for instance, produced a strongly pro-Western regime in Pristina, but expectations that a post-Saddam Iraq would embrace a variety of U.S. positions, including recognizing Israel, were often not realized. Indeed, China, which opposed the 2003 invasion that deposed Saddam Hussein, has now emerged as one of the major players in the country's oil industry, leading some to conclude that China has reaped the most benefit from the Iraq war.

China, like many countries of the Global South, adheres to a more traditional Westphalian approach, generally offering no support to rebels fighting against an established government and continuing to do business with the existing regime until it is clear that it no longer controls its territory. China has a tradition of opposing intervention in sovereign states, even when the U.S. and Europe favor action based on humanitarian considerations. In particular, Beijing is usually reluctant to deprive other governments of their rights as sovereign entities to, among other things, purchase weaponry. The July visit to Beijing of several envoys sent by Moammar Gadhafi to discuss possible arms sales would be part of this "business as usual" approach.

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