A selective right to rule: interventions and authority certifications in Libya

Debora Valentina Malito*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Failures in rebuilding states have generally been studied in terms of localised, sectarian strife, with little comprehension of how external interventions alter state authority. Yet, how do international interventions contribute to authority-making? I argue that authority certifications hold a twofold cure/poisoning potential producing a selective right to rule. By analysing the politics of recognition in the Libyan conflict between 2011 and 2016, this article unpacks mechanisms of legitimacy certification and decertification throughout three stages of international intervention (regime change, democratisation, and mediation). Certifications, I argue, promote a simulacrum of sovereignty by legitimising domestic forces, who then utilise certification to enhance their claim to power. By combining a focus on recognition politics with a process-oriented perspective on the mechanics of authority-making, I advance the notion of certification as a tool for political re-ordering. Theoretically, I define a selective right to rule as an externally filtered entitlement resulting from certification practices that shape complex power struggles. Empirically, I demonstrate how certification systems further divided and split Libya after 2011. While NATO’s involvement dispersed the military strength essential for regime change, UN-led democratisation and mediation efforts fueled an institutional limbo that aided rival military and political powers, bolstering divergent authority claims.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-169
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of International Relations and Development
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • Authority
  • Fragmentation
  • Legitimacy
  • Libya
  • Politics of recognition
  • State transformation


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