Morality as a Catalyst for Violence: Responsibility to Protect and Regime Change in Libya

Debora Valentina Malito*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


How did the global Responsibility to Protect become a legitimising vehicle for regime change in Libya? Many analyses have concentrated on implementation mistakes and failures, but the militarisation of morality and its transformation into an element legitimising warfare has not been systematically studied. Following Jabri’s work on discursive hegemony, this article analyses the politics of justification provided by France, the United Kingdom and the United States for intervening in Libya. Three rhetorical mechanisms have been crucial in legitimising the assault on the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya: first, regime change was defined as a universal interest through the Manichean representation of Gaddafi opposed by a unified Libya (universalisation); second, contradictions in the resort to violence have been marginalised and alternatives to militarisation have been ignored, such in the case of the African Union’s roadmap (simplification); third, the media and scholars have perpetuated dominant narratives portraying Gaddafi as a ‘mad dog’ of the Middle East (reiteration). The article reveals that regime change did not emerge just from operative (mis)calculations, but rather from political and strategic goals pursued since the beginning of the crisis. The interveners used indeed hegemonic liberal discourses to forge the permissibility of regime change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)104-121
Number of pages18
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2019

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