Liberia: Creating peace in Africa
The Liberian civil war of 1989 to 1997 claimed 200,000 lives out of a population of 2.6 million and turned more than one million people into refugees.1 The war was accompanied by the complete collapse of the state and was fought largely by nonprofessional recruits, often children. Responses to the crisis by the Western democracies were muted, but the West African nations, acting within the framework of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), intervened by organizing a “peace creation”2 mission through the ECOWAS Cease-fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). This chapter analyzes the tenacious efforts and eventual success of the intervention (1990-1997) through a focus on the triple elements of legitimacy as explained in the preceding pages. In the case of Liberia, the ethical and power-political legitimations of intervention coexisted and were compatible. At the basis of ECOMOG’s peace creation were both humanitarian and strategic concerns-regional stability, containment, and the national interests and reputations of the intervening parties. West African states considered it important both to alleviate civilian suffering at the initiative of the sub-region and to prevent the conflict from spreading to neighboring countries. An effective and credible peacekeeping institution was held to be indispensable for the sub-region’s post-Cold War security, and the Liberian conflict became a test case for its management of regional conflict. Nigeria, in heading the intervention, regarded the success of the mission to be imperative to maintaining its prestige and leadership in the region. Following the successful election in Liberia in 1997, ECOMOG’s venture was much hailed as an exemplar of African conflict resolution, especially given the lack of UN and Western interest in intervening. The ECOMOG case indicated an important shift in the legitimate purposes for which force would be used in post-Cold War security management. The mission was limited and humanitarian in nature, and the objectives of intervention-such as creating safe havens, maintaining cease-fires, and preparing conditions for a peace agreement-replaced the traditional purposes of military victory and occupation. These declared goals created political accountability for the intervention force, whereby
the support it received depended on how well it performed its role. Despite various controversies aroused by the sub-regional organization’s unprecedented use of force to meet the humanitarian crisis, the ECOMOG intervention came to be accepted and supported from outside West Africa primarily in view of humanitarian and stability concerns. As a result, the sources of controversy surrounding humanitarian intervention shifted from the level of principles (sovereignty vis-à-vis human rights) to that of procedures, such as political representation, proportionality of means, and impartiality. The UN praised the sub-regional effort to resolve conflict as a precedent for similar undertakings. The following sections first briefly review the ECOMOG intervention and then analyze two types of legitimacy, focusing in turn upon the ethical and power-political bases of intervention. The ethical bases were humanitarian concerns, a view of multilateral security in which internal conflict is defined as a threat to international security and interest in developing mechanisms for regional peacekeeping; the power-political bases were Nigeria’s concern for its own national security and containment of the conflict. The chapter then examines ECOMOG performance and support, clarifying the shifting conditions of legitimacy.