The supporters of outside intervention believe that they are battling not just to stop atrocities in Libya itself, but to lay down a marker for the future. They want to show that the age when a dictator could massacre his own citizens is coming to a close. Bernard Henri-Lévy, a French philosopher who played an improbable role as a link between the Libyan rebels and President Nicolas Sarkozy, has said: “What is important in this affair is that the ‘duty to intervene’ has been recognised.”

Nicholas Kristof, writing in The New York Times, makes a similar point – “World powers have the right and obligation to intervene when a dictator devours his people.” This idea was approved by the UN in 2005 and, according to Mr Kristof, the Libyan intervention is “putting teeth into that fledgling concept.”

It would be nice to believe that the doctrine of a “responsibility to protect”, known colloquially as R2P, now has real bite. With rebel troops advancing swiftly along the Libyan coast, the supporters of the intervention will be feeling cheerful.

But the reality is that the Libyan war is more likely to mark a last hurrah for liberal interventionism than a new dawn. For the brutal truth is that the western powers that are the keenest promoters of the idea will not have the economic strength or the public backing to sustain many more overseas interventions. And the rising economic powers – China, India, Brazil and others – are deeply sceptical about the whole concept. Read full article in Financial Times – (registered users)...