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Libya no-fly zone: Moment of reckoning for the United Nations?

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In the forefront of the push for a resolution is France. As rebels fighting Qaddafi's forces lose ground, retreating from their last stronghold west of Tripoli Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in a radio interview that had the international community acted last week, the rebels would be in a much stronger position.

But world leaders including President Obama are insisting that the response to Libya must be multilateral and come through international organizations. Mr. Obama's willingness for the US to take a back seat is making room for others, beginning with some in the region, to act.

Moreover, global political reaction to the uprisings in North Africa has emphasized universal values and human rights rather than countries' strategic interests – mirroring traditional UN policy. For the moment, at least, the world seems to be moving toward the UN's view of things, and that has given the international organization a rising "relevance."

"It's true that Qaddafi's particularly egregious actions have spurred the international community in ways that another crisis might not have, and that has forged a unity in the organization that we don't see every day," says Edward Luck, senior vice president at the International Peace Institute in New York. "But we're also seeing the invoking of universal norms and standards that go to the heart of what the UN is about, and that's something you wouldn't have imagined even a few months ago."

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