What's the point of the United Nations? Seriously, just consider that question for a moment. I'm not being flippant.
At its heart the UN is a response to World War II. It's an attempt by Nation States to create a forum which serves to limit the potential of future conflict on a global scale, and in so doing to protect the world from the kind of atrocities which inevitably follow the commencement of armed conflict. Noble aims, no doubt. And yet, when faced with armed conflict leading to humanitarian atrocity the UN proves itself incapable time and time again.
Well, ultimately the UN is a political organisation draped in the cloak of international legal authority. It's designed to facilitate horse-trading based on narrow national interests rather than high-minded principle. The decision making structures of its Security Council reflect a geo-political settlement that no longer exists. And we find that far from protecting people from the kind of atrocity it was established to prevent, the UN instead makes all the noises of caring while ultimately finding itself rendered impotent by countries whose respect for human rights is little different than one Muammar Gaddafi.
I'm not saying the UN should be abolished, far from it, but there are times when action is needed now and principle must be placed ahead of political expediency. Now is such a time.
A government's primary function is to protect its people. But nobody told Gaddafi. Instead, he uses guns, bombs and planes to murder the very people he is supposed to protect. And that, by any measure, is unacceptable.
Does that mean we should put boots on the ground? Of course not. Aside from anything else we simply don't have the capacity to do so, even were it a desirable option (which it isn't). But the West as a whole does have the capacity to take some action to limit Gaddafi's capability and give the people of Libya a fighting chance to establish a nation of their own design. A no-fly zone would be a first-step, supporting the rebels transparently could be a second.
The world is watching. And tyrants are wondering, is the West all talk and no action?
And while we're taking our time to answer that question, spare a thought for those who will die in the meantime.