HALIFAX - Defence Minister Peter MacKay touted the success of the international mission in Libya as word spread on Saturday that Moammar Gadhafi's son and former heir apparent had been captured.
However, he cautioned that NATO tactics used in the north African nation cannot be considered a blueprint for potential interventions in other countries, such as Syria or Iran.
Speaking at the Halifax International Security Forum, MacKay said there was a "moral obligation" to intervene in Libya. He warned the decision to launch similar missions in other countries should not be made lightly because the potential fallout is too risky.
"There's a danger in creating a scenario that says there is 'world police' that are going to start singling out countries and enforcing what those governments — legitimate or not — should be doing," MacKay told an audience of security and defence experts during a panel discussion.
"I am very loathe to say that you can take a template and apply it uniformly."
Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard, the Canadian who commanded NATO operations in Libya, told the forum that lessons learned in Libya can be applied to other missions, but said no two interventions are the same.
MacKay and Bouchard agreed the mission in Libya was successful.
Bouchard also applauded the capture of Gadhafi's son Seif al-Islam, saying his detention on Friday marked a defining moment for Libya in more than one way.
"It's critical in that it will help this country bring closure," Bouchard told reporters following the panel discussion. "It's also... imperative in my opinion for Libya to show their ability to exercise legitimacy through the proper conduct of law and order."
Libyan officials said Seif al-Islam, 39, was captured as he travelled with aides in a convoy in Libya's southern desert. Prior to being caught, he had been the only member of the family to remain at large.
Bouchard said a fair trial would be needed to determine the future of Seif al Islam, whom he described as Gadhafi's "number one son" and a major player in bringing violence to Libya.
The Canadian navy was dispatched to the region after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution calling on the international community to protect civilians following an uprising against Gadhafi. The dictator was captured and killed by rebel troops last month.
Canadian pilots and aircrew also helped enforce a UN-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya, flying more than 1,500 military missions. In recent weeks, the last of the Canadians who helped enforce the no-fly zone returned home.
The work that remains to be done in Libya will be about "democratizing and legitimizing further what this was all about, this intervention," said MacKay, adding that now is the time to focus on averting humanitarian crisis elsewhere.
Still, MacKay cautioned against rushing into launching Libya-style action in other countries. Military intervention is the last option, he said.
"When you make a decision to go into a country, there is a certain ownership over what happens and what follows," he said.
When asked about possible intervention in Iran, MacKay said: "We're not there yet. I think there are a number . . . of other things we can do first."
Last week, the UN's atomic watchdog agency said Iran was more than likely on the way to acquiring nuclear weapons.
MacKay has also said Canada is keeping an eye on the unfolding situation in Syria, where President Bashar Assad continues his bloody crackdown on Syrians demanding democracy. The UN estimates 3,500 Syrians have been killed since the uprising began in March.
MacKay has said any international mission to Syria might first need a UN Security Council resolution, similar to one granted for Libya this year.
Bouchard told reporters Saturday that there is much to consider.
"Syria is different (from Libya); it's in the Middle East, it's got different neighbours, different regional support," he said.
"I think the world is observing what is happening in Syria, and hopefully we'll get more eyes to take a look at it and report the truth of what's going on."