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The United Nations Security Council, after days of debate, passed Resolution 1973 on March 17th, which authorized member states to impose a no-fly zone in Libya and to “take all necessary measures” to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack by Col. Moammar Qaddafi’s forces, including the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. In addition to authorizing the use of military force if necessary under Article VII of the UN Charter, the resolution, passed with ten votes in favor and five countries abstaining (Russia, China, Brazil, Germany and India), includes provisions calling for an immediate ceasefire, a beefed up arms embargo, a ban on certain flights, and expanded asset freezes. However, the resolution explicitly rules out any “occupation force” in Libya.
The U.S. was a follower in this case, waiting for international consensus to emerge rather than helping to shape it. The Obama administration took a full month to come around and support a military response to Qaddafi’s gross atrocities against his own people. After the Arab League made a formal request to the Security Council for imposition of a no-fly zone on March 12th, France and Lebanon took the lead in moving the latest Security Council resolution forward. France even sent its newly appointed foreign minister Alain Juppe to New York to make a personal appeal for passage of the resolution.
Now that the international community has finally spoken and there is a framework under international law for the use of military force against the Libyan regime, the serious work has begun. All considerations now turn to implementing the resolution in time to save more innocent Libyans from slaughter. Allied warplanes have since gone into action in an effort to stop Qaddafi’s aggression and push him back. American Tomahawk cruise missiles have also been fired at targets inside Libya from ships in the Mediterranean Sea, striking Qaddafi’s air-defense and communications systems and facilities. But these actions may well be too late, particularly if Qaddafi’s forces enter Benghazi, intermingle with civilians, and use them as human shields.
There are several big questions that the Security Council resolution does little to resolve:
First, what exactly does it mean when the resolution declares there will be no “occupation force” in Libya? One thinks of ground forces or, as they are colloquially referred to, “boots on the ground.” But this begs the question. For example, would search and rescue missions on the ground be permitted if pilots are shot down? Are Special Forces entering Libya solely to collect intelligence for the purpose of enabling more accurate air strikes considered an “occupation force”? When reporters at UN headquarters tried to get clarification from various delegations before and after the Security Council vote, we were rebuffed.
Second, what does a real ceasefire mean in dealing with Qaddafi? How could it possibly be monitored? Qaddafi’s government had announced right after the UN Security Council vote that it would abide by a ceasefire, only to quickly break it. In letters to President Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Qaddafi made his intentions clear:
Libya is not yours. Libya is for the Libyans. The Security Council resolution is invalid.
On March 19th – two days after the UN Security Council passed its resolution – Qaddafi’s forces, tanks and warplanes swarmed Benghazi. There have been reports of shelling, gunfire and at least twenty-five fatalities in the rebel stronghold. If Qaddafi were to now truly stand down under withering fire from the international coalition and honor a cease fire, what then?
This brings us to the third question in connection with implementing the UN Security Council resolution. What is the eventual endgame? France is the only Western government so far to have formally recognized Libya’s rebels as the country’s legitimate government.
President Obama has stated that Qaddafi must go. However, unless he is forced to go and an interim government is formed and immediately recognized by the international community, there will be a long stalemate that will work in Qaddafi’s favor. Are we really prepared to babysit a de facto fragmentation of Libya into two or more parts by continuing to provide an open-ended shield to millions of people living in fear side by side with Qaddafi, who would remain in power next door? Are we prepared to take sides in what may amount to a prolonged civil war, or will we leave the rebels to their own devices in a matter of days or weeks? Qaddafi will simply wait it out, counting on the international community’s short attention span.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is said to have persuaded President Obama to support military intervention in Libya in the first place, appears to back regime change. She said:
We do believe a final result of any negotiations would have to be a decision by Colonel Khadafy to leave.
However, Obama’s latest pronouncement on the use of military force to stop Qaddafi’s murder of civilians stopped short of using force to compel Qaddafi to leave, if necessary. Obama said on March 18th that “we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal — specifically, the protection of civilians in Libya.” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen said on March 20th that the mission he is overseeing is narrowly focused on ensuring humanitarian support for the civilians. He said that this mission could be achieved even if Qaddafi stayed in power.
The problem is that civilians are not safe in Libya unless Qaddafi leaves and his repressive apparatus is dismantled. But he will not leave voluntarily.
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