Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ron Smith: Libya and Colonel Gaddafi: second thoughts

When I last wrote on this subject (4 March), the Libyan opposition was in full cry and making progress on all fronts. Colonel Gaddafi, on the other hand, was exhibiting panic and making incoherent speeches. His diplomatic representatives were deserting him and his airmen were defecting or, so it seemed, not always aiming well. The military forces of the leadership still had the potential to be decisive if they were used ruthlessly but the crucial factor of morale was all with the insurgents.

At this point, international intervention could have been decisive by inhibiting the Libyan regime’s ability to counter-attack and carry through with the threatened massacre of the activist forces. This would have given the insurgency (ill-organised as it was, and still is) a possibility of success, which might have ended in the flight of the Ghastly Gaddafi family and the possibility of a representative, even ‘democratic’, government. I fully recognise that here are a lot of ‘coulds’ and ‘mights’ here but the possibility that I am describing could(!) have been contrived without putting ‘boots on the ground’, or significantly risking the lives of aircrew involved. This, and this possibility that the intervention could have been short-lived, was the reason for me to apply the moral analogy of the child drowning in a shallow pond, who could be rescued with minimal harm or cost to the rescuer.

But dithering and delay have produced the worst of all worlds. Gaddafi’s resolve is strengthened by recent success and by the evident divisions in the uneasy coalition that has taken up the United Nations mandate. There is now the real prospect that Gaddafi survives and returns to his earlier support for terrorism against the West, as a matter of revenge. He might also return to his earlier nuclear weapon project. There is also the possibility of a persisting civil war, in which the country continues to be divided, and, perhaps, ungoverned, after the pattern of Somalia. This outcome would produce obvious security problems for the region, which would include massive refugee flows and support for crime and terrorism.

These latter scenarios can only be avoided by an absolute determination to end the Gaddafi regime, whatever it takes to do it. The cost will be much greater now than it would have been three weeks ago. There should be no illusion. The Gaddafis (father and sons) should be targeted. They are directing military affairs and are, thus, legitimate targets in a war. On the previous occasions that it has been used by the UN Security Council, the phrase ‘all necessary means’ has meant what it said. It should do so on this occasion. The coalition military forces should not only continue to degrade Libyan air defences and shoot down any aircraft that the regime puts up but it should also continue to attack the armour and artillery assets of the regime, wherever they are. It should also provide arms for its allies on the ground. For reasons outlined in the previous paragraph, it is now important to win.

What has happened in Libya does not imply an unlimited commitment to the doctrine of an obligation to protect. In fact, the reverse. There will be no call for an intervention in Yemen or Syria, or the other examples that have been rhetorically cited. And, even if there were such a call, it will not be answered. The international community is too divided by ideology and interests to come together for such a project, even if it were feasible in a particular case, as it was in Libya three weeks, ago, the party that might have acted on idealist principle (and had the capability), the United States, has lost its will, under its present leadership.

There is another implication of the present situation and that is that (like persecuted communities within states) nations cannot rely on collective security, from the United Nations organisation, or even Nato. They need to look to their defences and to find reliable allies.

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