UN Security Council votes to impose No Fly Zone over Libya – too little, too late? (update)
The UN Security Council finally got its act together long enough to pass a resolution blessing the establishment of a No Fly Zone over Libya. Of course on the ground in that country, Gadhafi’s military forces are moving toward the last rebel stronghold in the city of Benghazi.
Benghazi erupted in celebration at news of the resolution’s passage. “We are embracing each other,” said Imam Bugaighis, spokeswoman for the rebel council in Benghazi. “The people are euphoric. Although a bit late, the international society did not let us down.”
Well, we’ll see about that, however, one has to wonder if the UN’s call for an NFZ leads to more civilian deaths rather than less.
What am I talking about?
Gadhafi has offered civilians who don’t want to be caught in the final push to take Benghazi the promise of safe passage if they’ll simply leave the city.
Yes, I know, we’re talking about a ruthless madman here – how can anyone believe him? The fact is even Gadhafi realizes he needs at least token popular support to retain power. It isn’t in his best interest to massacre or otherwise mess with any civilians seeking a way to avoid the fighting that will take place in and around Benghazi. Plus, given the outcry from the rest of the world, this is a means of placating world opinion somewhat. It also gives Gadhafi room to claim that anyone left in the city who was killed was either a rebel or a rebel supporter. Gadhafi has promised:
“We will come house by house, room by room. It’s over. The issue has been decided,” he said, offering amnesty to those who laid down their arms. To those who continued to resist, he vowed: “We will find you in your closets. We will have no mercy and no pity.”
You have to wonder now if many civilians who might have fled the city will now believe that they and their city can be saved by the imposition of a No Fly Zone and refuse to leave. That would be a huge mistake.
Another thing to consider is that when and if Gadhafi’s forces enter Benghazi, the effectiveness of an NFZ will be marginal at best. Unless you have Special Operations Forces from the participating countries working with the rebels in that city and calling in precision strikes, the mixing of the population with fighters from both sides will all but nullify the ability of air power to effect the battle.
The United Nations Security Council voted Thursday to authorize military action, including airstrikes against Libyan tanks and heavy artillery and a no-fly zone, a risky foreign intervention aimed at averting a bloody rout of rebels by forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
The inclusion of tanks and artillery as targets makes it more of a No Drive Zone than a No Fly Zone. Face it, Gadhafi’s air assets have been marginal at best in the fight against the rebels. So what the UN’s resolution does is expand the mandate to hitting armored vehicles and artillery as well.
Also included in this, before any such strikes can occur are taking down Libyan air defenses. That means first and foremost, SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) missions will have to be run. That can be done in a fairly local area, i.e. the immediate operational area around Benghazi, a broader area, perhaps Tripoli which is Ghadifi’s headquarters and the coastal road that runs to Benghazi, or country-wide.
Obviously local or regional would more quickly allow attack missions on Gadhafi’s forces approaching Benghazi, and including Tripoli would give the dictator something more to think about than attacking the last rebel city. Recall that the last time a bombing raid hit Tripoli it scared the stuffing out of Gadhafi.
But, then there’s the threat Gadhafi promises to carry out if there is foreign intervention. Sure it’s a coward’s threat (think Pan Am 103) but still a threat that can be carried out none the less. As far as Gadhafi is concerned, he has nothing to lose.
On the brighter side, France and the UK are taking the lead in this and there are Arab countries also interested in participating:
The resolution stresses the necessity of notifying the Arab League of military action and specifically notes an “important role” for Arab nations in enforcing the no-fly zone. Diplomats said Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were considering taking a leading role, with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt also considering participating.
The participation of Arab countries in enforcing a no-fly zone has been seen as a prerequisite for the United States, keen not to spur a regional backlash.
All good. But two things to remember – Saddam Hussein managed to crush a rebellion aimed at toppling him after he was defeated in Desert Storm and an NFZ was imposed there. And:
Yet some critics also noted that a no-fly zone authorized in the early 1990s in Bosnia had failed to prevent some of the worst massacres there, including the Srebrenica massacre.
So – the establishment of an NFZ is not a panacea guaranteed to stop the slaughter of civilians or the defeat of the rebels. In fact, about all it guarantees, unless Gadhafi is willing to stop his advance and negotiate a settlement with the rebels, is that the government side will change tactics as it pushes toward Benghazi. As James Lindsey says:
“It’s going to be tougher to stop Qaddafi today than it was a week ago. The issue is not going to be settled in the skies above Benghazi, but by taking out tanks, artillery positions and multiple-launch rocket systems on the ground.”
Mr. Lindsay said that would require helicopter gunships and other close-in support aircraft rather than advanced fighter planes. Other analysts said repelling Colonel Qaddafi’s forces might require ground troops, an option that has been ruled out by senior American officials.
But don’t expect Gadhafi to throw his hands up and say “I quit” just because the UN has authorized action against his regime. He’s first going to see if the rest of the world actually means to carry it out and, if they do, how effective it is at stopping him from doing what he wants to do. My guess is that he’ll find he still has the means to finish what he as started, even though it may be a little more painful and prolonged. Then, once he’s crushed the rebellion, we might see him attempt to negotiate an end to foreign intervention. But if he’s still in charge when the rebellion is crushed, there’s little the world can do about it other than overt military intervention to topple him.
Sanctions, as they always do, will only end up hurting the poorest among the Libyans. And, remember, Libya has oil – so it has a means of persuasion that Saddam used to his benefit to hold on to power in Iraq.
We’ll see how this all works out, but suffice it to say, there’s a definite down side to an NFZ and we may see that down side in Libya.
UPDATE: Libya’s Foreign Minister has unilaterally declared a “cease fire”:
Libya, after having seen the resolution, would like to explain the following.
As the country will try to deal with this resolution. Libya now has knowledge of this resolution, and according to article 25 of the UN charter, and taking into consideration that Libya is a full member of the UN, we accept that it is obliged to accept the security council resolution.
Therefore, Libya has decided an immediate ceasefire, and the stoppage of all military operations.
Libya takes great interest in protecting all civilians, and offering them all necessary humanitarian aid, and respecting all human rights, and obliging to the international and humanitarian laws and it is also obliged to protect all of the foreigners in Libya and protecting their assets.
In doing so, Libya is in accordance with the resolutions of the security council and the articles of the charter of the United Nations.
However, Al Jazeera is reporting that government forces continue to shell the rebel city of Misurata, a doctor there reporting that 25 people have been killed.
So how much of this is designed to cause confusion among the possible participants in a NFZ and to build support for non-intervention? Probably most of it.