International Response to the Libyan Crisis (May 2011)
Background to the current crisis
As with Egypt and Tunisia the uprising was driven mostly by
young people demanding reform in a country that is one of the most heavily
policed States in the world.The political system is based on
Gaddafi’s Green Book, which combines socialist, some say Maoist theories
(little Red Book) and Islamic theories and rejects parliamentary democracy
and political parties. A cocktail of ideas none particularly original, but a
philosophy that puts Col. Gaddafi firmly at the centre of all major
Libya like so many oil rich nations (and frankly many others) has its fair share of extreme wealth, poverty and corruption. However, these demonstrations were not about jobs or better working conditions or higher wages, they were about reform of the political system, something that the authorities could not comprehend after 40 years of one party rule. Political protests began on February 14, 2011 in Tripoli and soon spread across the Country. The Libyan government’s response was predictable. Ill-equipped to respond in any other way it dispatched the national army to crush the resistance. Gaddafi, in his own words said he would rather die a martyr than to step down, and called on his supporters to attack and “cleanse Libya house by house” until protestors surrendered. A forty year dictatorship spawns many enemies from within and this was the golden opportunity some in high office had been waiting for. Members of the government, military, tribal leaders, and army units defected and joined the opposition. On February 26 an interim government was established under the leadership of Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the first government official to break ties with Col. Gaddafi and one of the few high ranking politicians in the last few years to speak out about the harsh treatment of detainees. The government, which was renamed the National Transitional Council (NTC) was quickly recognized by the European Union, and from March 12 the Arab League entered into dialogue with the interim government, (a hugely significant event). The stage was set for a furtherance of internal strife.
Our leading politicians will tell you that the reason we are
attacking Gaddafi’s forces is because he is a serious threat to his own people,
capable of mass slaughter and even genocide and the actions taken are to defend
the human rights of the Libyan people. If oil is mentioned the politicians will
point out that it is only 2 per cent of the world’s usage. However, let’s put
this 2 per cent into context. Libya is an OPEC member, with the largest proven
oil reserves in Africa and the ninth-largest in the world. It produced 1.7
million barrels of high quality crude every day. International oil companies
and countries have billions invested in the country. These oil reserves also
happen to be on Europe’s doorstep.
Meanwhile the anti-west brigade and many left wing commentators
will tell you that we are there simply because Libya is an oil rich nation and
the West is protecting its interest not the welfare of the people. They argue
it is cynical and hypocritical for the West to be taking the action it has when
it is doing nothing to aid the uprisings in Yemen, Bahrain or Syria. They will
bang on about oil until they are blue in the face, while the politicians will
bang on about people’s liberties as if they are all paid up members of Amnesty
The trouble with both these simplistic views is that they are…simplistic, but easily digested by the public while giving mainstream tabloid press and TV simple but effective headlines to adopt and feel comfortable with. In reality of course they are both right, it is about oil and it is about defending unarmed civilians, but there are other important factors which make Libya a prime candidate for regime change.
It was seen as doable. Geographically Libya can be hit from
European bases; the logistics of warfare are relatively simple, compared with
Iraq due to distance or Serbia due to its mountainous terrain. The country is
flat, targets are easy to identify. The politicians therefore believed they
could have a quick win.
Politically it was doable. Libya is an African State rather than Middle Eastern with all the connotations an attack on a Middle Eastern country would have after Iraq.
It is an opportunity to democratise another country in Africa/Middle
We do have oil interests in Libya.
The sooner we secure peace by
ousting Gaddafi, the sooner the oil runs freely again and maybe at a
concessionary rate as we helped the opposition win the war.
Benghazi could have been a humanitarian catastrophe if NATO had not acted when it had. (Although comparisons the media and politicians have made with what went on in Rwanda and Bosnia are frankly deplorable). Where are the mass graves of Gaddafi’s massacre’s? However, the West still had the ghosts of Bosnia, Kosovo, and Rwanda haunting them. It was a useful tool for them, but to be fair there were many who believed a massacre would occur and others that simply feared a huge public outcry if a slaughter had taken place and the West had done nothing.
UK’s lead on the crisis was significant. David Cameron’s a new leader and wanted to make his mark on the world stage. This was his Kosovo moment.
Payback for blowing up Pan Am flight 103
Payback for the French UTA Flight 772 blown up in 1989
Payback for US service personnel killed in a West Berlin bar in the 80s
Payback for supplying arms to the IRA
Payback for all terrorist backed operations
As of May 14th NATO has carried out at least 5,000 sorties over Libya, a significant number estimated at around 2,000 (unverified newspaper reports) have involved attacking ground targets. With the ground war becoming gridlocked NATO is targeting Gaddafi’s stronghold in Tripoli almost on a daily basis. On 30th April a NATO air strike successfully killed his 29 year old son and Libyan TV also said that 3 of his grandchildren were killed. On the 13th May it was reported on Libyan State TV that 11 Muslim clerics had been killed by NATO air strikes.
According to Shashank Joshi, Associate fellow, Royal United
“Assassination of a head of state is illegal under international law, and forbidden by various US presidential orders. He goes on: “On the other hand, the targeted killing of those woven into the enemy chain of command is shrouded in legal ambiguity.”
Col. Gaddafi is defiant as ever, there is great unease in the Arab world at what NATO is doing. Within NATO there is little true support for the actions being taken with only a handful of nations getting their hands dirty in a membership of 28. Russia and China look on, not sure what strategy to adopt. The African Union are calling for a ceasefire. I believe even the US is less than comfortable with the campaign, if they were totally behind it, they would surely be leading from the front. Unlike France they have not recognised the NTC as the legitimate Libyan government. A stand I support. As the US have said, it is up to the Libyan people to decide who runs their country not a foreign power.
As of 14th May 2011 NATO has launched well
over 2,000 attack sorties (This figure is unconfirmed, based on news articles.
I have asked NATO for the figure and I’m still waiting for an answer. Attack
sorties are missions flown to identified targets with the sole purpose of
destroying them. Legitimate targets include, military hardware (tanks, air
bases etc) communications, and command infrastructures, (known in
military parlance as C3I ref: Shashank Joshi), troop convoys, and as we have
seen Gaddafi himself, his family and anyone else that happens to be near
him. Assuming most of the attack missions have been successful, we
can roughly estimate that at least 5,000 of Gaddafi’s troops and personnel have
been killed or wounded by NATO bombing. No figures are available on numbers
killed, but it stands to reason that military personnel must have been on or
near the targets hit. It is also worth noting that
half of Gaddafi’s forces are young conscripts with little choice but to
The attack on Arab soldiers will not be missed
by Al Qaeda and will be used to help recruit desperate young men, many
with nothing to lose. They will milk this for all its worth, particularly now
Bin Laden is dead. They will tell easily manipulated young men that
the West is hegemonic and must be stopped and that NATO’s attacks on Libya
is an attack on the Muslim world. This is not to argue that we should
develop our foreign policy based on the possible reaction of extremist groups,
it is only to point out that we should choose our wars wisely and in the true
interests of long terms peace and security and rights of ordinary (unarmed)
people that are directly affected by conflict.
Bombing from 10,000 feet as we saw in Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo is not always as precise as we are led to believe. During the attacks on Serb forces in Bosnia, convoys of refugees were killed, the same was true in Kosovo with a convoy of refugees mistaken for a column of troops. Unsurprisingly from that height the pilot couldn’t quite work out whether the slow moving line of human beings were Serb soldiers or refugees. He fired his missiles anyway. We do not know the full extent of fatalities and injuries from NATO bombing but as the weeks roll on they will increase.
ven if the rebels were to overthrow Gaddafi’s regime it will leave a bitter sweet taste in their mouth, knowing that the only reason they won was due to significant Western support. Something they will not want to tell their children, but something the West will continually remind them of when we are negotiating oil and Arms contracts. Our interference is likely to cause long lasting resentment with many Arabs in Libya and in the wider region. Protecting civilians and ensuring humanitarian aid gets through is one thing; protecting rebel troops is quite another.
The pro bombing lobby put forward Kosovo as a successful example of air power ridding the country of Serb forces and bringing peace. However, closer inspection of this campaign shows that Slobodan Milosevic’s retreat from Kosovo was influenced by the heavy hand of Moscow rather than the heavy use of NATO fire power. CNN broadcast images of Serbian tanks and troops waving as they left Kosovo unscathed by “precision” bombing.
Today in Libya NATO bombs Gaddafi’s armoured vehicles, and reports suggest that he is moving his forces about in cars and light trucks, indistinguishable from civilians and rebels. With a stroke, NATO’s chief advantage has been taken away from them, hence the almost desperate attacks on Gaddafi himself.
I am advocating using deadly force only as a last resort not a first option. I am saying Benghazi should have been a warning to Gaddafi not a starting pistol for continuous NATO bombing. Although history tells us that civil wars are best left to the citizens within those countries to sort out, however bloody that becomes, I am not advocating that. I am only concerned with halting the bloodshed whoever is being killed. I am with the silent majority that are hiding in their homes, fearful to go out on the street, for the millions around the country from Tripoli to Benghazi where normal life has stopped. I am only interested in these people, not the rebels, or the untested transitional government or Col Gaddafi’s regime. It is likely both sides will have much to answer for when this war is over, atrocities are rarely committed by just one side.
In Rome on May 4th a coalition of 22 Western and Arab nations met to pledge
millions to the rebel government, which we must assume is mostly for military
hardware. However, the sums although large ($500 million plus) are not seen as
a game changer for the rebel army which lacks not just arms but discipline and
strategic thinking. The rebel army has been compared with trying to heard a
litter of cats. It is a half-hearted attempt, signalling to the rebels, yes we
are behind you but we can’t be seen to be completely fighting your war for you.
The rebels under Mahmoud Jibril were reportedly less than happy with
the amounts of funding pledged. (Financial Times 3rd May). The funds may have been more a signal to Gaddafi
that the West was in this for the long run, hoping that this gesture of money
to the rebels will add pressure to the Gaddafi regime.
If the rebels were armed and successful what retribution would follow on the tribes associated with Gaddafi? Would we not be replacing one regime with another equally aggressive and vengeful? Is this not as much a threat to innocent people as Gadaffi’s pledge to go house to house?It is time for the UN Security Council to take back control over the deadlock in the Libya crisis with Russia and China coming back on board. The Arab League also needs to be working in unison with the UN Security Council and must not be side-lined. Enforcing the no fly zone or to be more precise the “NATO fly zone” increases the bloodshed, prolongs the war and has far wider implications for peace and security in the Middle East and beyond.
UK and France needs to put the same energy into pushing for peace negotiations as they have done for getting the no fly Resolution passed. If this is taken away from them, for example by the US or pressure from the EU, China and Russia, the UK and France and the credibility of NATO will be severely tarnished, frankly we the British will look like complete idiots, seen by the international community as not being able to “run the show” without the US leading it.
This needs to be made crystal clear to
the rebels. The Libya issue would then be pushed back to the UN Security
Council with the aim of opening up a framework for talks between Gaddafi’s
regime and the rebels.
The only perquisite in order for the West to save face after all that has been said about Gaddafi and for a realistic chance to get all sides round the negotiating table is for Gaddafi and his family not to be involved in negotiations. Gaddafi would need to leave office and become a private citizen, a huge ask I know but the alternative is not worth thinking about. Gaddafi needs to be approached by mediators with this plan. I am trying to think through a solution that would end the bloodshed and begin a process of dialogue. This is realpolitik; it is not a time to get emotional, or aggressive, or pander to some vague romanticized vision of revolutionary conflict as many journalists cannot resist doing, it is a time to get practical and to put diplomacy back in the driving seat.
Assuming the ceasefire holds UN Peacekeepers may need to be deployed to establish a buffer zone between the rebels and Gaddafi forces with a significant presence of Arab League and African Union forces in place. Overall command must be a joint effort between UN and the Arab League Security Councils. This has three purposes. 1. It prevents a further outbreak of violence, 2 it allows humanitarian aid to get through to the most affected areas.3. It makes it a truly international effort.
Unless a joint governing Body can be agreed with both warring factions having an equal place in government and a joint leadership proposal without Gaddafi or his family in place, breaking up Libya may well be the only sustainable answer to long term peace and stability. Like Yugoslavia, Libya has always had strained relations amongst its different peoples (amounting to 850 different tribes) and of course it hasn’t always been a single nation. The break-up of Yugoslavia and the peace settlement drawn up under the Dayton Agreement has to date been a success and a model that could be followed.
Shashank Joshi who is an Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a defence think-tank in London said (BBC 1st May):,”One of the greatest mistakes of the Iraq war was assuming that, with the departure of Saddam Hussein, the state apparatus could simply be transferred to new ownership. Gaddafi’s death could see Saif al-Islam Gaddafi take the reins, galvanise supporters, and continue the war with equal intensity”.
The question of what to do with Gaddafi should be answered by all the Libyan people and should not be forced upon it by outside nations, however noble that may seem. The question will be, does he face a trial or will he be allowed to live as a private citizen in Libya. Although a question for tomorrow it is one that Gaddafi will want answered before he steps aside.
NATO attacks on Gaddafi forces to halt as long as Gaddafi respects ceasefire
Ceasefire must be respected by rebel forces
Mediators sent to Tripoli to discuss with Col. Gaddafi his future
UN to take back control of crisis and establish a framework for a peaceful settlement
Primary aim to keep Libya unified with a joint governing body
Possible break up of Libya if joint governing body not feasible
I have tried to argue in this paper that we need to halt the bombing campaign, a campaign that I believe should have ended in Benghazi. I accept that all sides have now gone too far for Col. Gaddafi or any member of his family to take part in negotiations. However, I would not dismiss those in his regime that hold power, after all up until 3 months ago Mahmoud Jibril who is the interim prime minister of the NCT was a minister under Gaddafi for the National Economic Development Board. Al-Hasidi the rebel commander admitted in a recent newspaper article that he had recruited around 25 men from Libya to fight against coalition troops in Iraq. The million dollar question is whether Gaddafi can be persuaded to stand down. This may prove too much for him. If he thinks he will face criminal charges in Libya or indeed in the international courts he has nothing to lose. Then all we can hope for is that he is ousted by his own people, something the West was hoping for from day one. Sadly it seems our leaders have learnt little from history. When did a dictator ever give up power due to the threat of force?
So if Gaddafi cannot be persuaded to leave then the West will have little option but to continue its campaign, there simply isn’t a plan B. To pull out would be so humiliating for NATO and Western Governments that I do not think we would recover any sense of international respect or authority in the world. Unfortunately this has gone far beyond the needs and wants of the Libyan people; the thousands of refugees at the borders or indeed the interests of the oil companies. This is now about the international political influence of the West. Who will blink first is the name of the game.
So tragically fighting may be the only option, but at least if we stop the bombing now, bring about a ceasefire on both sides, mediate with Gaddafi and try and begin negotiations, then we can say with some justification we have done all that we can to avert further bloodshed and turmoil.
As I said earlier, war should always be an action of last resort. A sign of a strong, Just and powerful nation is one that holds back from using ultimate force, not because it isn’t able to, but because it chooses not to. This is real power. On the wider picture we will never gain the respect of the Arab world or the vast majority of Muslims if we conduct our diplomacy from 10,000 feet or by firing missiles from the decks of a US aircraft carrier to unseat despots that are no longer in favour. Ultimately real change can only come about from the will of people within a country, not from outside military intervention. This must be the lesson we take away from the Libyan crisis.
Note from the author
I have taken great care to quote sources correctly. Any corrections required please let me know. I am not a professional journalist and am writing this from a keen interest in international affairs and not for financial gain.