UN Security Council strikes again – Libya declared a no-fly zone

March 18, 2011

The subject of much debate, it has been has encouraged, dismissed, declared unrealistic and even dangerous but Security Council Resolution 1973 has made it official, Libyan airspace is officially a no-fly zone. Although lacking the unanimity of Resolution 1970, referring Gaddafi to the International Criminal Court, with ten votes for its imposition and with five members abstaining (Brazil, China, Germany, India and Russia) but with no vetoes, the international community is serious about putting a stop to Gaddafi’s reign of terror. Even more interesting, and commendable,  is that all three African members (Gabon, Nigeria and South Africa) voted in favour of the resolution. All in all, a bold move indeed, but is it the right one and has the Security Council set itself a precedent that can meet the intervention needs of others in other volatile situations occuring around the world?

The Resolution is the easy part, making it happen is going to be difficult. A no-fly zone is not simply a matter of announcing that Libyan air space is now closed, it requires enforcement. A no-fly zone is a military operation. It requires constant aerial surveillance, with planes in the air at all times. At the same time anti-aircraft weapons on the ground will have to be “disabled” and aircraft enforcing the no-fly zone may encounter resistance from the Libyan air force. Gaddafi has demonstrated himself to be unrelenting and the fear is that he will stop at nothing to regain control Libya; including countering the no-fly zone in the same way he has silenced those who oppose him – guns, fighter jets and tanks. It is a very real possibility that the no-fly zone may exacerbate the situation with Libya declaring that it will retaliate. This move places the international community on a very a slippery slope, with full military intervention and the deployment of ground troops a very real possibility. One only has to cast our minds back to no-fly zones imposed over Bosnia and Iraq; does the world want a repeat of these?

The Security Council’s rapid response to Libya also  raises the  more general question whether it will respond to all situations in the same way it has respondend to Libya. Kenneth Roth  in a piece in Foreign Policy asks the very appropriate question whether the world belongs in Libya’s war.  He notes that:

“The challenge now is not only to translate this remarkable Security Council consensus into effective protection for Libyans. It is to extend the human rights principles embraced for Libya to other people in need. The atrocities unfolding in the Ivory Coast demand just as much attention. Other people of the Middle East and North Africa are seeing their hopes for democracy quashed by authoritarian leaders. The people of Burma and Sri Lanka have endured massive war crimes with no justice. Can the Security Council respond to their plight as well? Can it begin to recognize that a leader’s atrocities against his own people are a global concern, not an internal affair? No one believes these steps will be easy, but the task before us is to translate the Security Council’s principled reaction to Libya into a broader doctrine of genuine protection for people facing mass atrocities.”

Only time will tell how successful the imposition of a no-fly zone is going to be. I fear that it is a very real possibility that it may just do more harm than good. Gaddafi is perfectly capable of a fight to the death. But then again, what other options are there?


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