Phyllis Bennis: UN Declaration Goes Beyond a "No Fly Zone" in Libya
Source Dave Anderson
Date 11/03/20/08:50

from the Institute for Policy Studies
UN Declares War on Libya
By Phyllis Bennis
UN resolution goes far beyond no-fly zone to allow all necessary
measures against Qaddafi.

Libya's opposition movement faces a ruthless military assault. They
have already paid a far higher price in lost and broken lives than
activists in any of the other democratic uprisings shaping this year’s
Arab Spring. They are desperate. So it is not surprising that they
have urged, demanded, pleaded for international support from the
powerful countries and institutions most able to provide immediate
military aid, even if it threatens their independence. Yesterday the
UN Security Council gave them what they asked for.

Or did it? The legitimacy of the Libyan protesters' demand does not
mean that the decision by the United Nations and the powerful
countries behind it was legitimate as well. The Libyan opposition, or
at least those speaking for it, asked for a no-fly zone, for
protection from the Qaddafi regime's air force, to allow them to take
on and defeat their dictatorship on their own terms. Many of us
opposed that idea, for a host of reasons including the dangers of
escalation and the threat of a new U.S. war in the Middle East. But
whatever one thinks about that demand, the Security Council resolution
went far beyond a no-fly zone. Instead, the United Nations has
essentially declared war on Libya.

[Note: Friday morning EDT, Libyan Foreign Minister Mousa Kusa
announced a ceasefire. Early reports have not shown any change on the
ground, and the ceasefire claim focused on preventing the division of
the country rather than protecting civilians. But serious or not, the
ceasefire claim should be tested, and answered with an immediate halt
in U.S.-European-NATO war preparations. New diplomatic efforts should
be launched under the auspices of regional governments and
organizations, aimed at ending the Qaddafi regime's brutal control and
establishing real democracy in Libya. Answering a ceasefire
declaration, even if not yet implemented, with a military escalation
is the opposite of what is needed. What we need is both negotiations
and accountability – not greater militarization.]

Protecting Civilians or Ousting Qaddafi?

While the UN resolution was taken in the name of protecting civilians,
it authorizes a level of direct U.S., British, French, NATO and other
international military intervention far beyond the “no-fly zone but no
foreign intervention” that the rebels wanted. Its real goal, evident
in the speeches that followed the Security Council’s March 17th
evening vote, is to ensure that “Qaddafi must go” — as so many
ambassadors described it. Resolution 1973 is about regime change, to
be carried by the Pentagon and NATO with Arab League approval, instead
of by home-grown Libyan opposition.

The resolution calls for a no-fly zone, as well as taking “all
necessary measures… to protect civilian populated areas under threat
of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while
excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan
territory.” The phrase “all necessary measures” is understood to
include air strikes, ground, and naval strikes to supplement the call
for a no-fly zone designed to keep Qaddafi’s air force out of the
skies. The U.S. took credit for the escalation in military authority,
with Ambassador Susan Rice as well as other Obama administration
officials claiming their earlier hesitation on supporting the UN
resolution was based on an understanding of the limitations of a
no-fly zone in providing real protection to [in this case Libyan]
civilians. It’s widely understood that a no-fly zone is most often the
first step towards broader military engagement, so adding the UN
license for unlimited military escalation was crucial to getting the
U.S. on board. The “all necessary measures” language also appears to
be the primary reason five Security Council members abstained on the
resolution. For Russia, China, Germany, India and Brazil, that phrase
meant giving the Pentagon and NATO a blank check backed by UN
legitimacy. Unfortunately, their unease was not strong enough to
result in opposition to the resolution; the collective abstention of
the five still allowed the resolution to pass with a ten-zero vote in

Some supporters of the resolution (which sadly included South Africa)
insisted on explicitly excluding a “foreign occupation force.” But in
the real world, that prohibition means little. Any U.S., British, or
French troops arriving in Libya could easily be disguised as an
“assistance team” or “training mission” or any of a host of well-honed
diplomatic pseudonyms for what would otherwise be easily identified as
foreign occupation forces. The language was designed to assuage
regional and international concerns that the UN resolution threatened
to turn the Libyan opposition’s struggle into a third US-NATO war in
the Middle East.

But in fact the UN resolution threatens exactly that. The resolution’s
focus on immediate military engagement on behalf of the rebels
(exactly what led to a deafening celebration in opposition-held
Benghazi when the vote was announced) threatens to sideline the
referral of the Qaddafi regime’s crimes to the International Criminal
Court and other potential pressure points, in favor of escalating the
militarization of the entire region and internationalizing the
military battle. Imposition of a no-fly zone will not have any impact
on the regime’s tank and artillery assaults currently underway, but it
is likely to be the first international engagement. That means the
first U.S. (or French or British, both of which are rumored to be
trying to out-run the Pentagon as first to engage in Libya) military
action will likely be bombing Libyan air defenses. If one of those
U.S. or British or French planes is shot down, leading to a NATO pilot
or bomber team ending up in Qaddafi’s custody, it’s a pretty good bet
that special forces or other ground troops would quickly be deployed
to rescue the captured airmen. Under those circumstances, the claim so
often heard that this resolution “allows everything except boots on
the ground,” will be quickly proven untrue. U.S. or other NATO boots
on the ground may yet be in store for Libya.

Dangers: dividing Libya, military stalemate, or…?

There is a significant danger that the engagement of international
military forces in what is shaping up as a civil war in Libya could
result in a longer-term stalemate, perhaps based on the division of
the country between the regime-controlled western sector, and the
rebel-held east. In fact, the text of the UN resolution seems to
anticipate the likelihood that international military involvement will
go on for a long time. It calls on governments participating in the
military attacks in Libya to keep the UN secretary-general informed of
their actions, and asks the SG to “report to the Council within 7 days
and every month thereafter” on implementation of the resolution. That
is not how you describe a short-term effort to help end an urgent

There continues to be breathtaking hypocrisy from the U.S. and its
allies in responding to the disparate Arab movements. The U.S.
demanded not only that the Arab League endorse any authorization to
use force in Libya, but also that Arab countries agree to actually
participate in any UN-authorized or NATO-led military action.
Apparently at least two governments from Arab Gulf states have agreed.
Qatar is one of them. The other likely one is United Arab Emirates,
who along with Saudi Arabia, just sent hundreds of troops into
democracy-shaken Bahrain, to help the king there keep his monarchy’s
hold on absolute power. The U.S., fearful of losing Bahrain’s
strategic port as home for the Navy’s Fifth Fleet, has yet to condemn
the foreign troops imported to Bahrain to suppress the democracy
protesters. So far, the Obama administration’s only response to the
soldiers pouring into Bahrain has been to urge the heavily armed
foreign troops to support dialogue between the Bahraini people and
their discredited king.

Learning from history

Thirty years ago the U.S. decision to arm and strengthen Saddam
Hussein’s weaker Iraqi side against the stronger Iranian side kept the
Iran-Iraq War going, U.S. war profiteers wealthy, and young Iranians
and Iraqis dying, far longer than might otherwise have been the case.
Soon after, the U.S. bribed and threatened Security Council members to
get most of them to endorse a U.S. war against Iraq. Then in 1991
George Bush used a false humanitarian claim to justify imposing a
“U.S.-UK only” no-fly zone in already war-ravaged Iraq, without even
bothering going to the UN..

Today is not quite 1991, and Libya is not quite Iraq. The decision
made in the Security Council yesterday may not lead to a third U.S.
war in the Middle East. It may not even lead to a long military
stalemate or a permanent division of Libyan territory. But the new
resolution brings all those dangers closer.

The Libyan opposition, or at least much of it, has made a legitimate
demand for international support; for all the right humanitarian
reasons, many people in many parts of the world have supported their
right to some kind of support. Governments, however, are not people,
and do not make strategic decisions for humanitarian reasons.
Governments do not use scarce resources and most especially do not
deploy military force, to achieve humanitarian goals. So the cold
strategic calculations of powerful governments cannot be viewed as a
legitimate response to the humanitarian needs of Libya’s people or the
humanitarian impulses of international civil society.

The Libyan opposition faced – and faces – a brutal regime willing to
risk international opprobrium to escalate military force against its
population. One wishes that there was a global, civil society-based
protection force, perhaps modeled on the International Brigades of the
Spanish Civil War, capable of responding and providing serious
protection to civilians facing such an assault. But such a force does
not yet exist. One might wish that regional neighbors such as Tunisia
and especially Egypt, where new governments struggle to gain and keep
the support of their newly empowered populations, were willing and
able to provide sufficient military assistance to Libya’s democratic
forces, putting their military power, now at least partly under
popular control, at the disposal of the regional democratic movement
rising across the Arab world.

There may be new, not yet thought of ways of providing real solidarity
to desperate movements, that do not threaten the authenticity and
independence of the Libyan – and other – branches of these expanding
Arab democratic revolutions. But yesterday’s UN resolution is not the
way. The UN Charter calls for ending the scourge of war, not
globalizing it.

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