The announcement by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) that it is to enforce the United Nations no-fly zone over Libya confirms the extent of confusion over western policy on Libya. The alliance's Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, says it will command only the no-fly zone, and admits that there will be two operations, one run by NATO and the other, comprising the arms embargo and air strikes — which Turkey says go beyond the United Nations resolution on intervention — by a “coalition.” There may be yet more squabbling to come, not least because the decision on the transfer of command was preceded by a week of angry disputes among NATO's 28 members. Turkey, in particular, objects strongly to what it sees as French plans to control the scope and nature of the current U.N.-backed action. It has also accused President Nicolas Sarkozy of using the confrontation with Tripoli as a launching pad for his own re-election campaign.

Such issues, however, only form a subset of wider problems. One of those is domestic public support. In the United Kingdom, backing — usually high at the start of such military adventurism — is 45 per cent, with 35 per cent against; that is even worse than the 53-39 per cent reported when the illegal 2003 Iraq invasion began. In the United States, 74 per cent favour multilateral action to protect Libyans against their current dictatorship; but 79 per cent express concern over the continuing violence in Libya. In North Africa and West Asia, public feeling against the intervention is hardening rapidly, not least because of French Interior Minister Claude Guéant's foolish comment that his country was leading a “crusade” to stop President Muammar Qadhafi killing fellow-Libyans. Secondly, President Obama, whose administration refuses to call the Libya mission a war, is under pressure to explain the policy and to specify an exit strategy. His attempt to transfer command to NATO and his European allies will achieve neither; the U.S. will remain the major participant, but involving NATO will reduce the accountability of the warmongers to their electorates. The absence of clear aims, furthermore, heightens the risk of an open-ended conflict, into which the foreign participants will almost certainly be drawn more and more deeply — with the additional risk that the main aim becomes regime change and not civilian protection. In view of the vagueness of the U.N. Security Council resolution on the no-fly zone, it is regrettable that Russia and China abstained instead of vetoing the resolution that has enabled this military aggression and expanding war in an already tormented region.


Saving civilians: murky geopoliticsApril 6, 2011

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