Jacob's Opinion


Libya on My Mind

Posted by Jacob Jacob on March 11, 2011 at 12:23 PM

While the EU, the UN and the US are wondering what to do with Libya, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is digging in. He's taken back the key town of Zawiyah and pushing relentlessly to take back the oil town Ras Lanuf. The EU in its meeting on Friday in Brussels seemed to be unable to reach a common position on the imposition of no-fly zone in Libya. If Gaddafi is determined to use violence against Libyans, there is nothing much a no-fly zone can do to stop him. A no-fly zone as a stand-alone intervention mechanism under the current circumstance may not be robust enough to solve the crises. Former head of British armed forces Baron Richard Dannatt has called for caution and warned that a no fly zone is not the answer. Indeed, historically, no-fly zones never really work – they are more of political than military statements. A no fly zone over Iraq did not prevent Saddam Hussein's ruthless persecution of those he considered to be his political enemies. On its own, Operation Sky-Monitor never really worked in Bosnia-Herzegovina until a more robust mandate enabled a full deny-flight operation and protective air support for the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in the course of its mandate. Doubtless, both cases – Iraq and Bosnia-Herzegovina are totally different from Libya. The majority of Libyans and indeed, the international community want to see the back of Gaddafi and it is difficult to see how a no fly zone would cause that to happen! To topple the Gaddafi regime, a full military intervention is required. But is the West ready to commit to what might be a long drawn out war in Libya - at the front door of Europe? Besides, what would be the human and material costs of such intervention? I'm not convinced that Libyans, even protesting Libyans, would come out and receive Western 'liberators' with kisses and bouquets of flowers. Lessons from Iraq are still fresh on the mind. As a way out, Crisis Group International has argued for a comprehensive ceasefire and negotiations to secure a post-Gaddafi regime. Negotiations with Gaddafi would no doubt be long-drawn and potentially problematic. Moreover it would be such an about-face both from the Libyan rebels and from an international community that has been ‘loose-talking’ about military options ever since the crises started. At the moment, Gaddafi's forces are having the upper hand and they would likely see calls for negotiations as an indication of a stand down by their Libyan political enemies and the West. He will no doubt see an opportunity for grand-standing. Further compounding the situation is that France, against every reason, has recognised the Libyan rebels, the National Libyan Council, as the legitimate government in Libya. In as much as it is useful to encourage the Libyan rebels I think it is premature and even perilous to recognise them at this moment as the legitimate government in Libya.


The situation has become even more complicated with the earthquake and Tsunami that have devastated Japan. The attention of the international community and the international media will now shift from Libya. While we all commiserate with the Japanese, Gaddafi and his sons will be pushing as far as they can go into the east to take back as much control as possible. They may take back Ras Lanuf but I don't see them taking back Benghazi. The international community should be prepared for a divided Libya. Gaddafi will keep control of the West and the rebels will control the east. And it may remain that way for a quite a while The solution will ultimately lie with the UN. A buffer zone may need to be created to keep both sides apart. The major trouble would be with deciding who controls Libya's oil and gas resources. The negotiation table at this point, would be a good opportunity for the political intervention Libya needs.

Categories: Conflicts, Africa, Asymmetric Warfare, COIN

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