The United Nations Security Council has finally approved a no-fly zone over Libya after a lengthy debate on the subject. The resolution was passed with five abstentions, from Russia, China, Germany, India and Brazil. To those of us calling for such a measure in the past few weeks, this announcement comes as a very welcome show of support for the rebels struggling against Colonel Gaddafi’s regime and renews hope that the rebels will not be defeated in their struggle. It may prove too little too late, and the member states who have agreed to participate in enforcing the No Fly Zone must act immediately to halt the advance of Gaddafi’s forces on Benghazi and to relieve the siege of Misurata.
Resolution 1973 makes a clear and unambiguous condemnation of Gaddafi’s recent actions in its lengthy preamble:
“Condemning the gross and systematic violation of human rights, including arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, torture and summary executions…”
It states that “the widespread and systematic attacks currently taking place in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya against the civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity.”
It makes special note of the prior condemnations of the League of Arab States, the African Union and the Secretary General of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference against Gaddafi’s serious human rights violations. It references the decision by the Council of the League of Arab States to call for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya, and to establish safe areas “in places exposed to shelling,” and deplores Gaddafi’s use of foreign mercenaries. The resolution calls for an immediate ceasefire.
The most strident, and no doubt, ultimately, most contentious passage of the resolution lies in Paragraph 4, regarding the protection of civilians. The resolution “Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures (my italics), notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and 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, and requests the Member States concerned to inform the Secretary-General immediately of the measures they take pursuant to the authorization conferred by this paragraph which shall be immediately reported to the Security Council.”
Consider this in combination with the resolution’s expressed desire to establish safe areas protecting civilians “in places exposed to shelling” and there can only be one conclusion. UN Security Council Resolution 1973, in effect, authorises the participating member states to enforce a no-drive zone upon Gaddafi’s military forces. It effectively authorizes attacks not merely against Gaddafi’s air force, but also against any heavy weapons, including tanks, artillery and mobile artillery, which approach within firing distance of rebel-held areas.
The strong nature of the resolution is in part due to a very recent hardening of American lines on this matter. The U.S. Secretary of State called the decision by the Arab League to call for a no-fly zone a “game changer.” On Thursday, in Tunisia, Clinton stated:
“We want to support the opposition who are standing against the dictator. This is a man who has no conscience and will threaten anyone in his way.”
The response of Colonel Gaddafi’s was, to say the least, typical.
“If the world is crazy, we will be crazy too,” he said. “Any foreign military act against Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea to danger and civilian and military facilities will become targets of Libya’s counterattack. The Mediterranean basin will face danger not just in the short term, but also in the long term.”
Colonel Gaddafi’s threats are unlikely to do him any favours, and, if anything, will only confirm in the minds of those now pitted against him, that his regime must be shut down.
Meanwhile, in the Twitterverse, the debate continues between those concerned for the consequences of western military intervention and those who feel any measures must now be taken to prevent the defeat of the rebel forces and the capture of Benghazi. The vast majority of tweets, however, express support for the United Nations resolution.
@ShababLibya, a popular voice with over 28000 followers representing the “Libyan Youth Movement”, a loose coalition of people inside and outside of Libya, on hearing of the resolution tweeted: “LONG LIVE FREE LIBYA SOON GOD WILLING”
Other commentators have raised concerns about the spectre of western imperialism and the intentions of France and Italy in the aftermath of the intervention. There are also concerns for further damage to Libya’s infrastructure or threats to civilians from western attacks, yet these are dwarfed by the desire to see action taken against Gaddafi’s forces.
The question now is, how soon can the no-fly zone be implemented and will it actually work? Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, emphasised the need to act as soon as possible. “We want to stop the attacks by the Gaddafi regime against civilian populations. And it’s a question of days or hours because the pressure against Benghazi, especially, is now very tough.” Italy has already opened its air force and naval bases in Sicily for operations against Libya. This is the most likely place from which to enforce the no-fly zone. Bloomberg reports that Egypt has already started to supply small arms to the rebel fighters.
Still, the situation is desperate for the rebels, though the exact nature of the situation, tactically, is difficult to determine. There are rumours of fighting still taking place in Ajdabiya, of skirmishes thirty miles beyond on the road to Benghazi, of a concerted advance against Benghazi by Gaddafi’s forces. There have also been rumours of fresh protests in Zawiya, the western city recently recaptured by Gaddafi’s forces. It is difficult to be certain exactly how quickly Gaddafi can move on Benghazi, with how much force and how effective any assault from his forces might prove to be. On hearing of the resolution he immediately made clear his intention of taking Benghazi within 48 hours. He claimed he would show “no mercy” in assaulting the city. “The matter has been decided … we are coming,” he stated in a radio broadcast on Thursday. Again he resorted to his earlier rhetoric calling the rebels “rats” and “gangsters” and urged Benghazi residents to “go out and cleanse the city of Benghazi.”
“We will track them down,” said Gaddafi, “and search for them, alley by alley, road by road … Massive waves of people will be crawling out to rescue the people of Benghazi, who are calling out for help, asking us to rescue them. We should come to their rescue.”
The residents of Benghazi, along with other rebel-held areas, have not been receptive to Gaddafi’s message. Their celebrations in the wake of the announcement of the United Nations resolution have been ecstatic to say the least. Their morale and likely their determination to repel any attack on their city should improve significantly now they know they will receive assistance, indeed, now that they have already begun to receive assistance.
The no-fly zone must be implemented immediately, and it must be implemented in a most robust manner. To prevent further civilian deaths, it will be necessary to knock out Gaddafi’s hardware, not just stop his planes from flying. The effectiveness of airstrikes has been proven in the past, though they alone have rarely been sufficient. The world has lost its patience with Gaddafi, has expressed the legitimacy of the rebels who seek a democratic process in their country and an end to dictatorship. They must now put their money where their mouth is and make this possible. We can only hope that robust action now will give pause to those units of the Libyan army still fighting for Colonel Gaddafi and encourage their defection. The game has changed again, only now Gaddafi finds himself pitted against forces far superior to his own. Allowing him to win is unthinkable. The world must take, as stated in the resolution, ALL MEASURES NECESSARY.
Here is the full text of the resolution, courtesy of The Guardian: