The Agony of Libya: What Can Be Done (II)

In my last article I had promised to elaborate upon my understanding of the position that the two permanent members of the UN Security Council had taken on resolution 1973 which sanctioned the imposition of the No-Fly zone over Libya and the taking of other action to protect civilians. Para 4 of the operative part of the resolution, which was adopted on 17th March, says “to take all necessary measures, 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…” Para 5 requests the Member States of the League of Arab States to cooperate with other Member States in the implementation of paragraph 4. Para 6 “Decides to establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians…” while subsequent paragraphs seek to exclude humanitarian flights from the ban and enlist the assistance of all states including the members of the League of Arab States for implementing the No-Fly zone.

This resolution was adopted by a 10-0 vote with India, Germany and Brazil joining China and Russia in abstaining from the vote. A vote against by the three non-permanent members would have made little difference to the adoption of the resolution but it was the Chinese and the Russians, both permanent members with veto powers, whose negative vote would have spelt the doom of the resolution. It is my understanding that both were inclined to vote against given their well-known position on interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. They were persuaded to do so by the addition of the phrase “excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”. This addressed at least in part their fear that using the protection of civilians as a pretext the western powers who were to be responsible for the no-fly zone would end up occupying the country and exploiting Libya’s rich natural resources for their own benefit.

There were however other reasons also. Like the other members of the Security Council they feared that unless he was stopped Gaddafi would, as he had threatened, treat the rebels like “rats that had to be exterminated”. Another factor that weighed heavily with these two as it did with the other members of the Security was the vote of the League of Arab States calling for the imposition of the no-fly zone. In the face of a regional consensus in an area where a new revolution or call for change was occurring almost daily both must have felt that they could not risk the alienation of the powers in the region.

Both China and Russia made it clear, one in relatively mild terms and the other more stridently that they were against the use of force in Libya as soon as the military action started. A Chinese foreign office spokesperson said on the day after the first air strikes in Libya that China “regrets the military strike against Libya and that as always “China does not agree with the use of force in international relations”. Since then the Chinese have studiously avoided any public comment at the official level. However the media has been less reticent. In a commentary on the 20th April, the English language “China Daily” said that “the situation is turning into a humanitarian disaster with far reaching consequences” and concluded with the gloomy prediction that, “The West’s deepening involvement, combined with the complex relations between countries in the region and tribal and religious conflicts and grievances, will further complicate the situation and make it even harder to find peace in the region”.

In Russia Prime Minster Putin was far blunter…Immediately after the passage of the resolution on which Russia had abstained he said that “The Security Council resolution is deficient and flawed; it allows everything and is reminiscent of a medieval call for a crusade,” More recently Putin again spoke on the subject in Copenhagen and after pointing out that “Libya has the biggest oil resources in Africa and the fourth largest gas resources,” asked isn’t this the main object of interest to those operating there.”

President Medvedev however defended the decision to abstain and later, when it seemed that there was a stalemate on the ground went further saying, on 12th April, that, “Whatever is said it [the situation] was not invented by other countries, it was not even invented by participants of this operation, it is a reflection of internal contradictions in Libya, and these contradictions were created by the existing regime”,

While there are observers both in Russia and elsewhere who believe that this seeming contradiction is part of an internal power struggle it seems to me that this is an exaggeration. President Medvedev has a role to play in maintaining a particular relationship with the West while Prime Minister Putin has a domestic audience in mind. It should be borne in mind that having called it a call for a crusade Putin said that this justified Russia’s decision to increase its defenses.

There is no doubt however that while Russia wants the West to know that it is watching the situation carefully it is also not going to let itself be counted as being on Gaddafi’s side. Foreign Minister Lavrov made it clear to the Libyan Prime Minister when he telephoned on 24th April to seek Russian assistance that the first step towards getting a political solution was “to unconditionally comply with the respective decisions by the UN Security Council and ensure an immediate seizure of fire, first of all, strikes against Misrata and other populated area,”

Lavrov has also stated more recently, during a visit to Abkhazia that Russia will not back a new UN resolution on Libya if it implies the continued use of force. The point of course is that the Western powers are not going to bring a new resolution to the UN Security Council but will continue to use their own interpretation of the “all necessary means’ phrase in resolution 1973 to dispatch “military advisers” – this has already been done or to supply lethal weapons instead of just $25 million worth of flak jackets that President Obama has authorized.

If the military stalemate continues, as it is bound to given the rebel lack of capacity, one can be almost certain that arms supplies will also be made to the rebels and heightened but unsuccessful efforts will be made to try and block Gaddafi’s access to arms dealers who would be anxious to make money out of replenishing Gaddafi’s depleted arsenal.

The UN Security Council President has issued yet another call on behalf of the Council for an immediate and verifiable ceasefire but he had to acknowledge that the UN Secretary General’s envoy, Abdelilah-Al-Khatib had not been able to meet Gaddafi during his visit to Libya. This seemed to indicate that Gaddafi at least was not interested in pursuing the sort of ceasefire that the UN wanted.

On another front the American State Department made it clear that there had been no progress, or perhaps even an effort to find a country that would be prepared to offer Gaddafi asylum if he chose to leave Libya.

It seems that the war in Libya will continue to rage. Libyan lives will continue to be lost and its properties destroyed. On the other hand the West and the UN is treading warily in terms of the Yemen situation where Saleh will leave office honourably after 30 days and will get exemption from prosecution. In Syria where the death toll has mounted there is even less of an international or regional effort.

What this does to the “responsibility to protect doctrine” will be the subject of my next article.

Source: Strategic Culture Foundation

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