So the old imperial powers Britain and France are the ones to take the lead in stopping Gadaffi. MOD sources are telling the BBC that they expect British forces to be in action “within days”. France has just forecast military action against Libya “within hours.” This may be a bluff -calling move to press Gadaffi to call an halt on his promised advance on Benghazi “within hours.” But whose bluff is about to be called? America’s studied refusal to take a military lead gives David Cameron a degree of political cover from critics at least in the early phase. Certainly the Lib Dems are on board this time, for a mission that has clear UN legal approval. Yet this is a mindboggling course of action for a nation that has just announced cutting its defence capability to near the point of impotence for a decade.
The UN Resolution authorises all action short of boots on the ground. That seems like an open ended commitment and does not rule out regime change. It still leaves Gadaffi with plenty of room for manoeuvre. If he obeys the UN call for a ceasefire what do we do then? . If on the other hand he storms Benghazi nobody believes a no fly zone can stop him. The logic of this situation appears to contradicts the resolution’s strict ban on “any foreign occupation on any part of Libyan territory.” The risk of mission creep is as obvious as it is unpalatable.
The idea of Egyptian troops crossing a border to the west would raise disquiet to say the least with Egypt’s neighbour to the east, Israel. Other local candidates for involvement are precisely the same Gulf States and Saudi Arabia who are either currently involved in supressing dissent or in supporting that suppression.
Leading defence analysts in the British press are very wobbly. Max Hastings in the FT accuses the US’s decision to support Anglo-French proposals for a Libyan no-fly zone as “ no more than a cynical gesture” and does not see the vital British interest to justify military intervention. Patrick Cockburn, the Independent’s great reporter of the Iraq imbroglio warns that “ the course of such a conflict is impossible to predict.”
And yet.. here we go again.
From the UN Resolution 1973 (2011) on Libya
Protection of civilians
“4. 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, 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;
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London