After many hiccups and fits-and-starts, the United Nations Security Council has adopted a resolution (Resolution 1973) that will legitimize the use of “force” against Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi and his loyalists. In New York, the 15-member body voted 10-0 in favour, with five abstentions (Russia, China, Germany, Brazil, and India). Those voting for the resolution were France, UK, Lebanon, US, South Africa, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Colombia, Portugal, Nigeria, and Gabon.
In an attempt to cripple the pro-Gaddafi forces as they intensify efforts to subdue the rebel stronghold (Benghazi), the UN Security Council has just backed a no-fly zone over Libya and “all necessary measures” short of an invasion “to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas” (BBC news reported). A rather terse resolution, this might be considered to be, which doesn’t rule out the use of military force as the UK, France, Lebanon, and the Arab League might be advocating for.
The resolution may be welcomed as a necessary means to halt the devastation going on in Libya but it will not solve the Libyan crisis nor is it likely to help the rebels achieve their objectives. Even if they do so, at what cost? At most, the resolution will further complicate the Libyan crisis and give the world more thorn, especially if the foreign military force being put together by the UK and France directly involves itself in fighting on the side of the rebels. Credibility for actions to enforce the resolution seems to be threatened already.
Of course, measures to halt the Libyan crisis have long been expected. That crisis is frightening in that it has caused a terrible humanitarian problem following the unrestrained use of heavy military arsenal by both the pro-Gaddafi forces and the rebels, which has led to the killing and displacement of human beings on a scale that is uncharacteristic of the uprisings rocking the Arab World. In this sense, then, the UN is justified in seeking to halt the mayhem; but resorting to the military option as the first stop-gap measure may not be the appropriate approach. The history of military interventions in such conflicts is too obvious to miss.
Having inserted itself into a complicated political situation in Iraq/Afghanistan and having suffered immense damage (militarily, economically, and politically—not to mention the loss of precious lives), the US must have learned its lesson not to be in the forefront of the confrontation with Libya this time round; hence, Barack Obama’s consultations with the UK and French leadership to play the frontline role. Of course, the US’s rhetoric seems to be its main arsenal this time even though its Secretary of State had already given indications that her country would give the Libyan rebels all the support they need to topple Gaddafi.
By abstaining from the voting that took place and which may detract from the legitimacy for any military or diplomatic action against Gaddafi, those members of the Security Council (Russia, China, Germany, Brazil, and India) may be giving an indirect warning to those pushing for what has now happened. It’s a veiled opposition to the action that will follow the passing of this resolution, which indicates that the UN itself isn’t unanimous in its stance over the Libyan crisis.
An affront to its reputation is evident
Here is where the doubts lie: “Germany and Brazil warned that military intervention could harm civilians more than help them. India decried the adoption of ‘far-reaching measures’ on the basis of little ‘credible’ information” (BBC news online).
If the intention to do what will cripple Gaddafi and stem his loyalists’ efforts to re-take rebel-controlled territories is overwhelmingly appealing, why should those countries abstain from voting, anyway? And how will they position themselves now that the resolution has been adopted for implementation? Or even thereafter?
The resolution (and all the desperate overt and covert solicitations for support preceding it) betrays the UN as weak and disunited. It seems that some arm-twisting has taken place to get the UN to this point. The implication is that some powerful members of the UN have pulled strings to actualize this resolution, which detracts from the UN’s credibility and will certainly displease the African Union, which has already stressed its opposition to military intervention in Libya by the West. But because the AU is itself with zero credibility—being a huge toothless bulldog that has even lost its power of barking—this resolution will definitely be implemented to leave behind more problems for the continent.
This resolution and all its entailments—coupled with any far-reaching measures that the UK and France are contemplating initiating against the Gaddafi forces “within hours”—have added a new complexion to the Libyan crisis that calls for more contemplation than celebration. This resolution and its aftermath will definitely take the Libyan conflict to a whole new worrisome level in many ways:
THE UGLINESS OF MILITARY INTERVENTION
Assuming that the military option is implemented (“within hours” as is being speculated), the conflict will intensify, not diminish. First, it is obvious that the military might of those countries will definitely be brought to bear heavily on the balance of forces that will tilt in favour of the rebels. Certainly, any military force deployed by the UK and France will not find itself on pro-Gaddafi territory (at least, immediately they enter the fracas). They will be in rebel-controlled areas and fight alongside the rebels to halt the advance of pro-Gaddafi forces. At this point, the foreign military force will incur the anger of Libyans who oppose such military intervention. Will they not switch to cause harm, after all?
Second, the military intervention will bolster the rebel front and reinforce their efforts to re-take lost grounds in the east and West. At this point, how will the foreign force be perceived? As aiding and abetting the military option to topple Gaddafi? This perception will make it difficult for any other means toward solving the Libyan crisis to be used. It means that there will be no easy peaceful resolution of the conflict unless (and until) Gaddafi’s military might is totally annihilated. How soon will we expect this neutralization to take place?
Imposing a “no-fly” zone over Libya has its frightening demands, as we have already been told by those who matter in the NATO. With this resolution, therefore, the stage seems to be set for an intensification of the crisis unless the UK and France can immediately crush Gaddafi and his loyalists to close the chapter on this sordid aspect of Libyan politics. But any optimism that Gaddafi will be neutralized soon may be just a dangerous wishful thinking.
THE PERILS OF GADDAFI’S DOGGED RESISTANCE
Gaddafi and his loyalists (indeed the entire Libyan government machinery) have remained outwardly doughty and geared themselves up to fight their cause to the hilt. They seem to be emboldened each passing day. Having already regained territories from the rebels, and having whipped up sentiments that those leading the attack on Gaddafi were militiamen hired by the West and al-Qaeda to cause mayhem, disunite Libya, and expropriate Libyans of their country’s petroleum, Gaddafi seems to be turning to Libyan nationalism/patriotism for sustenance, which will have its own impact on the conflict. As Gaddafi recently told a Euronews interviewer, those outside Libya “don’t understand the Libyan system.”
It seems the Libyan crisis has some heavy ethnic dimensions too, which takes this crisis close to a civil war. Undeniably, Benghazi has been a traditional stronghold for those who have persistently opposed Gaddafi. They don’t belong to his ethnic group, which is predominantly based in Sirte. It is not as if those Benghazi-based opponents of Gaddafi belong to one monolithic ethnic group, though. In this complicated situation woven around ethnicity and convoluted Libyan politics, where will the interventionist forces place themselves? On whose side will they fight to be accepted as problem-solvers? The UK and France may be rushing into a conflict from which they will emerge none the better. Libya may also not be left intact at the end of the day.
Assuming that the military option favours the rebels, for how long will the UK and France maintain their military presence in Libya? I foresee a long drawn-out conflict even if the rebels are assisted to regain control over lost grounds.
Other long-term concerns cannot be ignored. If the rebels succeed in regaining lost territories (with the full military might of the intereventionist force) but can’t capture Tripoli, Sirte, and other territories in the West that Gaddafi controls, Libya’s map will have to be redrawn. The country will definitely be divided and its administration made more cumbersome and Herculean than anyone in the British or French (or the United Nations) establishment might be prepared for. A divided Libya may not be the reward of all these efforts, after all.
THE MISSING AFRICAN VOICE IN THE UN’S EFFORTS
In all this fracas and search for measures to resolve it, the African Union’s stance seems not to have been factored into the actions now to be taken against Libya. The AU had earlier declared its strong resentment of a military action in Libya by the West; but with the passing of this resolution without any recourse to the AU’s stance, it seems Africa has been dealt a severe blow. Africa has been disregarded and its presence evaporated altogether, which may have its own implications as far as the search for solutions to the Libyan crisis beyond the military option is concerned.
More intriguingly, the three African countries that supported the resolution (South Africa, Nigeria, and Gabon) seem to have done so without regard for the broad AU position. So, where does Africa lie, after all when the AU itself opposes the very measures that three of its members have now supported?
The UN itself seems to be in a tight corner. Considering the numerous conflicts that the UN is saddled with all over the world, it seems that the World Body’s capacity to withstand any more pressure is being threatened. As of now, the major conflicts in the Ivory Coast and Somalia (with its attendant problem of piracy in the Indian Ocean) have stretched the UN taut. Other conflict situations bordering on humanitarian needs (in Haiti, Japan, etc.) seem to have depleted the UN of its resources. Then, as if that’s not a heavy burden to shoulder already, the UN has been pushed to this limit in taking on the Libyan conflict at the military level. The possibility of this conflict’s degenerating into new forms of “terrorism” can be inferred from the open utterances of the Libyan government officials whose views seem to give the world a peek into what Gaddafi has up his sleeves.
Just like the Libyan case, governments in other Arab states facing similar uprisings (Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, and Algeria) have unleashed the force of the Establishment to attempt quelling such uprisings. Lives have been lost in the process; but the UN or all the countries banding together against Libya have not rigorously approached the matter as they are doing in the case of Libya. Of course, the extent of devastation going on in Libya is on a bigger scale than what is reported from Yemen and Bahrain, for instance. Every sane human being should condemn such barbarity without any reservation. But the fact remains that the Libyan crisis is a peculiar one that has its own characteristics. It demands more tact to handle than what has unfolded so far.
From the very beginning when many people thought that the uprising would be a non-violent one just like those that had preceded it in Tunisia and Egypt, the situation changed overnight with the recourse to the military option by the protesters to overthrow Gaddafi. Suddenly, they ceased being protesters and became rebels wielding powerful weapons to kill pro-Gaddafi loyalists and destroying the apparatus of state. In this new twist to the uprising, Gaddafi was left with only one option—to face violence with violence. That’s what has brought Libya to where it is today.
Thus, by resorting to the military option too in a vain attempt to douse the fire, the UN seems to be bringing into the equation its own brand of violence. By this turn of events, we now have a complicated situation that will be defined by violence and prosecuted to its logical conclusion through violence. What can be more threatening than this scenario?
Yet, more needs to be considered. Convinced that the West has a premeditated agenda against him (and only making that evident by backing the rebels fighting him), Gaddafi will not budge. He will motivate his loyalists to fight to the hilt, knowing very well that victory for the rebels means death for them. This kind of belligerent spirit cannot be tamed easily. Unless a decisive end to this conflict comes easily (and soon too), let’s not put all our trust, confidence, and faith in this UN Security Council resolution.