Libya: Withdrawal of United Nations staff is not the answer – argues Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

UN Security Council in session/UN Photo. Paulo Filgueiras
The United Nations has decided to pull its international staff from Tripoli (Libya) to avert any physical attacks on them. The UN’s decision followed the vandalizing of its mission in Tripoli following the latest military operation by NATO that killed Gaddafi’s 29 year-old student-son, Saif al-Arab Gaddafi and three of his grandchildren yesterday.

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Angry mobs of Libyan civilians responded aggressively to this dastardly and murderous act by NATO, venting their spleen on the UN and missions of the main architects of NATO (Britain, Italy, France, and the United States). As reported, the mobs set ablaze the British Embassy and took the law into their own hands, as the Libyan government explained the situation. In retaliation, Britain has expelled the Libyan Ambassador while vehemently condemning what it called aggression against a diplomatic mission, which violates international norms.

This latest development is exactly what some of us have been wary of ever since the International Coalition was formed with the express mission to protect civilians but which it has exceeded by its devastation of Libyan installations in an effort to enforce the UN Security Council’s mandate of “no-fly zone” and the protection of civilians. From what the International Coalition has done so far, there is no doubt that it is the main force that is worsening the problem in Libya while portraying itself as the solution to that very problem.
Beginning from the indiscriminate bombing of buildings and military installations perceived as “facilities of command and control” that Gaddafi was using to sustain the battle against the rebels, NATO turned attention to the battlefield by destroying military hardware and personnel through bombing missions in areas such as Bregga, Ajdabiya, and Misrata. Even in areas that were not seeing any fighting between the rebels and the pro-Gaddafi forces such as Sirte and Tripoli, NATO carried out thousands of sorties and launched Tomahawk missiles to destroy property and lives.

Not satisfied with merely destroying between 30% and 40% of the Libyan military capabilities (erroneously portrayed as Gaddafi’s), NATO has gone further to clear the path for the rebels as it physically targets the pro-Gaddafi forces on the battlefield and eliminates them. Then, the partners in the International Coalition have also stepped up their material and financial support for the Benghazi-based rebels while lending credibility to the Transitional National Council by recognizing it as the legitimate representatives of the “Libyan people” and going ahead to give it the military training as well as technical intelligence support that it needs to prolong the insurgency.

Still not happy that the Gaddafi government hasn’t yet collapsed—contrary to their expectation and buoyed up the defection of Moussa Koussa to attempt using propaganda to incite other members of the Gaddafi government to no avail—NATO has entered a different phase of its war game in Libya.
This time, it is not just the creation of panic and fear among the Libyan people in areas still under Gaddafi’s control but a direct bombing raid with the express objective to kill Gaddafi and his family or government members. It is this latest act in desperation that has set the stage for the crisis to worsen.

Twice in a week, NATO has bombed installations in which the Libyan leader has been. It was first at the Libyan national television and then in the residential villa on the vast the Bab al-Azizya compound, which killed his youngest son and three grandchildren—and which sparked the spontaneous mob action against the UN and those countries.
As Christian Fraser (the BBC’s news reporter in Tripoli) put it, “As the reported death of Saif al-Arab Gaddafi spread around the city, there were angry demonstrations, seemingly more spontaneous than those we have witnessed so far.” This show of spontaneous anger speaks for itself to suggest that although there are obvious dissensions against Gaddafi’s rule, it is not all Libyans (or even the majority of Libyans) who hate him.

Those who love him will do all they can to protect his interests, even laying down their lives for his cause. It is these people who will be the problem that any new government that is forced on the system will contend with. These are people who will become tomorrow’s dissidents or terrorists to harm the interests of all those countries and people they are likely to blame for all that is happening today.

More consequentially, it is these very people who will not wait for any instruction from Gaddafi before taking the law into their own hands if they feel threatened by what NATO is doing in Libya. What they’ve done to the UN Mission and the embassies of member-countries of the International Coalition may be just the tip of the iceberg that is gradually surfacing. It may be just the inkling of the actions they may want to take to defend their cause. These are civilians, not soldiers to be seen as pro-Gaddafi forces visiting death and destruction on the rebels.

The UN may be quick to withdraw its international staff from Tripoli for fear of losing them as happened in Afghanistan, where it lost seven of its staff recently in the storming of a UN compound in Mazar-e Sharif. It may not want to take risks in Tripoli, hence, the decision to withdraw all its international staff.

But this action doesn’t solve the problem at all. It only scratches the surface and exposes the UN to ridicule. The real solution to the problem lies elsewhere and the UN will do the Libyan people a world of good if it returns to the conference table to annul the current Resolution 1973 and replace it with a better one to create room for a diplomatic and political solution to be found to the crisis.

The fundamental problem facing the UN is that of credibility—if not complicity in the double standards that surround the handling of global issues, particularly those that pose serious problems. There is a clear bias (if not prejudice) in the manner of handling issues, which suggests that the UN is not firm or that it cannot act on its own nor should it be expected to act impartially in resolving conflicts between disputing parties.

The UN hasn’t acquitted itself properly in handling the uprisings in the Arab World. While not being proactive enough to use diplomatic channels to handle conflicts, it has also failed to react properly to them; thus, we can tell that the UN is not only biased toward countries that appear not to be in the good books of its major financiers but also that it has become the diplomatic wing of those countries to be used to prosecute their agenda.

We can tell from its lukewarm attitude to similar uprisings in other Arab countries (especially Yemen and Syria), where the very problems for which the UN authorized the devastation of Libya’s military installations and the killing of civilians are evident. The UN cannot act on Yemen, probably because its main financier, the US, hasn’t asked it to. The UN meeting recently couldn’t even agree on a common stance to issue a resolution to state the UN’s response to the massacre going on in Syria. The question is: Why will the UN quickly authorize the International Coalition to be formed and used against Gaddafi while turning a blind eye to similar situations elsewhere?

The plain truth is that the UN is either not independent is irritatingly incompetent. It is a puppet being used by its stronger members providing it with financial and material support and using it to tyrannize the less powerful countries. The UN itself risks losing legitimacy as a peace-making institution. One would have expected it to be the first to put forward non-lethal measures to solve the Libyan crisis (or any other raging on currently). The UN hasn’t even reacted to the overtures made by other bodies to indicate that it is willing to support efforts other than the belligerent position of the International Coalition.

Considering what the African Union has already put on the table and the concessions announced by the Libyan government—which NATO and the rebels rejected because they are fixated on only the military option—there is room for better solutions to be found to the crisis than what is worsening it.

With Russia, China, and Brazil coming out strongly to condemn NATO’s excesses and to suggest that the terms of the UN Resolution 1973 are being breached with impunity, there is an expectation that something more effectual will be worked out to replace this daily military campaign of senseless devastation. The fact is that these acts of devastation have a high potential to backfire as NATO continues exceeding the terms of Resolution 1973.

If the UN fears losing its international staff and is pulling them out of Tripoli, it is because it hasn’t lived up to expectation. Ban Kim Moon is leading the UN in the wrong direction and creating credibility problems for it. He may pull out the staff from Tripoli but he can’t run away from the problem. Nor can the UN solve the humanitarian problem if NATO continues killing civilians to protect civilians in Libya!!