The Libyan Crisis: NATO’s three options are not the solution – says Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen/Photo: NATO
As the International Coalition’s involvement in the Libyan crisis crosses the 60th-day mark, some glimpses into how NATO intends to prosecute the “Gaddafi-must-go” agenda henceforth have begun emerging for us to know—and be persuaded—that the military campaign will continue indefinitely for as long as the stalemate persists and Libya’s Gaddafi remains alive and in full control of his government.
The International Coalition is confident that its military campaign is achieving good results and must be sustained.

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As Carmen Romero (the alliance spokeswoman) said at a Friday news briefing, summarizing the view of NATO ambassadors who met earlier in the week, “NATO nations and partners agree we have taken the initiative; we have the momentum,” according to a news report in The New York Times of Friday, May 20, 2011.
The Friday briefing echoed the generally upbeat conclusions contained in a confidential assessment of the operation’s first 60 days that Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard of Canada (the allied operational commander in Naples, Italy) sent to NATO political and military leaders in Brussels this week, a NATO diplomat said.

Quoting this diplomat, who had been briefed on the report, The New York Times report said that while noting the alliance’s steady progress in eroding the combat effectiveness of Gaddafi’s forces, General Bouchard also outlined three options for how NATO could continue the mission beyond the three months that allied leaders approved in March. General Bouchard made no recommendations, leaving that decision to NATO ambassadors, the diplomat said.

These three options are: (i) to maintain current NATO force levels; (ii) to maintain much lower force levels during what could be a transition to a new government (assuming Gaddafi is ousted from power); and (iii) to increase pressure on Gaddafi’s government (no details given).

We can tell from this revelation that these options have no room for any other approach except the military one, which still falls far short of the holistic solution that Libya needs to survive the ongoing insurgency without falling apart.

In an immediate move, Britain and France are to deploy attack helicopters in Libya, claiming that these helicopters can hit targets on the ground more accurately. The deployment seems to be the implementation of the first option and suggests two things: either NATO lacks ideas on where to go further to destabilize Libya or the protagonists of the Libyan campaign are frustrated that despite the persistent bombardment of the pro-Gaddafi forces, they are still on their feet. These leaders come across as grossly impatient and can’t wait anymore to allow the rebels themselves fight their battle with Gaddafi.

Steeped in this military option—and confident of making gains—NATO commanders seemed to go beyond their typically cautious statements on the conflict, saying that allied airstrikes had prevented Gaddafi’s forces from making sustained attacks on rebel fighters and had driven the Libyan leader himself into hiding, according to the news report carried by The New York Times. A NATO military spokesman, Wing Commander Mike Bracken, taunted that Gaddafi has “effectively gone into hiding.”

But we can tell that the end to the military engagement is not in sight. Sixty days after entering Libya to solve so-called humanitarian problems resulting from the fighting between the pro-Gaddafi forces and Benghazi-controlled rebels, the International Coalition can’t persuade me that it is still operating within the ambit of UN Security Resolution 1973. After its extensive destruction of Libya’s infrastructure and killing pro-Gaddafi forces and others (even where no fighting was taking place or where no humanitarian problems existed), NATO is still carrying out air strikes with devastating consequences for limb and property and paying little attention to really solving any humanitarian problem.

Although there is a lull in the fighting in Misrata and other parts of Libya still under control of the Gaddafi government, the intensity of NATO’s bombing raids hasn’t lessened, prompting questions regarding the moral justification for such continued air strikes.

Even as reports indicate that the campaign has since March 19 cost Britain £100m and that a legal debate is rearing its head in the United States about the Obama administration’s violation of the War Powers Resolution of 1973, indications are clear that NATO will continue its military campaign of devastation. It doesn’t have any other measure than this use of air strikes to pursue the “Gaddafi-must-go” agenda.

“We will not halt our current operations, which are limited and in support of this critical, NATO-led humanitarian operation,” said Tommy Vietor, a National Security Council spokesman, quoted by The New York Times report.

This stance doesn’t bode well for a mission to solve humanitarian problems and is critical of the moral basis on which the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is being enforced. The military campaign has now reached a point where it is clear that the main objective is to eliminate Gaddafi and effect a regime change.

The issues that have led to this point are not difficult to fathom. The only problem is that those issues are not being properly assessed to allow for other options to resolve the Libyan crisis. If these main figures who call the shots for NATO to obey are genuinely interested in resolving the Libyan crisis beyond the Gaddafi factor, they should listen to other voices. The Head of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, has already called for the military campaign to give way to a diplomatic and political effort to solve the problem. But his call has been roundly repudiated with impunity.

The African Union has also come up with its own package of solutions—which the Gaddafi government accepted but the Benghazi-based National Transitional Council rejected. Those proposals are worth re-assessing, especially now that the Gaddafi government itself has made concessions and indicated its willingness to withdraw troops from the territories facing insurgency provided the rebel forces do same.

Gaddafi’s own proposal for a dialogue with NATO to thrash issues out for an amicable solution to the country’s crisis ended in smoke. Although both NATO and the rebels have rejected the Gaddafi government’s proposals, the situation on the ground suggests that the military campaign will not end soon nor will it produce any winner or help restore normalcy to Libya.

Rejecting those overtures for peace simply means one thing: that there will be no other means to approach the problem but the military one. In that case, NATO’s bombardment of Libya will continue in support of the rebels; and the objective is either to kill Gaddafi and pave the way for the rebel forces to extend their onslaught to Tripoli and the other Western settlements still under control of the Libyan government or for NATO to pull out of the Mediterranean zone when the campaign drags on for far too long for comfort and eventually fails to help it and the rebels achieve their objectives.

The three options that NATO has decided to pursue will not resolve the Libyan crisis. That’s why it is imperative for NATO to re-think its fixation on the military bombardment so as to create room for a more holistic approach to resolving the Libyan crisis. We will continue to harp on this issue until reason prevails over military brawn.