söndag 13 mars 2011

A no-fly zone is no way to deal with Libya

A no-fly zone is no way to deal with Libya

Britain should steer clear of another military intervention in the Middle East , writes Richard Dannatt.

Libya: Britain and France at centre of no-fly zone support: Libyan rebel fighters take cover as a bomb dropped by an airforce fighter jet explodes near the town of Ras Lanuf
Libyan rebel fighters take cover as a bomb dropped by an airforce fighter jet explodes near the town of Ras Lanuf  Photo: AFP / GETTY IMAGES
Robert Gates, the US Secretary of Defence, may have been mildly critical of “loose talk” about a no-fly zone over Libya – but in recent days, the calls to impose one have only grown louder. Certainly, the daily reports of internecine violence and human rights abuses suggest that, to use that overworked expression, “something must be done”. The question is what, and by whom?
Clearly, the violence being used by the Gaddafi regime against its own people resonates in an ugly way with Saddam Hussein’s repression of the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs, or Slobodan Milosevic’s orchestration of violence against the Muslims of Bosnia and Kosovo. In those cases, we did intervene, first from the air and then on the ground.
These campaigns were broadly successful – but extricating ourselves from Bosnia took 15 years, Kosovo 10 years and Iraq six years. Then there is Afghanistan, where our soldiers are deployed nearly 10 years after the September 11 attacks. All of these missions involved a significant cost in blood and treasure: several thousand British lives lost or ruined, and many billions of pounds spent.
Of course, time and cost alone do not constitute grounds for walking by on the other side, although they are powerful arguments. And we have learnt from our interventions of recent years. In particular, we have learnt that any future enterprise must start with a clearly articulated and widely accepted strategic objective, which must stand more than a reasonable chance of success through the construction of a properly thought-out campaign plan. Half-baked ideas, and a process of muddling through on a wing and a prayer, should have no place in 21st-century strategy – something that the Chilcot Inquiry, into our recent experience in Iraq, will no doubt conclude.
So the first question to address is this: what is the strategic objective? At first glance, the answer seems simple – to rid Libya of Gaddafi. But is it our business to decide that, or is it the business of the Libyan people? Again, experience would suggest that an outside intervention runs the risk of exacerbating an already difficult situation. Would a Muslim community want another intervention from the Judaeo-Christian world? History would suggest not.
Despite the lessons of the immediate past, some will insist that some sort of intervention – in particular, a no-fly zone – is nevertheless appropriate. But to dominate the airspace of another country is still a violation of that country’s sovereignty.
The question, therefore, is on what authority should a no-fly zone be imposed? There are arguments about the protection of the human rights of a section of the Libyan population, but if those arguments are that compelling, then the members of the United Nations Security Council should be in a position to pass a resolution to that effect, even if some members abstain. Compare and contrast the perceived legitimacy of the Coalition’s first intervention into Iraq over Kuwait in 1990-91, when it was backed by a Security Council resolution, with the second intervention in 2003, when it was not.
If a clear request from a substantial part of the Libyan population was received by the Security Council, backed by the Gulf Co-operation Council, the Arab League, or perhaps the African Union, and the Security Council then passed an appropriate resolution, it might be legitimate to impose a no-fly zone. But if that did not produce the desired effect, in the way that the bombing campaign in Kosovo and Serbia in 1999 nearly failed to achieve its aim, is the international community willing to take the intervention to the next level? On the path from strategic objective, through a campaign plan, to meaningful tactical activity, that question must be addressed at the start – the outcome cannot be left to the mercy of events.
It is at this stage that the talk of establishing a no-fly zone does begin to sound like Robert Gates’s “loose talk”. Many would find it hard to stomach the notion of military intervention on the ground in another Muslim country. And would such a campaign be feasible? Yes, a no‑fly zone could be imposed, with or without aircraft carriers – a subject that is something of a red herring in this debate. It would be difficult, but achievable. Yet in the event of a no-fly zone not achieving its purpose, the practical aspects of ground intervention would be even more challenging, given America’s continuing commitment to Iraq, and Nato’s to Afghanistan – and probably prohibitive.
So, if something must be done, and an armed intervention in the air or on the ground is illegitimate, inappropriate and somewhere between problematic and impractical, what can we do? Experience elsewhere suggests that the best solution for Libya is one brought about by the Libyans themselves. Putting pressure on Gaddafi and his family through personal sanctions makes sense, and they are being put in place. Beyond that, providing the opposition with finance and access to weapons, to enable them to finally overthrow this morally bankrupt regime, is also a legitimate route to take. Some would argue that it would be fuelling a civil war, but the moral right is on the side of the opposition. They deserve our support to bring about their own just solution – but we must remember that this is their fight, not ours.
General Lord Dannatt was Chief of the General Staff, 2006-2009.

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