Sunday, 20 March 2011

Too little, far too late - UN forces attack Libya

The U.N security council voted 10-0 (5 abstaining) in favour of a no fly zone over Libya, additionally the resolution also called for "all necessary measures be taken to protect civilians".  In response to this, overnight U.S, French, British and Canadian forces struck at Libya by air and sea. The targets varied from air defences to tanks and vehicles of the Libyan armed forces loyal to Gaddafi.

I was in favour of a no fly zone in Libya, when this conflict began in mid-February but at this point in time I couldn't oppose it more vehemently. Libya no longer requires a no fly zone, as the whole purpose of a no fly zone in the first place was to make the war on the ground more equal and hopefully lead to a peaceful settlement at the negotiating table. Now however Gaddafi's forces are squarely in control of most of the country, the rebel stronghold of Benghazi has either already fallen or could possibly fall within the next 48 hours depending on who's reports are accurate. So that leaves U.N forces enforcing a no fly zone to protect the Libyan rebels who's forces have been all but destroyed.
Had this resolution been passed 3 weeks ago the war would of most likely been over, the rebels would of likely taken Tripoli and ousted Gaddafi all under the watchful eye of U.N air forces above. Now Pro-Gaddafi forces have destroyed the rebels ability to inflict any real defeat on them, Gaddafi's air force destroyed the vast majority of tanks and artillery that fell into rebel hands there by relegating the rebels to fighting at best a defensive campaign. Without that heavy equipment and the momentum bringing more fighters to the rebel cause it is slowly falling apart, fighters are realising the futility of their cause and going home to their families ready however to fight another day when the opportunity presents itself.

What is truly alarming in this situation is the complete lack of a long term plan, right now the plan is to support the rebels and hopefully help them to turn the tide and defeat pro-Gaddafi forces even though at this point it is at best a "Hail Mary". U.N forces are decimating Gaddafi's but to what end? The rebels are no longer in any position to seize power and form a coherent government.

The question then becomes "Well what now?", without a full scale invasion of Libya Gaddafi will now likely remain in power. By enforcing this no fly zone the U.N has essentially all but declared war on Libya and that is something that is very difficult if not impossible to back away from. From a regional perspective you now have an increasingly totalitarian regime in Libya but perhaps more damagingly you now have a United States that is perceived as not being able to take action without the U.N holding its hand.

Personally I think the U.N's most likely cause of action is going to be continue to attack pro-Gaddafi forces and maintain the no fly zone for the foreseeable future. This will allow it to maintain a shred of credibility even though in actual fact it is an ineffectual organisation at best.

I may not be in favour of a no fly zone by itself but as far as the majority of U.N nations invading Libya for the protection of civilian population I couldn't be more in favour. If this invasion was to occur it has to be a joint operation carried out by armed forces from around the globe not like the poorly executed invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq largely carried out by the United States and its allies. This sort of action undertaken by the nations of the world could revitalise the U.N and give it some much needed credibility and more importantly could save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Libyan civilians.

I leave you with the words of Australian foreign minister Kevin Rudd on the actions of the U.N
"Let's look at the UN. Look back to Rwanda: fail. Look back at Darfur: fail. Look back at the Balkans: partial fail. Too late, really. Srebrenica and the rest"

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