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WASHINGTON, Mar 16 2011 (IPS) - As the White House and its partners in the international community inch closer to a decision over military action in Libya, while Muammar Gaddafi’s forces advance steadily into rebel-controlled territory, some analysts argue that the intervention debate is nearing irrelevance after raging unabated for almost a month.
Up to now, Washington has engaged in fence-sitting, while its G8, NATO and United Nations Security Council allies have been divided over the knotty no-fly zone (NFZ) issue – even after endorsements by the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Libya’s National Transitional Council and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
“It seems to me that the debate may soon be moot in that Gaddafi’s forces seem to be taking back ground at a rate that may make it too late for the international community to really turn the tide,” explained Charles Kupchan, a foreign policy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), in an interview with IPS.
The strongman’s loyalists are setting their sights on the opposition-stronghold of Benghazi and his son, Saif Gaddafi, predicted its fall within 48 hours, according to a televised interview he gave to France-based Euronews on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council convened behind closed doors for the third day in a row on Wednesday to confer on the situation in Libya – this time meeting over a France, Lebanon and Britain co-sponsored draft resolution that invokes the council’s Chapter VII enforcement powers.
Key outstanding issues reportedly revolve around the breadth and depth of military action – such as if and how airstrikes should be used to protect civilians and whether all or just military flights should be grounded.
“[W]e do think that among the actions that have to be considered by the United Nations, the no-fly zone is one of them, but it’s not the only one,” Clinton said in an interview with NBC on Wednesday. “There are other actions that need to be also evaluated. And we are putting everything on the table.”
Some analysts are also pushing for alternatives – if not compliments – to a NFZ, such as imposing more restrictive sanctions on the Gaddafi regime, arming the opposition – with weapons and intelligence, and jamming Gaddafi’s communication systems.
“All of these measures would have a lighter footprint than ships, planes, bombs, and other weapons systems that would remind and brand this revolution as delivered by Western forces,” argued Steve Clemons, foreign policy analyst for the New America Foundation who is against direct military action, in his blog ‘The Washington Note’ on Monday.
“As urgently as they want the international community to come to the aid of the Libyan people, the U.S. would be better served focusing on rapid moves toward non-military means of supporting the Libyan opposition,” echoed Middle East analyst Marc Lynch in his ‘Foreign Policy’ blog Tuesday.
Lynch, once among the proponents of a Libyan NFZ – who include former U.S. president Bill Clinton, recently departed U.S. State Department policy planning chief Anne- Marie Slaughter, France and the UK – has joined the likes of U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates, European Union foreign minister Catherine Ashton, Italy and Turkey in cautioning against such a move.
“Any direct American military presence in Libya would be politically catastrophic, even if requested by the Libyan opposition and given Arab League cover,” he wrote from an Al-Jazeera-sponsored forum in Doha, which Clemons also attended.
Others continue to push for military involvement, with some advocating for action of a different stripe: namely, a task that is “more no-drive zone than no-fly zone using strikes on the coast roads to confine the movement of Col. Gaddafi’s mobile columns within designated areas,” proposed former U.S. State Department official Philip Zelikow.
“[N]either sanctions nor a no-fly zone may suffice,” he argued in the ‘Financial Times’ on Wednesday, pushing for more aggressive measures given the tide-turning momentum of pro-regime forces. “Gaddafi has hoarded cash and supplies for this very contingency.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. remains wary of taking the lead lest it finds itself in yet another military quagmire in the region – a risky move, some critics argue, as passivity puts U.S. influence and standing on the line.
“[U]nilateral action would not be the best approach,” Clinton said. “It would have all kinds of unintended consequences.”
“The Arab countries, with their statement through the Arab League last Saturday, made it very clear that they wanted to see action, so we need Arab leadership and Arab participation in whatever the U.N. decides to do,” she stressed.
The Barack Obama administration has been unwavering in its message that no options are off the table in the case of Libya and that whatever path is taken must be in concert with the international community.
But after successfully imposing targeted sanctions and referring the situation to the International Criminal Court in a U.N. Security Council resolution along with its world allies some three weeks ago, the White House – along with the international community – seems to have been frozen since, gripped by NFZ deliberations and stalled by prerequisites like Arab League approval.
“[I]t is time to recognise that there are things we can do immediately and with a small footprint that help those who want to get rid of Gaddafi,” Clemons argued. “These steps would be welcomed by the Arab League, who want to see order return to the region and who also want to see Gaddafi moved out.”
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