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    Middle East
     Mar 19, 2011

Kerry nudges Obama into North Africa
By M K Bhadrakumar

The United States, Britain and France steered through the United Nations Security Council late on Thursday a strongly worded resolution for military action against Muammar Gaddafi's regime in Libya. The operative part of the resolution - called Resolution 1973 - is five-fold: the protection of civilians, a no-fly zone, the enforcement of the arms embargo, a ban on flights, and an asset freeze. [1]

Although touted generically as a no-fly zone resolution, the scope and range of 1973 and the use of force authorized under it are open to interpretation. Which means that the ostensibly limited involvement by the international community for the specific purpose of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya with the humanitarian intent of protecting the civilian communities, can

open the door to large-scale military intervention as time passes.

Britain and France are ready to commence operations, while the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is scheduling a meeting to focus on operational details. Germany abstained in the Security Council voting and Turkey voiced opposition to any external involvement in Libya. In effect, NATO will constitute a "coalition of the willing" from among member countries.

Holding together
One salient outcome of the voting was that four of the BRICS member countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China - but not South Africa) abstained. The Indian stance was based on three points: that the resolution was not backed up by any report of the special representative of the UN secretary general on Libya and was being adopted while the African Union had yet to send a panel to Libya - underlining that political efforts should have been exhausted first; there was "relatively little credible information" available on the Libyan situation to back up the resolution; and there was no "clarity" about the actual operations authorized by 1973.

Russia tried to scuttle the resolution by suggesting an alternative variant calling for ceasefire, as is the traditional approach by the Security Council. Russia opposed the use of force, pointed out that resolution 1970 - which in late February imposed on sanctions on Libya - wasn't yet fully implemented; said it remained unclear how the no-fly zone was to be implemented, and was apprehensive of large-scale foreign military intervention.

China's stance rested on fundamental principles. China insisted on peaceful means to resolve the problem, upheld Libya's territorial integrity and sovereignty, opposed the use of force, and underscored the need to ensure intervention accorded with international law and UN Charter. China said it had sought certain clarifications but that these were not made available.

US raises the ante
The ultimate clincher appears to have been the "hardening" in the US position. Whereas in recent weeks Washington kept up an air of studied indifference to no-fly zone, it turned out to be posturing. As recently as Tuesday, Britain and France failed to win support for a no-fly zone during the two-day meeting of the Group of Eight foreign ministers in Paris.

Credit goes to the Barack Obama administration that it held on to its "pre-conditions" on imposing a no-fly zone over Libya - namely, the US will not act without Security Council authorization; it does not want to put US ground troops into Libya; and there should be broad international participation, especially by Arab states. Washington can draw satisfaction that these conditions have been met.

However, the US was covertly active in arranging military assistance for the Libyan rebels. Last week Robert Fisk of Independent reported that Obama administration approached Saudi Arabia to secretly finance the transfer of American weapons to the Libyan rebels. The Wall Street Journal on Thursday quoted unnamed US and Libyan rebel officials saying that Egypt's military has been shipping arms over the border to Libyan rebels with Washington's knowledge.

Egypt's covert involvement carries much meaning. It highlights that the military junta in Cairo and the Obama administration are getting along famously after the apparent loss of US influence in the post-Hosni Mubarak era. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Cairo (following visits by British Prime Minister David Cameron and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe) indicates that the Egyptian military junta has been assigned a key role in Gaddafi's ouster. This is bound to impact Egypt's own march to democracy.

The Libyan rebels hailed the United Arab Emirates and Qatar as two other Arab League nations assisting them. Qatari flags fly prominently in rebel-held Benghazi. The indications from New York are that the US and Britain have arranged the participation of a few more Arab League states in the Libyan operation. No doubt, Washington's ability and sincerity to prevail upon the autocratic Persian Gulf states to reform remains to be seen.

Open to interpretation
Indeed, US intentions are quite opaque. Clinton told reporters in Tunisia on Thursday that a no-fly zone over Libya would require action to protect the planes and pilots, "including bombing targets like the Libyan defense systems." But R-1973 says no such thing.

Again, once it became clear Russia and China wouldn't go to the extent of vetoing the resolution, the US raised the ante by suggesting that beyond creating a no-fly zone, the international community should also have authorization the use of planes, troops or ships to stop Gaddafi's forces. The US amendment proposed that UN should authorize the international community to "protect civilians and civilian objects from the Gaddafi regime, including halting attacks by air, land and sea forces under the control of the Gaddafi regime".

This proposal, however, seems to have met with resistance from Russia and the final text of 1973 instead authorizes "all necessary measures" to protect civilians. The compromise formula, actually, opens up all sorts of dangerous possibilities to stretch the type and scope of military operations.

On the one hand, 1973 expressly forbids any boots on the ground - "excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory". On the other hand, it gives authorization "to take all necessary measures… to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi". [Emphasis added.]

Again, regarding the no-fly zone, 1973 authorizes states "to take all necessary measures to enforce compliance with the ban on flights". [Emphasis added.] The likelihood is that once the implementation gets under way, exigencies will arise to undertake ground operations to neutralize Gaddafi's forces. These could be special forces operations, which are deniable and do not constitute "foreign occupation" of Libyan territory.

In sum, we are standing somewhere at a similar threshold to the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, which began as aerial operations to back up Northern Alliance [NA] militia, supplemented by special forces operations, and was later legitimized as a ground presence.

Don't watch from the sidelines
What is the US strategy? Most significantly, on the eve of the Security Council vote, Senator John Kerry, chairman of the senate foreign affairs committee, and a pillar of the foreign policy establishment, made a major speech at the Carnegie in Washington. His main points:
  • The Arab awakening is as profound as the collapse of the Berlin Wall and, equally, Washington's approach should be to turn the challenge into an opportunity by identifying with democratic forces.
  • The Middle East order cannot be restored. The revolution is deep-rooted in popular discontent. Therefore, America's relationship with the region requires a "broader adjustment to reflect the new realities". Relationships focused on leaders are not sustainable.
  • The US can learn to live with religious parties and engage them so long as they "reject radicalism and anti-Semitism" and "embrace moderation".
  • Some leaderships are "responding to the imperative of reform" but "no country in the region will escape the populist wave".
  • Israel faces isolation and the "status quo with its neighbors is now unsustainable"; however, Israel's long-term security needs to be ensured.

    Kerry taunted Obama to be proactive like Ronald Reagan and George H W Bush, who committed resources to usher in governments in central Europe that today remain staunchly pro-West and are NATO members. Kerry dictated to Obama: "We must recognize the extraordinary opportunity before us - and the danger of failing to seize it ... The international community cannot simply watch from the sidelines ... Time is running out for the Libyan people. The world needs to respond immediately ... The Security Council should act now."

    Israel remains pivotal to Kerry's thinking. He pointedly singled out senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, two staunch supporters of Israel, as collaborators in his Middle East project. Kerry, McCain, Lieberman - now, doesn't that make a formidable line-up? Obama had no choice but to see the writing on the wall.

    1. These are key points of the resolution authorizing action to protect Libyan civilians from Muammar Gaddafi:
  • It expresses the UN's grave concern at the deteriorating situation, the escalation of violence, and the heavy civilian casualties, condemns the gross and systematic violation of human rights, including arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, torture and summary executions and says that the attacks against civilians may amount to crimes against humanity and poses a threat to international peace and security.
  • A no-fly zone is an important element for the protection of civilians as well as the safety of the delivery of humanitarian assistance and a decisive step for the cessation of hostilities in Libya, it says.
  • It demands the immediate establishment of a cease-fire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians and that the Libyan authorities comply with their obligations under international law...and take all measures to protect civilians and meet their basic needs, and to ensure the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian assistance.
  • It authorizes UN member states to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding the previous arms embargo, to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.
  • Requests the co-operation of the Arab League member states in that.
  • Decides to establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians exempting humanitarian flights and authorizes member states and Arab League nations acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, to take all necessary measures to enforce compliance with the ban on flights.
  • Calls on member states to intercept boats and aircraft it believes may be taking arms and other items banned under the previously passed UN embargo and includes armed mercenary personnel in that category - telling members states to comply strictly with their obligations...to prevent the provision of armed mercenary personnel to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.
  • Member states should ensure domestic businesses exercise vigilance when doing business with entities incorporated in Libya if the States have information that provides reasonable grounds to believe that such business could contribute to violence and use of force against civilians.
  • Requests that the UN Secretary General creates a group of up to eight experts to oversee the implementation of the Resolution.

    Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

    (Copyright 2011 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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