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Libya: Bombing for what?

March 21, 2011

By Fiorenzo Conte

When the Security Council adopted a resolution that authorized a military intervention in Libya to implement a no-fly-zone, the proximate goal of the intervention was to defend the human rights of civilians who were purposefully attacked by the aerial army forces directed by Geddafi. Another goal is to cause the regime to topple: in fact, a dictator who stays in power despite massive revolts staged by the society against him would have weakened the wave of anti-authoritarian protests in the Middle East. However it remains unclear to me how far the international coalition can or wants to go. In other words what if the no-fly zone is not effective? The Arab League, whose support according to today’s declaration of Ban-Ki-Moon has been pivotal in the adoption of the resolution, has excluded any intervention with ground troops. On the other hand, the Belgian ministry of defence stated that such interventions on the ground could be necessary if the regime stays in place after a no fly zone has been put in place.

These are two possible scenarios:

First, in a best case scenario the opposition forces based in Benghazi will take advantage of the intervention of the international community to reorganize, attack Tripoli and topple the regime. Or, in a less optimistic scenario, the imposition of a no fly zone would have on the Geddafi regime the same effect that it had on the Saddam Hussain regime in 1990: none. In 1990 a no fly zone was put in place in Northern Iraq with the goal to protect the rebellious Iraqi minorities of Kurds and Shiites from aerial attacks of the army. The no fly zone was successful insofar as no violations were recorded however it did not prevent civilians’ rights abuses by Iraqi ground forces in the South. And more importantly it did not hasten Saddam’s departure from power. So my question is: what would the international community do in case the second scenario plays out. Any thoughts on that?

P. S. I am not sustaining that peaceful means would have been more effective vis-a-vis a no fly zone (see here Chris Blattman on why it would be worth experimenting with military means to prevent massacres of innocents). I am asking what are the goals that the international community is pursuing and what are the shortcomings of a no-fly zone in achieving it and what are the possible corrections that could be used to make it more effective.


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