The UN to the Rescue in Libya: Is it too Late?

The United Nations Security Council has just authorized a no-fly zone over Libya and implicitly allowed the United States, France and Britain to bomb military forces and facilities loyal to Muammar Qadddafi.

Aljazeera live is covering the session and is showing enormous, delirious crowds celebrating in downtown Benghazi, which Qaddafi had threatened to occupy earlier on Thursday. They are deploying celebratory fire, which I’d advise them against, since Qaddafi’s forces are near and the more activist elements of NATO likely to intervene on their behalf rather farther away. They may yet need the bullets.

The resolution demands an immediate ceasefire, an end of violence, and refers the Qaddafi regime to the World Court for war crimes, as well as creating a new sanctions regime against arms dealers and mercenaries helping Qaddafi.

Aljazeera Arabic is reporting that the Qaddafi regime dismissed the resolution as ‘not worth the paper it is printed on’ and is defiant. Unfortunately, Qaddafi has a lot of troops and tanks at Ajdabiya not far from Benghazi.

Not since fall of 1990, when the UNSC authorized military action to push Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait, has it acted so decisively and exactly in the way its founders had aspired for it in 1945.

A note: The resolution was co-sponsored by the Lebanese government, in which the Shiite party Hizbullah (Hezbollah) is a leading element. In part, Lebanon was representing the Arab League, which in some ways was the major political force (along with Britain and France) pushing for world action. But in other ways something more personal was going on.

When I was working for a newspaper in Beirut in 1978, I translated wire service reports on the disappearance of the great Shiite leader Mousa al-Sadr while on a trip to Libya. He was likely murdered by Qaddafi and put in a grave somewhere there. I once attended a lecture by Sadr in Beirut. He was a great man, charismatic and a force for uplift in his community and for outreach to other communities. He probably went to Libya in an attempt to convince Qaddafi not to send any more weapons to the factions there (such arms shipments and factionalization contributed to the long Lebanese Civil War). Lebanese Shiites, including Hizbullah, still lionize Mousa al-Sadr and despise Qaddafi.

Payback is a bitch.

Posted in Libya | 25 Responses | Print |

25 Responses

    • Quite simply the Germans have enough problems arising from the few thousand troops they have in Afghanistan.

      They are demonstrating admirable caution before getting sucked into a situation with a clear objective or exit strategy.

      It is far from clear what will happen if one of the French or British aircraft is shot down by antiaircraft fire or SAM.

      • Angela Merkel gave a rather sad example of cheap electioneering to placate a weary public before regional elections. Had the German vote been decisive to block the UN Security Council resolution the political cost would have been exorbitant.

      • Iraq NFZ operations
        US losses : 2 Blackhawk helicopters to friendly fire and 1 unmanned Predator drone. UK & France : no losses

        Iraqi losses : 1 MiG-25 Foxbat, 1 MiG-23 Flogger, 2 Su-22 Fitters. Air defence assets were taken out as & when they fired on allied aircraft – there was no preliminary bombing like Gates has been banging on about.

  1. Thank you again Juan,

    I assume Qaddafi was arming the Palestinians (PLO ?) who were fighting Amal. If so, can we assume that Qaddafi killed Mousa al-Sadr at Arafat’s bidding?

    The abstention of Russia and China was to be expected, because of their doctrine of non-interference. Thankfully they didn’t use their veto votes.

    But I don’t understand the German abstention. Do they have the same doctrine of non-interference as the Russians and Chinese. No one would notice if they didn’t participate in the UN-SC mandated no-fly, no-drive zone operation. I can’t help recalling that the Germans (and the French) blocked NATO taking any action to stop the violence in Balkans in 1990’s.

    Perhaps Germany should quit NATO. The current doctrines of the two seems to be quite the opposite of one another. I am not saying that NATO’s doctrine is good and Germany’s is bad, just that they are so totally different. I just can’t see how Germany can, in all conscience, remain a member of NATO.

    I hope its just a coincidence that:

    a) In 2003 an SDP/Green (left wing) German government opposed the invasion of Iraq, when the US had a Republican (right wing) President;
    b) In 2011 a CDU/CSU/FDP (right wing) German government opposes UN SC mandated miltary action against Libya, when the US has a Democrat (left wing) President.


    With some logistical and intelligence support from NATO (i.e. the US), the combined forces of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan etc should be capable of overwhelming whatever Libyan forces continue to be loyal to Qaddafi – assuming there are any.

    And wouldn’t this engender within the Arab people a sense of pride. For the first time in a long time they would solve their own problem rather than relying on someone else doing it for them. And wouldn’t that be a good thing. Israel might not agree, but perhaps even their influence in waning.

    Let’s hope there’s also some good news coming from Japan soon.

    • The idea of combined Arab forces getting involved has many advantages and it looks like Hillary Clinton is working hard to accomplish this: link to
      I doubt though if the urgency of military action needed to stop Qaddafi’s onslaught on Benghazi allows for this. Co-ordination of multinational task forces is cumbersome and time consuming and given the complexity of the operation I vote for an US led air assault with only token UK, FR and Egypt participation.

      • It could be advantageous for Egypt to send in its Army.

        1. it could rally the Egyptian people to accept the not-quite-democratic regime that the Army is installing at home to protect its large economic interests

        2. it could signal the revival of Egypt as the leading power of the Arab world

        3. a client state in all or part of Libya could serve as Egypt’s own private Saudi Arabia, providing it with oil and cash to keep everybody happy

        Now I’m sure there are many impediments to this, and I’m really sure that Israel has told Washington what it thinks about a stronger Egypt, so that might be as far as it gets.

  2. I am not as inclined to have so much faith in the motives of France and the UK, or the Libyan rebels for that matter. Decisiveness is not in itself a virtue.

  3. So if Qaddafi stops military action, it will be proper for some activity operating at the behest of the UN to arrest him (and his regime)and turn him (it) over to the World Court for a war crimes trial. Preventive detention is a must since he (it) has all the resources necessary to skip town.

    If he continues to fight, the military forces operating at the behest of the UN will first destroy his air power, then decimate his ground forces, or anything with a similar appearance. I’m sure Qaddafi himself will be a prime target. Our country will probably get to apply its cruise missile cruisers and submarines that have been of so little use lately.

    Then comes the rebels part – establish an egalitarian democracy. This should be piece of cake given the recent successes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    And just when the UN tidied up Libya those rebels in Bahrain will request the UN do a repeat performance against the Saudi Royal Family.

    Sounds like “Shock and Awe” to me. Or to use that trite metaphor, driving a bulldozer through the Pottery Barn.

  4. somehow i know i should be pleased about this , but i have a sour taste in my mouth due to all the other places where we have or had situations like this and the UN is not doing or has not done anything at all.

  5. “Not since fall of 1990, when the UNSC authorized military action to push Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait, has it acted so decisively and exactly in the way its founders had aspired for it in 1945.”
    Did the founders expect that the UNSC would authorize military action in a civil war or rebellion, as distinct from an invasion of one country by another (North/South Korea 1950 or Iraq/Kuwait 1990)?
    Also I must agree with you that while the action was decisive it was hardly prompt and may be too late. Do you know the details of overcoming the objections of Qadaffi admirers such as Chavez of Venezuela and Morales of Bolivia?

    • No need Phud, Venezuela & Bolivia are not members of Security Council

      Permanent members

      * China –
      * France +
      * Russia –
      * United Kingdom +
      * United States +

      Non-permanent members

      * Bosnia and Herzegovina +
      * Brazil –
      * Colombia +
      * Gabon +
      * Germany –
      * India –
      * Lebanon +
      * Nigeria +
      * Portugal +
      * South Africa +

  6. Yep but won’t this help the Amerikan economy? I mean more jobs as vendors fighting war. Yep the new job training for us without jobs. War the new job growth industry.

  7. This is a completely different situation from Iraq’s invasion of a separate sovereign Kuwait.

    This is another instance of foreign powers meddling in a civil war, moreover a civil with few security implications for the rest of the world.

    All of the worst massacres in Yugoslavia happened where UN troops prevented the Bosnians from fighting, and offered a false sense of security to civilians.

    If foreign powers had simply provided the Bosnians with better anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, the Bosnians could have fought the Serbs and Croats to a standstill.

    Instead, hapless Libya will get hit with American airstrikes, prowled by drones, and eventually infested with blue helmets. It seems that Western leaders now look at Bosnia or Iraq as models. Incredible.

    Two things for sure: NGO’s will have plenty of business and funding opportunities, while the mercenaeries usually hired to guard them will obtain a lot of fat contracts.

    How long now, before the other usual corporate suspects are placing bids to guard and maintain or rebuild Libyan oil facilities?

    Meanwhile, Qaddafi is vindicated. This civil war will be one about foreign interference, exactly as he claimed. He lies will effectively have become the truth. Strategy is simple:

    1. Continue to aggressively attack the rebels. If the UN fails to intervene on the ground, Qaddafi still wins the civil war.

    2. If the UN intervenes, cache weapons and lie low. If the blue helmets stick around too long, then launch a patriotic insurgency to rid Libya of the foreign occupiers.

    All that the Libyan rebels needed was a few thousand anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. Instead, they get foreign intervention and a regional conflict which could last for years.

      • Does it? I don’t think so. It specifically forbids occupation, which is a different thing entirely: “excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”

        As Robert Chesney comments at Lawfare: “it does not actually exclude the use of ground forces; it only excludes “occupation forces,” which is not co-extensive with ground forces in general (much of the media coverage seems to be skipping over this nuance, implying that only air power has been authorized).”
        link to

        Also how can you still buy into the line that the UN is going “to the rescue” in Libya, and that a greed-driven ‘international order’ can spill blood for decades in the name of power and profit and then revolutionise itself by its bootstraps – in the absence of any observable causal factors accounting for the revolution – and become a force for democracy and compassion?

        As someone else comments, either you’re very naive or this is simple propaganda.

        • Quick update – President Obama announced the U.S. would not deploy ground forces, but didn’t mention them being forbidden by the resolution. Ground forces might be a better way in which Arab League states can participate, so if the resolution had roundly forbidden any troops on the ground it might have been a negative.

      • Professor Cole,

        Unless I missed something which is very possible,the text in the resolution that you refer to is in the 4th operative clause: “to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), 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”
        link to

        To me occupation implies a more permanent state, so I was wondering, does this clause actually forbid ground troops? Is any troops on the ground the same as a foreign occupation force? Is it always the intent of ground troops to occupy?

    • UN resolution states – Authorizes Member States … 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

      That is the provision that is being referred to as the “No Drive” provision.

      Full text of UN SC resolution 1973 is here link to

  8. This is a game of chess. There are many who were Qaddafi loyalists yesterday who won’t be tomorrow morning. This action ( and a few well placed bribes) will make for some quick democrats AND send a signal to Yemen and Saudi Arabia that it is time for a change. Did anyone notice Clinton in Liberation Square today?

    Just as in the West, oil, “democracy” and capitalism will go hand in hand as long as you don’t want collective bargaining.

    • I did notice Clinton in Tahrir Square. I wonder if she’ll claim at some time in the future, that she was also there on February 11, or that she was shot at in Tahrir.

  9. This would absolutely not be happening if Libya didn’t have a lot of oil.
    Western governments are driven and financed by corporations, and they want “their” oil back. If you really think this has anything at all to do with humanitarianism then you are very, very naive.

  10. JO6PAC – you tell the truth. War is the health of the State.

  11. Oil is why the West decided to get involved and is only because of the oil. otherwise, Bahrain would have not been allowed to kill the Shiite Demonstrators.

    Like others have said, The Oil Companies want their oil back.

    follow the money as always

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