Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Libya No-Fly Zone ?

A Libyan woman holds a placard in Benghazi, 10 March

Since Qaddafi ordered his troops to open fire on peaceful demonstrators there have been powerful the calls for military intervention to help bring his regime to an end. As I write Britain, France and Lebanon are calling for the Security Council to authorise the imposition of a no-fly zone. But a no-fly zone alone would be unlikely to be effective in constraining Qaddafi’s advance.

If the international community were to intervene to bring a stop to the fighting we would probably need to go further even than simply arming the rebels. A combination of US air cover coupled with troops from Gulf countries and the African Union would be one option. If the international community were to step in with overwhelming force civilian lives might be saved. For some the argument is made at this point. They would state that, as long as the majority of the international community agree intervention and a few countries are willing to commit troops and air cover, then intervention is not only the best course of action but the only ‘just’ course.

But as has been suggested elsewhere we should pause for a moment and consider how best to achieve a political settlement and transition. We can expect to see strenuous efforts by governments of the region to agree with rebel leaders (under the guise of the Libyan Transitional Council) the next steps. Negotiations must also take place with some of those within tribal alliances that are currently aligned with Qaddafi.

The UN Security Council resolution of 26 February has made reference to crimes against humanity in order to lay the groundwork for sanctions and other non-military actions under the Responsibility to Protect (the internationally agreed norms for prevention of genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity). The reference to the International Criminal Court and the Responsibility to Protect in this security council resuolution is helpful, underlining the corporate responsbility of the international community. However, while the Libyan army’s actions against peaceful demonstrators might count as a crime against humanity arguably much of the more recent violence against an armed uprising does not.

If military intervention (the action of last resort) becomes clearly the only means to prevent massive loss of civilian life then, in my view, it must have a legal basis that is accepted by all members of the Security Council.  Libya is one of the few theatres of conflict of late where this might be achievable and the Responsibility to Protect taken seriously.

Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq the Methodist Church and United Reformed Church prepared a theological study of military intervention titled Peacemaking: A Christian Vocation. The intention is to provide some ethical tools, or lenses, with which to judge our response to conflict. It strikes me that the principles outlined do help with an ethical judgement of the Libyan situation.

Meanwhile our prayers go out to those in Libya in fear of their lives should Qaddafi get the upper hand in this conflict.