THE NEW YORK TIMES, 01/03/11:
As Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces continued their assault on rebels in several cities in Libya, the Pentagon began repositioning Navy warships to support a possible humanitarian or military intervention. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated on Tuesday that establishing a no-flight zone on Libya was “under active consideration,” though such a move would very likely carried out only under a United Nations or NATO mandate. Meanwhile, opposition leaders debated calling on the West for airstrikes under the U.N. banner.
How far should the U.S. and the international community go in intervening in Libya? What are the risks?
High Risks for Acting Now
Kori Schake is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and an associate professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point. She has worked in the Pentagon, the National Security Council and the State Department, and is the author of “Managing American Hegemony.”
Secretary Clinton is right to emphasize that military options are under consideration for limiting Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s ability to continue terrorizing Libyans, and our military can be helpful in visibly moving strike assets into range to ensure that President Obama has a wide range of choices. Colonel Qaddafi’s erratic behavior strongly argues for keeping our options open.
We absolutely should try to convince the Libyan leader to stop fighting, that the consequences of continuing on his current course will be more detrimental than fleeing the country. And we should encourage his supporters to abandon him. Although other forms of pressure — even the draconian U.N. Security Council sanctions spearheaded by Britain and France and the Treasury Department freezing $30 billion in Libyan assets — have not resonated with Colonel Qaddafi, given the Reagan administration’s attacks on Tripoli in 1986, the threat of American military power should carry some weight.
That said, we ought to be very cautious about actually using American military force to affect the rebellion in Libya, for four reasons.
First, it is difficult to see what practical measures, short of removing Colonel Gaddafi ourselves or sending military teams into Libya to assist rebel forces, would affect the fight. Defection of military units and tribes seems to have given rebels the necessary weapons; most of the fighting is urban operations not much involving air power.
Second, we have not had an ambassador in Libya for months, and we have evacuated our diplomats; we ought not overestimate how much we understand what is occurring in the country or the shape Libya’s rebellion will take. Arming rebels or undertaking military operations on their behalf makes us parties to the conflict, the inchoate nature of Libya’s rebels argues for caution.
Third, debate over the Security Council resolution suggests it is unlikely the Chinese and Russians would authorize the use of force (they had to be assured the resolution that passed would not), and NATO would not be an alternative without a U.N. mandate. Countries in the region are not likely to be supportive. While international pressure seems to be having little effect on Colonel Qaddafi, international institutions and support are central to the Obama administration’s approach. Military force would have to be a unilateral or by coalition of the willing, which is at odds with the White House’s political strategy.
Fourth, military force is sticky — once the president commits American military forces to involvement, even tangentially, he commits the nation. It is difficult to disengage if the limited force committed doesn’t achieve the president’s objectives, as President Bill Clinton learned in both Somalia and Kosovo, and President George W. Bush realized, leading him to authorize a surge of forces in Iraq in 2006. While symbolic strikes on Colonel Qaddafi’s palaces or no-flight zones would be a show of force, they raise the question of how far we are willing to go to achieve our objectives.
The administration has given no indication of serious commitment. Colonel Qaddafi is likely to bet rightly on the limits of President Obama’s willingness to force him from power, which could lead to several bad outcomes for us: ineffectual shows of force, the president pulled in further than our interests dictate, or alienation of countries whose support we need to manage other important national security problems.
A Logical, but Difficult, Step
Richard Fontaine is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a former foreign policy adviser to Senator John McCain.
The administration is right to ratchet up the pressure on Colonel Qaddafi and his brutal regime. Talking of establishing a no-flight zone, repositioning American military assets around Libya, and letting it be known that the U.S. is dedicating intelligence assets to monitor Libyan government abuses — and document them for future criminal prosecutions — are all steps in the right direction. But actually taking military action is harder than it seems.
Take the idea of imposing a no-flight zone. NATO and the U.S. military have enforced such zones in the past, and Italy has suggested that it would make bases on its soil available for the mission. Planning to carry out such a mission is a logical step, as reports of Libyan warplanes bombing civilian areas continue to mount.
But, as General James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, said at a Senate hearing, taking out Libyan air defenses, “wouldn’t be just telling people not to fly airplanes.” It would also imply risking American lives and possibly shooting down Libyan aircraft.
The effort is even tougher at the diplomatic level. The administration would surely prefer to proceed with any military action under a United Nations mandate, which would require Russian agreement. But Moscow has already rejected the idea of a U.N.-authorized no-flight zone. NATO could carry out the mission outside U.N. authorization, as it did during the Kosovo war, but France has said that such a mission could go forward only with U.N. approval — and it’s unclear where other members stand. So the United States might be stuck, unable to get U.N. or NATO authorization, witnessing continued aerial bombings, and having to choose between doing nothing or pulling together a coalition of the willing.
The answer, however, is not to simply dismiss any intervention as too hard. As they navigate this dilemma, administration officials should keep in mind two broad opportunities — or risks.
The first is the chance for the United States to fundamentally reorder its relations with key Arab states. For decades we chose alternatively between embracing friendly autocrats and trying to promote democracy; we now have the opportunity to support both the governments and the democratic movements in places like Egypt, Tunisia, and perhaps Libya.
The second is that the democratic movements in Tunisia and Egypt have provided powerful examples for the rest of the Middle East and beyond. Libya, if it descends into chaos and civil war, could easily provide the counter-example.
A Multilateral No-Flight Zone
David Cortright is the director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. He is the author or editor of 17 books, including “Uniting Against Terror: Cooperative Nonmilitary Responses to the Global Terrorist Threat.”
A no-flight zone is urgently needed to constrain Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s ability to kill his own people and attack liberated parts of the country. It is also necessary to encourage additional loyalty shifts within the Libyan military and bring about the wholesale defections that will be the decisive factor in ending Col. Qaddafi’s reign of terror.
The no-flight zone should be multilateral. Ideally it should be authorized by the U.N. Security Council, with the support of the Arab League. Governments in the region have expressed opposition to foreign military intervention, so U.S. diplomats should emphasize that a no-flight zone is not direct intervention. It does not mean boots on the ground.
The United States should provide assurances that we have no intention of deploying ground forces, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates has stated, and that the air operation will last only as long as Colonel Qaddafi remains in office and continues to attack his people. When he leaves, the planes fly home.
We should invite Arab governments to participate in the operation. The United States has supplied Egypt and other states in the region with fighter planes and training support, so we have leverage to encourage their involvement. If Egypt, Morocco or other countries were to send even a few planes, this would be hugely important in lending legitimacy to the operation and signaling the end game to Colonel Qaddafi and his henchmen.
More than 200 Arab organizations and intellectuals have urged Arab League support for a no-flight zone. Gaining the league’s support in this new era of more responsive politics in the region should be possible and must be a priority. This will make it easier to convince China and other hesitant Security Council members to approve U.N. authorization and will hasten Colonel Qaddafi’s downfall.
What Military Force Will Require
Bruce W. Jentleson is a professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. He served as a senior adviser at the State Department, 2009-2011, and is co-author with Steven Weber of “The End of Arrogance: America in the Global Competition of Ideas.”
Military intervention may not be necessary. Perhaps with the example of Mubarak’s assets so quickly frozen, the sanctions threat may register. Perhaps the resistance forces, with weaponry and other support from defecting military officers, will prevail. Perhaps the threat of force from U.S. naval deployments and other preparatory steps may be sufficiently coercive.
But what if Qaddafi means what he says about fighting “to the last drop of blood”? If the international community were not to act amidst such crimes against humanity, it would be morally complicit in those crimes. If military action is chosen, several factors come into play.
The “responsibility to protect” as adopted by the U.N. in 2005, and affirmed by the Obama administration in its 2010 National Security Strategy and the State Department Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, stresses the responsibility of the international community to protect people threatened with mass atrocities including by their own government. Qaddafi’s wanton violence is putting Libya well within that definition. This would be especially true if the Libyan revolutionary council calls for such help.
Intervention will require more than the United States and NATO. For reasons of history, power and politics a strictly Western intervention would be highly problematic. U.N. Security Council authorization is crucial. Russian and Chinese opposition has to be overcome. Efforts should continue to get African Union support. So, too, is support from the Arab League, though the opposition by the Organization of the Islamic Conference makes this unlikely.
Finally, there should be no illusions about how straightforward any such operation would be. With Qaddafi using tanks and artillery, a no-flight zone wouldn’t be enough. Air strikes would be needed, and special forces as well. There would have to be coordination with the opposition. And the operation would have to be completed in a matter of weeks, not even months.
Military action is far from the best option. But it may need to be chosen.
First, Define the Goals
Steven Simon is an adjunct senior fellow in Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the co-author, most recently, of “The Sixth Crisis: Iran, Israel, America and the Rumors of War.”
The answer to whether the U.S. should act depends on what we are intervening for. For example, delivery of humanitarian aid to the thousands of Libyans and expatriates trying to get to safety, either within Libya or across its borders, is probably feasible with little risk. Opposition forces would not get in the way and regime forces have their hands full just securing Tripoli, let alone retaking nearby towns or the cities in the east.
Logistical obstacles, however, are another issue. Are the refugee clusters near airports that can cope with modern military cargo planes? If not, what are the practical difficulties involved in getting assistance from airports or seaports to refugees near borders over very long and exposed road networks? Mundane issues like these can be nearly as much of a barrier to humanitarian intervention as military resistance. Nonetheless, U.S. and allied forces have a great deal of experience supplying aid in very challenging settings, from Haiti to the Congo, and would undoubtedly rise to the challenge. Moreover, help for innocents in distress is a moral duty that Americans take seriously.
On the other hand, armed intervention in an unfolding civil war would pose far greater risks. Again, the issue would be, what are we intervening for? If it is merely to put our thumb on the opposition’s side of the scales, by, say, intercepting regime aircraft, as the rebels have requested, or even staging air raids on airbases under the regime’s control, the risk to U.S. forces would be limited. The Navy, or Air Force if staging from NATO bases, could do this without breathing hard. But even for these limited missions, the U.S. would probably want to make sure that Libyan air defenses are unable to hinder U.S. air operations, which would mean a wider range of ground targets, with all the risk of collateral damage and loss of aircrews to accident or a lucky Libyan shot. And the mission would have to continue, perhaps for a long while, especially if Qaddafi’s air forces stood down, to wait out the U.S. presence. At that point, the U.S. would risk losing the battle for public opinion.
This will be all the more true if the mission expands to dislodging Qaddafi from Tripoli. An escalation like this isn’t so unlikely if Qaddafi moves to massacre his real or imagined enemies from his stronghold. If that were to happen, the pressure on the U.S. to expand the scope of its operations would increase. And while there is no appetite in Washington for invading another Muslim country, there would be little that could be done solely by aircraft. Should the U.S. decide to act at this point, it would probably be alone since the Arab League, NATO and the E.U. have forsworn military intervention. And while many Arabs don’t like Qaddafi, how they will react to a stream of media images of American planes bombing an Arab city isn’t easy to predict, especially if it goes on and on.
Lastly, there’s the question of what happens after the intervention. It is unlikely that Washington will have much of a say in the formation of a new order, a process that could involve the mistreatment and abuse of defeated regime loyalists or devolve into an inconclusive, grinding battle between regional and tribal factions. Yet the nature of the new order is what will determine the way history judges the intervention and whether it will strengthen a fragile American position in the region, or weaken it. The Libyans are not the only ones with a stake in the outcome.
No Clear Playbook
Camille Eiss is the policy director for the Truman National Security Project and former assistant editor of Freedom House’s survey of political rights and civil liberties, “Freedom in the World.”
Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s willingness to kill his own people presents a clear case of crimes against humanity. As agreed upon at the United Nations, the international community bears a formalized responsibility to protect the people of Libya. More specifically, we agreed “to take timely and decisive action to prevent and halt mass atrocities” precisely because we have failed to take such action in the past.
Unlike Rwanda in 1994 or Bosnia in 1995, in Libya we face neither a genocide with early warning signs nor a strictly humanitarian crisis. Beyond threatening the lives and security of a population of more than six million Libyans, Colonel Qaddafi’s actions directly challenge the administration’s commitment to advancing human dignity — smack in the middle of a region at the forefront of U.S. security interests. If we don’t act to stop the killing in Libya, how can the U.S. credibly encourage the Egyptian military to hold free and fair elections, push for commitments to nonviolence by new political parties, and — critical to greater stability in the region — convince the last-standing Arab autocrats to reform?
But deciding to act requires understanding where our leverage with Colonel Qaddafi and his henchmen lies. Do assets matter against power? Beyond the challenges of establishing a no-flight zone, will one prevent murderers from fighting on the ground?
The sad reality in the case of Libya is that we have no clear playbook. So far, the best strategy may be the administration’s approach to other recent uprisings: focus on nonviolence and let Libyans be the primary players. With international partners who share this responsibility, the U.S. should intervene as necessary to promote these goals and to fulfill our responsibility to protect civilians and to end the violence. More extensive U.S. involvement might only muddy the indigenous democratic process, undermining our long term efforts to support free societies and a more stable region.
What We Should Know by Now
John Mueller is professor of political science at Ohio State University. He is the author of the forthcoming “War and Ideas: Selected Essays.”
I don’t know enough about what is actually going on Libya to comment productively on whether and how far outsiders should intervene in the chaos there. It is not clear to me that anyone else does either.
But there are a couple of cautions. One is that the experience of the last decade or so does not lead one to be confident that launching military force with woefully inadequate intelligence solves more problems than it creates or that, on balance, it actually ends up saving lives.
The other is that there is danger in posturing dramatically (or sanctimoniously) from outside about supporting an embattled side and then failing adequately to follow up with quick and effective action, which is often impossible to put together. The danger of coupling vast proclamation with limited action is that it can encourage people desperately to hold out in hopeless situations waiting for the promised, or seemingly promised, deliverance from outside.
Fuente: Bitácora Almendrón. Tribuna Libre © Miguel Moliné Escalona