Originally Published 2011-04-04 00:00:00 Published on Apr 04, 2011
Libya's future looks uncertain. The no-fly zone may not be enough to unseat Gaddafi. If Gaddafi survives and maintains his hold over Tripolitania, the world may have to contend with his wrath and a potential rogue state, uncomfortably close to Europe.
Will the 'Libyan Mission' dethrone Gaddafi?
As 'allied' bombers complete another day of operations in Libya, it is becoming increasingly clear that Muammar Gaddafi is not going to give up easily. The mission, named Operation Odyssey Dawn, was launched on March 19 after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973 calling for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya. Like its neighbours Egypt and Tunisia, Libya too witnessed mass uprisings against Gaddafi, who has been in power since 1969.

Opponents of the regime quickly established control in the eastern part of Libya and were on their way to Tripoli, the Libyan capital. They established a Transitional National Council based in the eastern port city of Benghazi with claims to be "the sole representative of all Libya". On March 23, the Council declared the formation of an interim government under the Prime Ministership of Mahmoud Jibril.

Unlike Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia, Gaddafi decided to confront his challengers and ordered troops loyal to him to crush the revolt. Mercenaries were also brought in to assist the loyalists. As the pro-Gaddafi forces moved in with tanks and armoured columns, supported by airstrikes to reclaim the rebel-held territories, French President Nicolas Sarkozy took the initiative and got the Security Council to adopt Resolution 1973, making the intervention possible in Libya. When the resolution was put to vote in the Security Council, India, China, Russia, Brazil and Germany abstained while the remaining ten members voted in favour. Armed with this resolution, France and Britain look the lead, joined by the United States, to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya.

As the airstrikes continue, the coalition forces do not appear to be clear about the goals or an exit strategy. While speaking in Chile on March 21, explaining the significance of the mission, US President Barack Obama said that his country wants Gaddafi to go. However, Obama later clarified that the aim of the Libyan mission is not the removal of Gaddafi. Later, British Defence Secretary Liam Fox suggested that Gaddafi could potentially be a target for the 'allied' bombing, but this was repudiated by his Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. Official spokespersons have indicated that their aim is limited to enforcing the no-fly zone and protect the civilians and the bombing raids across Libya are aimed at achieving these ends. But what happens if the no-fly zone fails to ensure the safety of civilians and civilian populated areas? Even after six days of bombing, pro-Gaddafi forces are still attacking rebel strongholds and maintaining sieges of rebel-controlled cities. It is likely that without troops on the ground, something expressly prohibited by the resolution, the coalition mission will fail to achieve their targets.

Also interesting is the leadership of the 'allied' efforts. French President Nicolas Sarkozy was in the forefront of the campaign, supported by British Prime Minister David Cameron, while President Obama appeared to be the reluctant partner. Sarkozy's first tryst with the Arab revolutions of 2011 was an unpleasant one as he had to replace his Foreign Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, who proposed to send French riot police to suppress the Tunisian revolt. The French President is facing a tough re-election bid next year and opinion polls show him in third position behind Socialist and Far Right opponents. A successful French-led campaign in Libya is thought to provide Sarkozy with a vital push, propelling him to the top spot. Unlike Sarkozy, President Obama appeared to be reluctant to commit the troops to Libya. This position was supported by Defense Secretary Gates, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed hard for active US involvement and she found support from some of the influential Obama advisors.Obama, however, does not appear to be comfortable in leading the charge in Libya. He announced the decision to get involved in Libya while he was away in Latin America.

Meanwhile, he indicated that the US plans to relinquish its leadership role in the campaign at the earliest. France has been reluctant to cede the command to NATO while Britain, the US, and most key European states argue that NATO is best placed to do this job. To mollify the French, there is a plan to have a steering committee comprising foreign ministers of the allied countries and major Arab nations. This hybrid arrangement may be finalised only after discussions to be held in London early next week. Meanwhile, after intense haggling, NATO decided to assume the responsibility of enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya from the US. However, the NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen reiterated that "other aspects of the current mission would remain in the hands of the coalition".

UNSCR 1973, which authorised intervention in Libya, is perhaps one of the most sweeping resolutions ever passed by the Security Council against a member country. In effect, the resolution has by default permitted the formation of a 'coalition of the willing' which can use "all necessary means" to fulfil its key objectives of establishment of the no-fly zone and protection of civilians and civilian-populated areas in Libya. Already there are debates whether the resolution goes against the spirit of the UN charter. Libya so far has not been a threat to international peace and security and the ongoing battle is more like a civil war in which the rebel groups have established a parallel government of their own.

Even though Gaddafi is a ruthless dictator without any regard for human rights; the hypocrisy of the allied intervention in Libya is staggering. Across Africa, in countries like Sudan and Rwanda, hundreds of thousands were killed and no one was bothered. In this season of Arab uprisings, there is no mention of any intervention in Bahrain or Yemen where pro-reform activists were brutally repressed. Ironically, the Arab League which supports the allied intervention in Libya is almost exclusively comprised of autocrats with scant regard for human rights. Its secretary general, Amr Moussa, has already made so many about-turns that no one knows for sure what the League's present position is. Gaddafi perhaps provided a convenient target in this season of Arab revolutions and Libya also happens to have the ninth largest oil reserves in the world.

At this point, Libya's future looks uncertain. The no-fly zone may not be enough to unseat Gaddafi. A protracted civil war would certainly destroy the country's infrastructure, take its toll on the civilian population and add to the instability in the region. An anti-Gaddafi uprising in his strong-holds is unlikely for now, though not impossible. If Gaddafi survives and maintains his hold over Tripolitania, the world may have to contend with his wrath and a potential rogue state, uncomfortably close to Europe.

(The author is an Associate Fellow of Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

Courtesy: The Pioneer

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.