All necessary measures

by John Quiggin on March 18, 2011

The surprisingly successful counterattack by the Gaddafi forces in Libya has produced an even more surprising response. Whereas a day or so ago it seemed unlikely that the US, let alone the UNSC, would support a no-fly zone, the UNSC has now passed (10-0 with China among the abstentions) a resolution authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians from Gaddafi’s forces. At least according to the NYTimes, that includes airstrikes directed at ground forces.

The only question now is who will supply the necessary force, and this is primarily a diplomatic issue – the military requirements are well within the capacity of France, the US, the UK, the Arab League and probably quite a few others. But whoever supplies the planes, it seems clear that Gaddafi’s regime is doomed. It is striking that, having been regarded as a member in good standing of the international community only a couple of months ago, he is now unable to secure a single vote in the UNSC.

The vote has big implications for the UN and also for the remaining Middle Eastern dictatorships/monarchies, most notably Bahrein and “Saudi” Arabia

As regards the UN, the speed and determination of the response to the Libyan revolution, first referring Gaddafi to the ICC and now authorising intervention marks a dramatic break with the past. Clearly, the idea of non-intervention in internal affairs of sovereign states is dead. Moreover, it’s now clear that dictatorships are effectively second-class members of the international community, open to overthrow with international support when the opportunity arises. That’s a big break with traditional Westphalian ideas.

On the other hand, the very fact that the UNSC can authorise effective intervention, will make it more difficult for the US and others to justify bypassing the UNSC and undertaking interventions on their own. I don’t imagine that will necessarily prevent US governments from trying, but they will find it harder to assemble informal coalitions or use NATO as a UN substitute.

The other big implications are for the kings of Bahrein and “Saudi” Arabia, whose decisions in the last few days to murder protestors and arrest opposition leaders, apparently emboldened by Gaddafi’s successes and the distracting effects of the Japanese disaster, now look spectacularly ill-timed. While the US and UK response so far has been limited to calls for “restraint”, these rulers have now put themselves in the same category as Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddafi.

Of course, that poses some big choices for the US Administration. Its traditional policy in the region is symbolised by the big naval base in Bahrein, and long-standing support for friendly dictators. The hope was to manage a smooth transition to a pro-democracy position, with the absolute monarchs becoming constitutional enough to pass muster. It’s hard to see that happening now.

{ 40 comments }

1

matt wilbert 03.18.11 at 2:14 am

My prediction is that effective opposition to dictators will continue to be undertaken only when convenient. I would be shocked if there is any meaningful international condemnation of Saudi or Bahrain–this is being positioned as Iranian-inspired, and that is probably enough to ensure nothing is done.

2

OneEyedMan 03.18.11 at 2:17 am

If they don’t start soon, this may well all be for naught. Even a delay of 48 hours could be fatal to their revolution.

3

Chris Crawford 03.18.11 at 2:26 am

There is a clear and strong difference between Mr. Ghaddafi and the other despots in the region: the man is plainly insane. His ravings and his obvious disconnection from reality stand in strong contrast with the more realistic brutality of those other despots. We can all acknowledge that there’s no reasoning with this man, and if he wins, there could well be a bloodbath of appalling proportions. The other Arabic despots, however, can at least be trusted to carry out their barbarities with a modicum of taste and discretion.

4

Rich Puchalsky 03.18.11 at 2:27 am

And… this is a good thing?

Maybe we’ll be in time to convert their revolution into a protectorate. Or, if the revolution would have failed without us, maybe we’ll be in time to convert the harsh aftermath of repression into a decade of occupation and low-grade civil war.

5

AcademicTrad 03.18.11 at 2:27 am

I agree with matt wilbert–no particular reason to see this as a turning point in international relations–just a bit of an aberration, likely. Expect disappointment if the Arab League tries to intervene–those guys are lucky if they can take off and land their planes (given corruption in who gets to be a pilot, plus poor maintenance). France/UK should be able to handle it–will be interesting to see what the US does–is Pres. Obama really going to want to go for maximal executive war-making powers (vis-a-vis Congress)? A lot of the rebel leaders are former heavies in Qaddafi’s regime, so don’t discount the likelihood of a grotesque rebel killing spree if they win.

6

PHB 03.18.11 at 2:28 am

I have to wonder if the invasion of Bahrain was the precipitating factor.

Neither Russia nor China can have any particular fondness for Gaddafi. But they do not particularly like the idea of the US extending their sphere of influence either.

Before the Saudis went into Bahrain it appeared to me that the situation in Libya had stalled momentum in the gulf. The biggest card the authorities have is the fear of anarchy or civil war. The Saudi invasion has changed the situation completely. I have gone from expecting the protestors to be bought off with minor, incremental changes to seeing the fall of the Saudi monarchy as being quite likely.

The Russians would probably not mind that at all. They face a much bigger problem from Islamic fundamentalism than we do and the Saudi state is easily the biggest promoter of fundamentalism.

One issue that I have found rather odd though is the assertion that authorization for a no-fly zone inevitably means bombing. Clearly that is false as the US could tell Gaddafi that they will bomb him into the stone age if a plane takes off. Since it is clear that the US has the means to follow up on the threat, it is not certain that Gaddafi would ignore it.

I suspect that the real issue is going to turn out to be is disabling the airports to prevent mercenaries getting in or out of the country.

It is pretty certain that the Europeans, let alone the US have the capability to pound Gaddafi’s forces into the dust with little difficulty. It will be interesting to see how the mercenary forces react to the change of situation.

7

Omega Centauri 03.18.11 at 3:08 am

This may very well be the case of too little too late. @PHB: I had thought the authorization included a no-drive zone as well, i.e. try to take out a motorized column headed for Benghazi? If that is the case, then it would includes bombs (or air to ground missles, which are close analogs). I am in fact startled by this development, I was sure China would vetoe, and thought very likely Russia would as well. If this means its tougher to do unilateral intervention, then it could well mean less rather than more intervention in similar cases. Reminds me a bit of Korea, Russia foolishly stormed out, rather than used their veto. They made sure they never repeated that mistake. So the odds of getting such a resolution thorugh are probably still very minimal. Then I fear this will be another case, where by the time the community decided to do the right thing, it was too late.

Hard to imagine the US interveining in Saudi Arabia, on the side of a protest/revolution. Behind closed doors I think they are doing their best to maintain the current regime.

8

PHB 03.18.11 at 3:21 am

@Omega 7

I do not expect the US to intervene in Saudi. Nor do I believe it is going to be necessary.

Before this week any US intervention would have been on the wrong side in any case.

9

paulo 03.18.11 at 3:40 am

I see this as an analog to the bank bailouts but here applied to the protesters. Weak I know but does this mean that any uprising is too big too fail? What happens when the protests start showing up in Riyahd in the tens of thousands?

While I want to see Gaddafi and his mob in the Hague, I can’t see where all this ends.

10

logern 03.18.11 at 5:40 am

This may very well be the case of too little too late.

Possibly, depending somewhat on whether the anti-Gaddafi forces are retreating and hunkering down as a opposed to being wiped out.

11

John Quiggin 03.18.11 at 6:50 am

The “too little, too late” analysis was plausible when the measure in question was a no-fly zone. “All necessary measures” allows airstrikes on Gaddafi’s ground forces. I’m not a military expert, but in the context of desert warfare, I’d say this would be decisive very quickly – any moving vehicle could be destroyed in short order, which makes an advantage in tanks etc irrelevant.

As I read it, Gaddafi has the chance to call a ceasefire and try to negotiate from a position of relative strength. An attempt to win the war quickly would invite the destruction of all of his assets.

12

Hidari 03.18.11 at 7:56 am

13

Phil 03.18.11 at 9:15 am

It seems to me that the big news here is which side the Arab League is on. Saudi Arabia in particular has just demonstrated that it’s on the side of freedom and democracy, and against evil murderous dictators. If they subsidise an intervention in Libya, you can be sure that the Arab Spring will stop a good long way short of Riyadh. The crackdown in Bahrain is already being reported in studiously neutral “look at the funny people shouting at tanks” terms on the BBC – clearly it’s none of our business.

14

tenacitus 03.18.11 at 9:19 am

Is this the same UNSC that was okay with Darfur, Liberia, Sierra Leone, & Thailand having crises and multiple threats to human safety?

The people who wanted to get rid of Gaddaffi for a long time and open up Libya get to do it. I will be surprised if the average Libyan will be thanking the UN five years from now. Why didn’t they intervene in Cameroon where people are being killed or take stronger action in CAR.

15

Pete 03.18.11 at 10:48 am

Saudi Arabia in particular has just demonstrated that it’s on the side of freedom and democracy

.. apart from the bit where they’re sending troops to Bahrain to shoot the protestors.

16

cassandra 03.18.11 at 10:55 am

One wonders whether this is a wag-the-dog response, much like Clinton’s bellicosity at the time the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. If the reports in mainstream Indian and Pakistani media are correct, Obama could be implicated in plots to commit terrorist acts against civilians in Pakistan, and his role in the HBGary scandal remains to be seen.

17

Tom T. 03.18.11 at 11:07 am

One has to wonder if Gadhafi will deploy his forces so as to maximize civilian exposure. French airstrikes may become much less popular after blowing up a Bedouin camp or a Benghazi apartment building.

Legally, must (or at least should) the Obama administration obtain Congressional approval to participate in this action? That doesn’t seem to be under consideration.

18

Steve LaBonne 03.18.11 at 11:21 am

Legally, must (or at least should) the Obama administration obtain Congressional approval to participate in this action? That doesn’t seem to be under consideration.

My guess is that it would be readily forthcoming- he’s being bashed, especially by conservatives, for not already having intervened. Apparently we are no longer capable of learning anything at all, even from mistakes which are actually still ongoing.

19

Barry 03.18.11 at 11:26 am

Chris Crawford: ” The other Arabic despots, however, can at least be trusted to carry out their barbarities with a modicum of taste and discretion.”

Rich Puchalsky: ” And… this is a good thing?”

From the viewpoint of the Empire, yes.

Phil : ” It seems to me that the big news here is which side the Arab League is on. Saudi Arabia in particular has just demonstrated that it’s on the side of freedom and democracy, and against evil murderous dictators.”

Phil, you’re supposed to wait until the bodies have been disposed of and the blood washed off of the pavement before you start praising them.

20

Z 03.18.11 at 1:17 pm

But whoever supplies the planes, it seems clear that Gaddafi’s regime is doomed.

Hum… I wished things were so simple. Let me try to review what (or more precisely the little) I know.

First, Libya has some modernized surface to air Crotale missiles (more on them later by the way) so any no-fly zone (let alone ground strikes) will include first ground bombings. That’s a given. They also have some old soviet SAM but according to what I knew when I was in the business, they are not operational.

But then the implications are pretty stark. Because, and that’s a point I have made repeatedly about the war in Afghanistan, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you want. So “targeted bombings” against the crotale and other anti-aircraft devices will imply civilian deaths. That’s a given. And now you have a war between the US and/or European countries and Libya. Include direct bombings of Libyan’s forces and it is full fledged war. Now do the military in these countries really want that? For the US, I don’t know, but for France I can give a definite answer: absolutely not! They will resist it as strongly as they can.

Which brings us to: why did France propose it so forcefully then. I think the answer is not so hard to find but lies outside the realm of diplomacy and military reasoning: the French government is remarkably unpopular and faces local elections next week that it will most certainly loose and a presidential election next year that doesn’t look too easy. Plus Sarkozy has always been a very close ally of Gaddafi (presiding for instance over the sale of the crotale missiles mentioned above) and they fear that this will come out (to make this point clearer, suppose there is a picture of you shaking the hand of Saddam, then if you are going to mention him at all, you’d better be coordinating an attack against him). So the incumbents are desperate for something positive to be said about them.

That being written, something done for of despicable political reasons might once in a while accidentally produce something good. Apparently, Libya has ordered a cease-fire, and this is way beyond what I expected in terms of possible positive outcomes.

21

Z 03.18.11 at 1:25 pm

it seems clear that Gaddafi’s regime is doomed

One last thing though, even with a no-fly zone and a cease-fire, what then in terms of regime? The loyalist forces still have an intact armada of armored vehicles strong enough to defeat any direct attack by the rebel forces (absent foreign bombings, but now we are talking about bombing tanks in the suburbs of Tripoli). So the logical outcome of the cease-fire seems to me to be a stalemate.

22

Hidari 03.18.11 at 1:43 pm

An immediate ceasefire. So what now?

23

mds 03.18.11 at 2:18 pm

Uh, guys, please read #13 more carefully. Phil was being sarcastic. Saudi Arabia has sucessfully rallied for intervention against the brutal Libyan dictator even as their own troops are shooting demonstrators in Bahrain. This is the exact opposite of “ill-timed,” since now they’re obviously on the side of the angels. Pay no attention to that brutal repression behind the curtain. (And it’s almost funny that Lebanon was a sponsor of the UN resolution, since obviously nothing fixes a civil war quite like massive external intervention.)

24

Sev 03.18.11 at 2:31 pm

#11 John “As I read it, Gaddafi has the chance to call a ceasefire and try to negotiate from a position of relative strength. An attempt to win the war quickly would invite the destruction of all of his assets.”

For a crazy man he certainly seems to calculate pretty quickly and adjust his strategy accordingly.

25

Uncle Kvetch 03.18.11 at 2:43 pm

Which brings us to: why did France propose it so forcefully then. I think the answer is not so hard to find but lies outside the realm of diplomacy and military reasoning: the French government is remarkably unpopular and faces local elections next week that it will most certainly loose and a presidential election next year that doesn’t look too easy.

Exactly — with the additional factor that Sarkozy was widely seen in France as having taken the wrong side with Ben Ali in Tunisia. But I think you’re correct that the overriding impetus is “Hey! Look over there!”

26

PHB 03.18.11 at 2:57 pm

Gaddafi is claiming to be abiding by the ceasefire, not what I had expected.

I have to wonder if there may be more going on here than meets the eye.

Gaddafi knows that his forces have absolutely no chance of prevailing against NATO forces. But the fact that he recognizes that shows quite a bit more sanity than we have been led to expect.

There may be an element of face saving going on here. Gaddafi could reasonably expect to retake the rebel held cities but he could not expect to regain real control on the basis of a mercenary army. Many of his key supporters in the government have abandoned him. He is old and in no shape to fight a protracted civil war. His sons are unlikely to position themselves to replace him.

Surrendering to the rebels would be a great loss of face. Surrender to the yankee imperialist aggressors much less so.

Hence the otherwise peculiar fact that Russia and China did not veto?

27

ajay 03.18.11 at 3:46 pm

Moreover, it’s now clear that dictatorships are effectively second-class members of the international community, open to overthrow with international support when the opportunity arises. That’s a big break with traditional Westphalian ideas.

Not much of a break with the Cold War status quo, though, when you’d have to be pretty unobservant not to notice that both sides were quite willing to give support to the overthrow of various dictators (and even non-dictators) when it suited them.

Libya has some modernized surface to air Crotale missiles (more on them later by the way) so any no-fly zone (let alone ground strikes) will include first ground bombings. That’s a given.

No it isn’t.A no-fly zone could be accompanied simply by the threat of retaliation (using ARMs for example) against any Libyan government AAA site that fires on or illuminates patrolling aircraft. That’s the way it worked in Iraq.

28

Z 03.18.11 at 3:58 pm

A no-fly zone could be accompanied simply by the threat of retaliation (using ARMs for example) against any Libyan government AAA site that fires on or illuminates patrolling aircraft. That’s the way it worked in Iraq.

No, that’s not the way it worked in Iraq, and I know because my job at the time was to analyze intelligence related to the no-fly zone for the Air Force (French and US). The distortion between was appeared in the media during the relatively calm phase during which I worked upon this subject and the reality on the ground was impressive (not that there were outright lies, but any action from the Iraqi forces was hyped about a 100 fold and any action from the coalition was downplayed about 10 fold so that what you described might accurately reflect the media depiction of it, but not the reality).

29

Steve LaBonne 03.18.11 at 4:01 pm

Come on, Z, you can’t fool us. As faithful disciples of American cable news we know that no-fly zones are magically enforced by the No-Fly Zone Fairies at no cost in blood or treasure. All that’s needed is for the President to snap his fingers and say “I believe!” 3 times, so it’s only his lack of leadership that accounts for his not having done so a week ago.

30

Sev 03.18.11 at 4:17 pm

#29 “All that’s needed is for the President to snap his fingers and say “I believe!” 3 times, so it’s only his lack of leadership that accounts for his not having done so a week ago.”

I don’t understand why, in principle, he couldn’t have 1) recognized the rebels as the legit gov of Libya 2) offered them a small number of surface to air missiles, anti-tank weapons and possibly advisors on their proper use. Possibly I don’t understand international law on this. Of course there is a concern with them being resold elsewhere. Mostly, though, I think it is his tendency toward caution and deliberation, often a good thing, to be sure, perhaps not in this case.

31

Steve LaBonne 03.18.11 at 4:35 pm

We’ve had such great luck with unilateral interventions (sometimes with the barest of international fig leaves) in recent years, I just don’t understand why anybody would be cautious about yet another one.

32

Anderson 03.18.11 at 5:03 pm

Legally, must (or at least should) the Obama administration obtain Congressional approval to participate in this action? That doesn’t seem to be under consideration.

The parallel would seem to be Truman and Korea. Auspicious! But I agree that Congress will likely fall in, although the last polling I saw was strong for the U.S. to stay out. The UN cover may change the public’s mind.

33

Phil 03.18.11 at 5:49 pm

mds – thankyou!

34

chris 03.18.11 at 6:14 pm

I have to wonder if there may be more going on here than meets the eye.

I wonder if Gaddafi’s own subordinates are willing to fight raggedy-assed rebels, but know what would happen if they fought larger, better-armed, better-organized Western forces and are therefore unwilling to do so, and both Gaddafi and Western leaders are aware of that. Just a speculation, but it seems to fit the events so far.

35

LFC 03.18.11 at 9:52 pm

Sorry if someone has said this already in the thread, but the statement in the post that “the idea of non-intervention in internal affairs of sovereign states is dead” is a considerable overstatement. J. Quiggin seems to have a penchant for sweeping pronouncements on international affairs which, if someone made the equivalent about economics, would probably have him gnashing his teeth. It would be more accurate to say that the exceptions to the principle of non-interference have perhaps been widened, but the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign states is not dead. When the US ambassador to, e.g., Australia issues a public statement urging Australians to vote in a particular way in the next Australian election, the principle of non-interference in internal affairs will be dead. Or when Art. 2(7) of the UN Charter is repealed. Whichever comes first. Don’t hold your breath.

36

gray 03.18.11 at 10:12 pm

Mr Byers is an ordinarily stout foe of military interventions.

http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2011/03/18/Resolution1973/

37

Jack Strocchi 03.20.11 at 7:21 am

Pr Q said:

the UNSC has now passed (10-0 with China among the abstentions) a resolution authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians from Gaddafi’s forces. At least according to the NYTimes, that includes airstrikes directed at ground forces.

As regards the UN, the speed and determination of the response to the Libyan revolution, first referring Gaddafi to the ICC and now authorising intervention marks a dramatic break with the past. Clearly, the idea of non-intervention in internal affairs of sovereign states is dead.

We [1] are now at war with Libya. The passive sounding “No Fly Zone” slogan is a fig leaf to allay fears in the Occidental [2] public of getting bogged down in yet another Middle East quagmire.

“All necessary measures” implies “regime change”, which brings back uncomfortable memories. It harks back to another pre-emptive regime change, also started on St Patrick’s Day, against a notorious dictator of another Arab OPEC state, also prone to suppressing popular uprisings. Which is likely to degenerate into a sectarian civil war, drawing in other regional powers (Saudi, Iranian). I thought these Middle East adventures ran on decennial periods, but we are two years ahead of schedule.

Whoo-hoo, here we go again!

This military intervention does not “mark a dramatic break” with the recent “past”. It represents the evolution of an assertive Great Power policy that began in earnest with the regime-change of Milosevic from Kosovo, onto Suharto in E Timor and Hussein from Iraq.

The only difference between the UN’s pre-emptive, democracy-promoting regime change in Libya and the the US’s pre-emptive, democracy-promoting regime change in Iraq is that the Libya regime change has multilateral UN authorisation. Whereas the Iraq regime change only had unilateral US authorization. And was ordered by Bush, which obviously makes a difference to some people.

Otherwise it is an application of several aspects of the Bush doctrine. Without Bush.

Its Groundhog Day again!

Admittedly the UN authority makes a big formal difference when it comes politico-legal legitimacy. But not such a big substantive difference when it comes to military-logistic efficacy. We will have the same problems we had in Kosovo, ETimor and Iraq, a fractured state with incompetent civil authority.

Hopefully Obama has a better grasp of geo-politics than President Nimrod. So we won’t be spending the next decade sorting out another sectarian mess in this region.

I wonder why Occidental powers (and liberal intellectuals) have this compulsion to invade the Middle East. Sure I know, oil is a geo-political magnet. But the oil is there and will be sold no matter who runs the joint. The Japs seem to manage alright without poking their noses into other people’s dirty business.

Rather than in-vading the Middle East I think we should try “out-vading” the Middle East, the way Reagan did after Hezbollah (?) bombed the Marine barracks in Lebanon. With a nice parting shot courtesy of the a battleships 18 inch guns. Less cost in blood & treasure all round.

And if we have to hurt Gadaffi, what was wrong with Reagan’s plan of using an F1-11 to fire a warning shot over his bows when he got out of line? Pity about his daughter getting caught in the cross-fire, but less cost in blood & treasure all round. He certainly kept his head down for a while after that.

[1] Big Three Great Powers = US, UK & FRA
[2] Occidental = “The West”, a silly geo-chauvinist phrase that is offensive to Antipodeans.

38

Jack Strocchi 03.20.11 at 7:37 am

Shorter Strocchi: The Libyan intervention is a combination of the Clinton Doctrine and the Bush doctrine. Hopefully with some Powell Doctrine thrown in for good measure.

39

Andrew 03.20.11 at 2:58 pm

On the other hand, the very fact that the UNSC can authorise effective intervention, will make it more difficult for the US and others to justify bypassing the UNSC and undertaking interventions on their own. I don’t imagine that will necessarily prevent US governments from trying, but they will find it harder to assemble informal coalitions or use NATO as a UN substitute.

If NATO is determined to decide an issue by force of arms, inaction on the UNSC will be unlikely to have any impact. The parties whose persuasion is necessary will, in that case, have already been persuaded, and there is no higher court to which one may appeal once one side is determined to submit to a contest by force.

If the UNSC did not authorize military action – if Russia or China decided to exercise the veto – would the strikes have not been forthcoming? I suspect they would have gone ahead regardless. The impetus behind the intervention is somewhat moral and somewhat strategic, but without, imho, any concerns as to legality.

But, I think you are right to note that sovereignty has increasingly less moral force as a plea against non-intervention, to the extent it ever really did.

40

Julie Kinnear 03.20.11 at 8:10 pm

As for the British government if the military operation is successful the outcome will definitely be very positive for David Cameron and I think the situation which happened after the Falklands war and the increased popularity of Margaret Thatcher may repeat once more.

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