Military Matters, February 28, 2011

Can a madman who seems to pose the question “I rule you or I kill you” be convinced to withdraw by the sanctions decided yesterday by the UN Council without military back up?

Rather belated, the US decided to pose unilateral sanctions on Libya and the EU, NATO, and the UN Security Council are following suit, with the latter adopting yesterday a unanimous decision to pose tough measures on the not-so-much Jamahiriya of Libya. Up to now, an overwhelming figure of 1,000 is estimated to be the death toll according to the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Franco Frattini[1] and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon[2].

Sanctions are a useful tool in the long run and their usefulness lies in its preventive nature; that is before the escalation of a crisis. However, it is not quite effective in the short run and especially now in Libya where the situation is way out of control; let alone by itself. As Fouad Ajami of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies reminded us, Qaddafi survived sanctions before[3]. The Council decided to ask the International Court of Justice to investigate for crimes against humanity, to impose an arms embargo on Libya, and sanctions such as a travel ban and an asset freeze on the ruling elite[4]. Will these actions prevent the massacre in Libya? Is it possible that a Mad Dog who in essence poses the question “I rule you or I kill you” be restrained by such means? Hardly so. While the Western countries discuss sanctions, and until they actually implement their decisions, the number of murdered Libyans will rise and the West will share responsibility for this.

Qaddafi was in front of the urgent ultimatum, as the UK leadership suggested[5], long enough: withdraw and asylum or Hague and trial for crimes against humanity. Qaddafi has vowed to fight to his “last drop of blood” rather than abandoning its rule; there is indeed no need to wait much longer, the man responded already. Ban Ki-moon recognised that “even bolder steps might be necessary” and added that the Council’s decision “while it cannot, by itself, end the violence and the repression it is a vital step- a clear expression of the will of a united community of nations”.

From that point and on, the West needs to take immediate and decisive steps to prevent more killings. Immediately implement the decisions of the UN Council especially those related in humanitarian aid but also support the resistance forces, prepare a unified Western coalition and as Professor Bruce W. Jentleson suggests[6] wisely, include the Arab League and the African Union, and threaten for intervention. Military intervention even if risky is probably the only option to prevent the atrocious crimes currently committed in the country. That is not to suggest a full range military action but rather surgical operations such as shooting down airplanes that intend to attack protesters. Military force should back the international community’s decisions in order to be taken seriously by Qaddafi and his elite.

Let us also not forget, that if the West is truly interested in promoting democracy in the world, it has a moral obligation not only to save the Libyans from the bloody hands of their rulers but also to guarantee support for a regime change, with respect to their national integrity, providing the necessary checks and balances for the creation of a democratic state that the Libyans so righteously are struggling for.