Protecting foreign civilians at the risk of another war?

This week has seen an unprecedented number of twists and turns in Libya. Eight days ago the rebel forces looked like they were in control of the battle against Muammar Gaddafi and his rallied supporters and it seemed as if the incumbent power was waning.

A week is a long time in politics.

Gaddafi’s forces fought on two fronts in order to try and claim Tripoli and now Benghazi both with a huge loss of civilian life. Gaddafi’s air raids on his own people have edged this issue towards a civil war and now international pressure has increased from strong words and sanctions to action.

This action comes in the from of international air forces being deployed to Libya in order to enforce a ‘no fly zone’ which will prohibit any further use of aircraft by Gaddafi’s forces. However, this is more than a simple ‘patrol’ but requires proactive force against air bases in Libya.

The situation in the Middle-East for western states was already precarious – Iraq, Afghanistan, sanctions against Iran to name a few. The US and UK are hardly welcomed in this region and key political mistakes (the UK sending in forces in the dead-of-night, the US flip-flopping on decisions) has made this situation worse. To further accentuate the West-East divide is a distinct possibility.

What was absolutely necessary was the support from the Arab League. Without the leaders’ support this international action would severely lack legitimacy and would be further accentuated if the US and UK were to support alone, again.

Furthermore, to have the backing of the UN Security Council was an absolute must. Any international action which takes place outside of the UN has the possibility to at best, raise tensions and at worst, create the conditions for war.

David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, has acted with his international partners to facilitate this key legitimacy which has been lacking under previous governments’ decisions. Cameron has concisely summed up why the UK is pledging its support:

What we are doing is necessary, it is legal, and it is right.

It is necessary because, with others, we should be trying to prevent him using his military against his own people.

It is legal because we have the backing of the United Nations Security Council and also of the Arab League and many others.

And it is right because I believe we should not stand aside while this dictator murders his own people.

What is important here is that the forceful military support is not designed to plant democracy into a region. Hopefully we have learnt from past mistakes that a collaborative effort to protect freedoms and civil liberties does not escalate into explicitly depositing a form of democracy which has no organic roots. If this is tried (and let’s face it is has before) then issues which erode legitimacy will surface and the mission will fail.

Nevertheless, even with all the checks and balances and legitimacy, this mission can fail and can lead to further tensions within the region. Gaddafi has already claimed a long and drawn out war and that he will not surrender power. He has also explicitly threatened international leaders and has called the current international attacks an act of terrorism. His lies about calling a ceasefire which ended up with him stepping up the attacks in Benghazi has further highlighted how tenuous the situation is and whether the west, or moreover the UK, can afford such a war is another matter.

Do we risk our pilots’ lives with such a mission? Can we afford to help lead this mission? Will this further risk the UK’s status within the Middle-East?

It is the opinion of this author that we should absolutely deploy our troops and ensure that we help lead the mission in order to protect the millions of civilians in need. This is the role that the UK should play so long as we have the support of the necessary checks and balances that we have for a reason; namely the UN, regional support in the form of the Arab League and other international partners.

The problem this author has is that it can set a precedent – how many more countries will have the problem of a forceful leader who will cling to power at the ultimate cost? History has shown there to be many. As this number of countries increases then the ability of international intervention will decrease due to cost (be it life or monetary) or international relations. This can lead to a distinct separation of countries, fuelling further conflict with the outcome being a major loss of life.

Furthermore, what happens after the ‘no fly zone’? Do we get intrinsically pulled into a war scenario and what will we have to commit?

Yes, “evil flourishes when good men do nothing” but good men cannot do all, indefinitely.


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