NATO paralysed as US blocks no-fly zone
By Ian Davis from NATO Watch
NATO defence ministers gathered in Brussels yesterday and discussed options for responding to the crisis in Libya, including imposing a no-fly zone and enforcing an arms embargo, as well as supporting humanitarian missions.
However, the ministers concluded that force could only be used in Libya with broad international backing. Instead, the Alliance will reposition warships in the region and continue to plan for a potential humanitarian mission.
The meeting was scheduled months ago to debate reform issues and security transition in Afghanistan, but the Libyan conflict dominated the agenda. As the ministers met, Libyan government forces were launching new air raids on the eastern oil city of Ras Lanuf, while the western town of Zawiya was engulfed in heavy fighting.
Within NATO, the United States, Turkey and Germany are the most resistant to a no-fly zone, while France and Britain, which have been a drafting a UN resolution calling for one, are strongly in favour. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who has been stalwartly resistant to a no-fly zone, said in a news briefing after the meeting that military planning for such a zone would continue, “but that’s the extent of it”. NATO officials did not say which warships, or how many, would be repositioned, or exactly where. Gates only said they would move closer to Libya to monitor the UN arms embargo.
Turkey, home to NATO’s eastern air component command headquarters, is opposed to any NATO-led mission in Libya that could divide the Eastern and Western worlds, although Ankara would support a decision taken by the UN to protect civilians that was backed and supported by other Muslim nations. And even the Anglo-French unity was tested when France stepped ahead of the rest of the military alliance on Thursday morning to become the first country to recognize the Libyan rebel leadership in the eastern city of Benghazi.
Other NATO sources say that Gaddafi, in spite of outrageous acts against his own people, had not done enough to trigger intervention under international law.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen set out three principles for intervention: “firstly there has to be demonstrable need for NATO action, secondly there has to be a clear legal basis, and thirdly there has to be firm regional support”. Several defence ministers echoed these sentiments in media interviews, including Danish Defence Minister Gitte Lillelund Bech and Polish Defence Minister Bogdan Klich.
Meanwhile, Gaddafi’s regime released three Dutch pilots captured last week during a failed evacuation attempt. The crew members were transferred to Athens and will later travel to the Netherlands, the Dutch Ministry of Defence said on its website.
Separately, at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Italy called for a joint EU-NATO naval task force to patrol international waters off Libya’s shores to enforce a UN arms embargo and help stop migrants coming to Europe. Upping the ante even further, Nicolas Sarkozy called for air strikes on Libya if Gaddafi uses chemical weapons or bombs civilians. In contrast, EU foreign policy chief Lady Ashton has been telling the EU’s 27 leaders that a no-fly zone would be highly risky and could end up killing large numbers of civilians. On the risk to civilians from a NATO-led intervention, John Sloboda, co-founder of Iraq Body Count, told NATO Watch:
It has not been spelled out by any party that establishing a no-fly zone will involve deliberately killing people on the ground, by NATO weapons, mandated by NATO member governments, and paid for with taxes from NATO country citizens. Maybe, with luck not many would be killed, and maybe predominantly military personnel, but nonetheless NATO needs to estimate how many people it is likely to kill (minimum and maximum), publish that estimate in advance, and then scrupulously monitor actual out-turn, which must involve a report on every incident in which people were killed by NATO forces, including names of all those killed. Anything less will be utter hypocrisy in the light of the recent Security Council resolution, and the recent efforts of people on the ground. (Also see:The people on the street document casualties – why can’t governments? The Guardian, 2 March)
One of the world’s leading independent, non-partisan, sources of analysis and advice, the International Crisis Group (ICG), has also emphasised that the international community’s immediate priorities should be diplomatic and nonviolent responses. In a press release, the ICG called on the international community to pursue the objectives of a “complete ceasefire to be followed by negotiations to secure a transition to a post-Gaddafi, legitimate and representative government”. It added that “Military intervention should be viewed as a last resort, with the goal of protecting civilians at risk, and nothing should be allowed to pre-empt or preclude the urgent search for a political solution”.
Six of the best on the Libya crisis:
NATO Action Cannot Replace A Security Council Resolution in Libya, Sarwar Kashmeri, Atlantic Council, 10 March
Libya: the prospect of war, Paul Rogers, Open Democracy, 10 March
Libya is a conundrum made in hell – or rather Downing Street, Simon Tisdall, The Guardian,
A Ceasefire and Negotiations the Right Way to Resolve the Libya Crisis, International Crisis Group Press Release, 10 March
Let’s boycott, isolate and sabotage Gaddafi, Carne Ross, Financial Times, 9 March
IN DEPTH No-fly zones, CBC News, 9 March