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Libya: Is it better if Qadhafi wins?

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COMMENTS

27 April 2011 13:11

Crispin Rovere is a Phd Candidate at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, ANU.

With the Libyan campaign entering a predictable stalemate and some now advocating disregarding UN resolution 1973 in favour of invasion, it's important to re-examine how all this relates to meeting the fundamental strategic objectives of protecting civilians from state orchestrated violence.

The UN resolution was passed on the basis of the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine (R2P). This dictates that in cases where crimes against humanity are perpetrated by a government against its own people and where military intervention would credibly improve the situation for the affected group, then as a last resort, state sovereignty gives way to foreign intervention in that circumstance. 

Yet despite the comparisons being liberally thrown about, Libya is not Rwanda, Kosovo, Srebrenica and certainly not the Holocaust. Libya is a civil conflict between one armed group against others.

We are not witnessing genocide, ethnic cleansing, or the mass displacement of peoples on the basis of race, religion, or cultural difference from the group in power.

Instead, NATO leaders (and Foreign Minister Rudd) claim that the intervention is preventing just such a massacre; that if the rebel-held city of Benghazi had fallen to pro-Qadhafi forces we would now be witnessing a humanitarian catastrophe.

But where is the evidence? Remember that the US-led air campaign only began when the rebels had been pushed back to its last eastern stronghold, after much of the revolt in the rest of the country had been supressed. Where are the stories of mass killings in these other centres? Where are the waves of refugees? Where is the overturning of mass graves?

Now the Libyan government has announced that it will allow UN led missions into all government-held areas to distribute humanitarian aid. The proof of that pudding will be in the eating of course, but if implemented, it seriously weakens the argument that the best way to protect civilians is full-scale regime change. 

And what of the rebels? That a portion of them are al Qaeda is something the US government isn't even denying (an issue US Ambassador Bleich was rather coy about on QandA a couple of weeks ago) and we are left in the absurd situation where US and NATO air power is not only protecting, but supporting al Qaeda fighters on the ground.

The rebels are not all or even principally foreign extremists, but they are an untrained, underequipped, undermanned and disparate fighting force.
 
What is not known is how in victory the rebels will govern and deliver services to the Libyan people. What is known is that, on their own they have no hope of victory and an intensive foreign air campaign is necessary merely to prevent their defeat.

It is clear the only possible way to dismantle the Qadhafi regime apparatus is yet another ground invasion, one expressly forbidden by UN resolution 1973 and ruled out by NATO leaders.

Nevermind the massive fiscal constraints in NATO countries, or how yet another Western foray into the Arab world will be perceived. History and experience has amply demonstrated those most deeply affected by any such adventure are the civilians caught up in the fighting.

Am I a fan of the Qadhafi regime? No, not particularly. But we need to have some broader strategic perspective.

In recent years the Libyan government began to re-join the international community after Qadhafi verifiably dismantled all WMD programmes back in 2003. These interventions are a lesson for rogue states as to what can happen if you surrender your deterrent capabilities without reciprocal security guarantees.

A foreign invasion of Libya is just the thing to ensure that come hell or high water, Iran will pursue a nuclear weapon and North Korea will never cease to maintain one.

At the end of the day, if we can have peace, a united Libya, with humanitarian assistance to its people and all it's going to cost us is some sour medicine and perhaps the political fortunes of a few overzealous and strategically inept foreign leaders, then I for one call that a bargain. 

Given the Qadhafi regime can be deterred from carrying out mass atrocities and the immense blood and treasure needed for its overthrow, then I ask, is allowing Qadhafi to win this one really so bad?

Photo by Flickr user Ulrick.S.C.

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