Ending the Odyssey: A Proposal for Restoring Peace in Libya
April 12th, 2011
By David C. Weinczok
Lest we forget, the essential purpose of the United Nations' Security Council Resolution 1973 is humanitarian. In response to the killing of dozens of peaceful protesters during Libya's 'Day of Rage' marches on February 17th to 18th and throughout the following month, the Security Council (absent China and Russia) called for, among other things, an immediate ceasefire on the part of head of state Moammar Gadhafi's military, the protection of civilians from violence and the intensification of efforts to "find a solution to the crisis which responds to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people" . While critics are quick to point out that it is unclear how these "legitimate" demands may be defined , what is clear from reports emerging from the war-torn country is that there is no greater demand than for the absence of immediate mortal threats to the lives of Libyan civilians. The protracted stalemate which has primarily gripped the vast coastal north has made starvation, homelessness, and the threat of imminent assaults from loyalist forces daily realities for tens of thousands of civilians in cities such as Benghazi, Misrata, Ajdabiya, and Brega. The town of Bin Jawad, 160 kilometres from Gadhafi's birthplace Sirte, was home to 150,000 people as little as a month ago. Today, it is largely deserted - its residents having fled in desperation, unwittingly compacting the misery of the places in which they sought refuge due to a national shortage of food, clean water and basic medical supplies .
The international forces now operating in Libya face a dilemma in the truest sense, for no solution can possibly satisfy all parties; indeed, every proposed course of action is certain to provoke severe condemnations from various domestic and international actors alike. An expansion of NATO's military role would provoke the deep ire of countries committed to the maintenance of the legal sovereign equality of states, such as China, Russia or Brazil. On the other hand, a retracting of international support for the rebel forces would challenge both the post-industrialized world's rhetorical commitment to the project of democracy and its ability to use such reasoning for future imperial undertakings . Taking this as a given, this work proposes that the humanitarian purpose of Resolution 1973 must not be lost in broader geopolitical concerns. Now that the intervention is a reality, and acknowledging that its withdrawal would almost certainly result in an unequivocal humanitarian catastrophe, the question must be, 'what strategy of reconciliation in Libya will most effectively guarantee the personal security of those civilians whose lives are now mortally imperilled'? The answer may not be very palatable for some of the actors involved, but the justification for intervention in the first place will be utterly nullified if all available options are not examined with a mind to the human cost of the international community's geopolitical calculations.
Notes on Timing and Perspective
Because the issue being written of is 'live' in an especially dynamic way, and therefore subject to sudden and dramatic change, it is appropriate before beginning to offer a note on several major events which have occurred thus far to shape the humanitarian approach to the Libyan crisis. As of the time of writing, the following major events had unfolded which guided the disposition and ultimate conclusion of this work. On February 23rd, 2011 anti-Gadhafi forces, which had become decidedly militarized during the week following the 'Day of Rage' marches, occupied the eastern coastal city of Benghazi, which would serve as the locus of rebel organizing. This action, precipitated by the extreme repression and violence against the protesters by committed by Gadhafi's forces, definitively put the country into a state of civil war, with two clearly identifiable - if not internally unanimous - sides in the conflict . In turn, the state intensified its military efforts against rebel-held civilian centres and deployed its forces in much the same way as in a conventional war. Columns of tanks, armoured personnel carriers and supply trucks loyal to Gadhafi rumbled across the Libyan desert, shadowing the burned out spectres of the Desert Fox's best laid plans of three quarters of a century ago.
On March 17th, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1973, which provided for the instalment of a no-fly zone over eastern Libya for the immediate purpose of preventing the overrunning of Benghazi by Gadhafi's forces, whose tanks and mobile artillery had reportedly begun an indiscriminate shelling of the city . The initial days of "Operation Odyssey Dawn", the codename given to the multilateral military operation presently underway, saw the most massive combined air strikes since the "Shock and Awe" campaign which opened the US invasion of Iraq. Within the first forty-eight hours, the United States had launched 110 cruise missiles against ground targets both outside of Benghazi and within Gadhafi's command centre in Tripoli . Many argued that the latter target was an illegitimate extension of the UN mandate to protect civilians and constituted an offensive action against the Libyan state, while NATO officials responded that disabling Gadhafi's command and control capabilities was a necessary element of that mandate . Such ambiguities have hitherto been the hallmark of the intervention, and serve as examples of the various political dispositions at play in judging its legitimacy.
By March 29th, all romanticized notions of a swift rebel victory under the protective guidance of coalition air power had faded into the grim reality of a protracted civil war. On this day, rebel forces had approached within 50 kilometres of Sirte following a tide of momentum which had seen half a dozen coastal cities fall into opposition hands, but had been forced to retreat when they came under fire from Gadhafi's troops - perhaps expecting, contrary to the provisions of Resolution 1973, that the coalition would provide offensive support for rebel manoeuvres on the ground . Such events, which had by then come to emerge as a sort of pattern, have caused much frustration among the rebels, who with each day that the stalemate persists grow increasingly skeptical of the coalition's motivations for intervening. "In fact" notes The Economist, "the only emerging pattern is one of wildly see-sawing fortunes, as coastal towns change hands with almost metronomic regularity" .
About Author / Additional Info:
I am a 4th year undergraduate student at York University, Ontario, in the Global Political Studies program. I am considering grduate studies in Geneva in hefield of contemporary history and politics. I welcome all forms of feedback and invite responses!