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Can NATO Agree on the Next Phase for Libya Operations?

With the first use – in anger – of Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft over Libya, and the imminent handing over of control by the US to NATO commanders, the Libyan No Fly Zone, though less than a week old, is entering a new phase. Heavy bombardment has so far eliminated the vast majority of the country’s air defence networks, but all reports indicated that government ground forces are still on the move, and still attacking democratic rebel forces where they can.

Decisions must soon be made about a way forward. The Arab League protests that the bombardment was not what it had envisaged when it asked the international community to intervene; experience in Iraq in the mid-1990s makes it clear that unless all means of co-ordination and control are removed from the state’s capabilities, efforts to suppress the populace (in Saddam Hussein’s case, by helicopter) will continue.

While some military commanders have claimed that Col. Qaddafi himself is not a target, politicians continue to stress that forceful removal of the leader is not entirely out of the question. In any case, it has been made eminently clear that Qaddafi must leave office. What has not been made clear is how that is expected to happen.

Options including ground troops?
Options for dealing with the situation in Libya stretch from supporting a de facto partitioning of the country through to assassination. The most satisfactory outcome in terms of legality and legitimacy would be to deliver top regime elements to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, where investigations into the regime’s abuse of civilians have already begun. This would send a clear and united message to regimes across the Middle East which are currently the target of democratic protests; that the protests themselves are legitimate, that grievances need to be addressed and that violent suppression of expressions of liberty will not be tolerated by the international community at large.

Delivering this outcome can only be achieved in one of two ways. Either rebel forces must prevail completely or NATO troops must be deployed in order to capture top regime members. The language of UNSC 1973 makes it clear that an occupying force is not an option; however, as top British politicians made clear yesterday, a ground force is not necessarily an occupying force. A multilateral split on an acceptable way forward is becoming apparent and, at the moment, this is not a politically feasible event. To deploy ground troops to the region would be admitting the failure of the NFZ in keeping civilians safe, and would constitute another intervention on top of Afghanistan and Iraq that could very easily lose strategic focus and international support…

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