Saturday, 26 February 2011

What can be done about Libya?

So the Libyans have spoken out about what kinds of intervention they would be happy to receive from the international community. Yet while protest leaders and commentators don't all agree on the detailed elements of what intervention is necessary, there are some clear trends emerging. Firstly, Libyans are not asking NATO to bomb them and their country to smithereens, leaving them on a ten year recovery path. Instead, they are calling for UN intervention. And it is true that the entire international community is looking to the UN Security Council for intervention. Banki-Moon, to his credit, has called for action to be taken sooner rather than later, yet it is unclear exactly what actions will be taken.

Some actions have already been taken. The Swiss government has frozen Gaddafi and his families assets, and America has announced that it will impose sanctions on Libya and the Gaddafi family. They need to go further and to freeze the assets of anyone who is still standing by Gaddafi, and anybody within and outside of Libya who may be helping him in any way. Anybody who is still associated with him should be aware that they are set to lose everything they ever gained through association with Gaddafi.

The US seems to be biding it's time, waiting for clear international leadership on the unfolding crisis, before it commits to any form of military action. The US has been advised not to put troops on the ground in Libya. Libyans, by and large seem to agree - they do not want an Iraq style rescue operation - so no troops on the ground. However, they seem very willing to accept the imposition of a no-fly zone and perhaps the bombing of Gaddafi's strategic command centres, bases etc. from the air. They also need arms with which to fight Gaddafi, and this call has emerged with frequency. To this end, strategic strikes might be an option, but there is a need for coordinated international action in this regard, and it might be better to bring in the UN as peacekeeping forces. However, in my view, this will only extend Gaddafi's hold on power, and will give him the perfect excuse to consolidate his reign on power in the West, and contrive to create a civil war situation between East and West. If the international community are going to do anything, they should disable his air and sea capability, command centres and his assets. This should be a substantial enough intervention to prevent Gaddafi from extending his grip on power. The issue, quite simply, is that nobody wants to see George Bush styled interventions. There's no room for cowboys in the middle east, and it seems clear that Libyans do not want a full-scale American style invasion involving on-the-ground troop involvement.

Most commentators agree that very little substantial action has been taken to stop the killings and intimidation on the ground, and the death toll seems to be skyrocketing out of control. With two-thirds of the country under opposition control (and Eastern Libya completely ceded), there are no humanitarian (or other) functional institutions on the ground that can account for events that are unfolding. It is widely accepted that Gaddafi is using mercenaries to retain control, with allegations that Serbian pilots are being used to conduct air-borne attacks on protesters. There is no telling what untold horrors aren't reaching the outside world as the Libyan army is confiscating cell phones from departees to cover up evidence of atrocities.

Most of the Libyan government and army has resigned or defected, so there is great potential to launch coordinated action against Gaddafi using a mixture of army and civilian troops, but the cost in lives might be higher than currently imagineable. Civil wars destroy entire countries, leaving behind damage to infrastructure and institutions that sometimes takes decades to restore, if ever. Overall, it's not a good option for any country, but there seems little choice.

It is clear that Gaddafi does intend to fight to the death, and to conduct house-by-house purges wherever his supporters still retain some level of control. Coming out in the streets in great numbers and conducting peaceful protests may be admirable, but the danger of being met with deathly force is extremely high. Libyans in Gaddafi controlled areas need to be strategic about how they go about confronting his militant supporters and paid-up mercenaries, focussing on siezing and taking control of critical infrastructure. In other words, attack the body and the head will fall.

At the same time, political action is required. Libyans need to put together some kind of interim representative committee that can make its case to the world, and ensure that Gaddafi becomes wholly marginalised inside and outside of Libya. It is necessary to have a broad and diverse set of representatives who can go out and consolidate the appeal to end Gaddafi's legitimacy in all forums. They need to target sections of the international community (such as those in Latin America) who have refused to denounce Gaddafi, bringing pressure on them through working with civil society groups in Latin American countries to shame their leaders.

Lastly, there needs to be a clear and unequivocal stance taken on the issue of mercenaries that are in Libya. They must all face severe charges in the International Criminal Court, wherever they escape to after Gaddafi is deposed. There needs to be clear extradition legislature and implementation bodies that will track down and ensure that everyone who played a part in this awful crime against humanity will be appropriately punished. The precedent needs to be set soon, so that other despots who seek the services of mercenaries in order to retain control will think twice about going this route. Additionally, mercenaries should have their assets frozen and/or confiscated, and should be assured that they will be tracked down no matter how long it takes - they should be treated like Nazi war criminals and brought to book. They have no business getting involved in illegal wars and that's that. They're no better than hired killers and the sentences should be so severe that they don't even contemplate acting as paid killers, for whatever regime. Here, the international community can play a big role - firstly, by warning the mercenaries that are already in Libya, and taking concrete actions to set up the committees and task groups that will be hunting them down.

Disabling Gaddafi's capacity to act through multi-faceted actions at all levels of operation is now necessary. An interim Libyan leadership can go a long way towards delegitimizing the Gaddafi regime, and ensuring that international actions do not constitute a violation of sovereignty in Libya, but set a precedent for the international community in as far as acting against dictators goes.

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