Monday 21 March 2011

The Third World War

Now, for only the third time during its 65-year history, the UN Security Council, the body notionally responsible for world security, has authorised direct military attack in support of one of its resolutions. However, this is quite different to the previous UN-authorised conflicts.

In Korea in 1950, the resolution authorising the deployment of forces under the UN banner was only possible because of the absence of the Soviet delegation, and was, at least initially, designed for the specific purpose of evicting the North Korean invaders from the south. In the case of Kuwait in 1990-1, the resolution was also clearly limited to actions necessary for liberating Kuwait.

In the present resolution, it is impossible to see any such clear limitations, or purpose to the resolution. The various parts of the Anglo-Franco-American alliance do not even seem to be clear as to who will be leading the coalition, what its objectives are, or even what the resolution authorising their action actually authorises. The Americans are talking only of a no-fly zone, whilst the first act of the French was to carry out strikes against tank columns. Whilst the only thing that is explicitly barred by the resolution is an occupation of Libya, even this does not seem to explicitly prevent an invasion of the country.

Moreover, once the present coalition has done what it can to protect the rebel-held cities of Benghazi, Misrata, etc., what happens then? Most obviously, now that we are in we should do what we can to help the rebels overthrow Gaddafi and resolve the situation - yet no-one has come forth to say this or even imply it. Regime change is the logical conclusion of the previous resolution referring the Gaddafi government to the International Criminal Court, yet this is not recognised.

This is, of course, not only the third UN-authorised military action, but also the third military action by the Western Powers in a majority Muslim country in the last ten years. If this conflict is resolved quickly, if Gaddafi is overthrown quickly and the Libyans left to solve their own problems, then we may at least be assured that another quagmire like Afghanistan will have been avoided. Unfortunately this is far from certain.

[Picture: A Tomahawk missile is launched from the USS Stetham, 2004. Via Wikicommons]


Anonymous said...

FOARP. The western powers are operating under an incredibly woolly duty statement, and mission creep is open to numerous interpretations.

I wrote a conflicted piece on JRs site, but since then are having some second thoughts.

It may have been morally right to intervene, but it is also politically very dangerous for France, Britain and the US vis a vis perceptions in the highly volatile present-day Islamic world.

This is a big subject and I don't think the great majority of us blog scribblers have the wherewithall to do it justice.


Gilman Grundy said...

@KT - Since I'm pretty sure that neither Cameron, nor Obama, nor Sarko knows what they are doing in this, our commentary is as good as most.

Anonymous said...

#FOARP I think Sarko is trying to resurrect his second term presidential prospects.


justrecently said...

Frankly, I'm not sure who's more volatile - the Islamic world, or France's president, KT. ;)

I'm not sure what the best approach would be, but "seem to feel" that safeguarding the Gaddafi-free regions from Tripoli's revenge, and - possibly - recognizing the authorities in Benghazi as Libya's new government. Everything else must be up to the Libyans, if the situation allows.

What that would mean for life in Libya, for "our" oil supplies from there, etc., is certainly a different question - I can't tell. But what I can tell is that "regime change" is not within the UN mandate. If we hope for a constructive UN SC in the future, the council must be shown some respect.

Anonymous said...

Libya produces exactly 3% of the worlds oil at present, but it is what is referred to as "sweet crude", high quality stuff, and hence involves low refining costs.