All necessary measures

The surprisingly successful counterattack by the Gaddafi forces in Libya has produced an even more surprising response. Whereas a day or so ago it seemed unlikely that the US, let alone the UNSC, would support a no-fly zone, the UNSC has now passed (10-0 with China among the abstentions) a resolution authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians from Gaddafi’s forces. At least according to the NYTimes, that includes airstrikes directed at ground forces.

The only question now is who will supply the necessary force, and this is primarily a diplomatic issue – the military requirements are well within the capacity of France, the US, the UK, the Arab League and probably quite a few others. But whoever supplies the planes, it seems clear that Gaddafi’s regime is doomed. It is striking that, having been regarded as a member in good standing of the international community only a couple of months ago, he is now unable to secure a single vote in the UNSC.

The vote has big implications for the UN and also for the remaining Middle Eastern dictatorships/monarchies, most notably Bahrein and “Saudi” Arabia

As regards the UN, the speed and determination of the response to the Libyan revolution, first referring Gaddafi to the ICC and now authorising intervention marks a dramatic break with the past. Clearly, the idea of non-intervention in internal affairs of sovereign states is dead. Moreover, it’s now clear that dictatorships are effectively second-class members of the international community, open to overthrow with international support when the opportunity arises. That’s a big break with traditional Westphalian ideas.

On the other hand, the very fact that the UNSC can authorise effective intervention, will make it more difficult for the US and others to justify bypassing the UNSC and undertaking interventions on their own. I don’t imagine that will necessarily prevent US governments from trying, but they will find it harder to assemble informal coalitions or use NATO as a UN substitute.

The other big implications are for the kings of Bahrein and “Saudi” Arabia, whose decisions in the last few days to murder protestors and arrest opposition leaders, apparently emboldened by Gaddafi’s successes and the distracting effects of the Japanese disaster, now look spectacularly ill-timed. While the US and UK response so far has been limited to calls for “restraint”, these rulers have now put themselves in the same category as Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddafi.

Of course, that poses some big choices for the US Administration. Its traditional policy in the region is symbolised by the big naval base in Bahrein, and long-standing support for friendly dictators. The hope was to manage a smooth transition to a pro-democracy position, with the absolute monarchs becoming constitutional enough to pass muster. It’s hard to see that happening now.

44 thoughts on “All necessary measures

  1. Bahrain is the location of the US fifth fleet. It has just been basically invaded by Saudi troops to crush the uprising there with US backing. Hungary ’56 style.

    Rumors have it that the US gave the green light to Saudi Arabia to do this in exchange for Saudi Arabia giving the green light for Arab League backing of a no-fly zone.

    Basically the US would be moving military forces from one country where a democratic uprising is currently being crushed in order to protect a democratic uprising in a different country.

  2. The turn-around is not surprising as, presumably the rebels have strong links to Western powers, that can be used to influence matters.

    These ‘rebels’ (plus MI6 advisors) appear to have remarkably good English.

    So are they devising a similar stance over Bahrain? Yemen? Tibet?

  3. With the benefit of hindsight, the success of Gaddafi’s forces is not surprising. Note that I say “with the benefit of hindsight”. I made no predictions at the start of the Libya uprising. I considered that there were too many unknowns.

    First unknown: Would Gaddafi take a hard line?
    Second unknown: How would the population split?
    Third unknown: How would the army and security apparatus split?
    Fourth unknown: How effective would irregular elements be?

    In retrospect, I guess most of us are saying to ourselves we should have known Gaddafi would take a hard line. The more prescient among us probably predicted from the start that Gaddafi would take an extremely hard line.

    Without detailed knowledge of Libya and its network of loyalties, nobody could predict how the population might split. The same is true of the military and special forces. It now seems that Gaddafi commanded the loyalty of a sufficient population base for his immediate purposes. The armed forces split in a minor way but clearly the much greater proportion, especially of high value assets like the air force, armoured units and artillery, remained under Gaddafi’s command and control structure.

    Irregular forces have proven to be (so far) relatively ineffective. My guess is that most irregular forces in Libya are neophytes to insurgency; inexperienced, untrained and unhardened. Not enough elements of the official military joined them to create effective command and coordination, nor to harden them up.

    The terrain (flat, open desert) and one single ribbon of significant towns along a long coast, suits conventional military operations backed or even spearheaded by armour, artillery, air and naval elements. Insurgency and guerilla operations are difficult to prosecute in such open terrain. The only place and situation where the insurgents could fight conventional ground troops on terms of approximate equality would be block to block in urban warfare.

    Gaddafi will not engage his forces in such a manner. As Gaddafi has no qualms about civilian casualties, his forces can stand off and pound towns and cities from ground, air and sea. Then tanks (and possibly gunships) can spearhead infantry sweeps into the flattened urban landscape.

    What will happen now with intervention is still an open question.

  4. Who armed Gaddafi?

    – Arms exports to Libya totaled about 340 million Euros a year.
    – The 4 biggest exporters were Italy, Germany, France and the UK.
    – The same 4 lobbied in 2004 to have the Libyan arms embargo lifted.

    The hypocrisy is staggering. The claim to be concerned about saving the Libyan people from oppression is spurious. The geopolitics is about preserving oil and energy supplies to the permanent members of the UN Security council and their middle rank allies.

  5. Arms sales are a major undiscussed issue that is for sure and yes major powers are hypocritical but that doesn’t mean the concern for the Libyan people is not genuine.

    The Libyan oil will still get to the market one way or another no matter who is in power in Libya. can’t see why that is an argument against the intervention.

  6. I would not be too quick to say that Gaddafi is doomed. Civil wars are not won by planes blowing things up. The effect of the air assaults may simply be to prevent a clear-cut outcome and thus prolong the ground fighting.

  7. About time on the no flight zone and bombing. Let’s hope they go all out against Gaddafi. And let’s hope they are not too late. They are already too late for many.

    They can wipe out any of Gaddafi’s tanks and equipment quite easily from the air, if they are in the open, as they did in Iraq. Wiping out tanks with helicopter gunships is like shooting fish in a barrel. As for the rest they should be able to degradate the rest of his equipment and installations to the extent that remaining supports will defect or the opposition with its weapons ought to be able to win. Western help need not set foot on the ground.

    Unfortunately, Gaddafi’s progress against the opposition was all too predictable and what has unfolded would have been well understood and predicted by those in the US, Britian, France, or any other country with a decent military. The only unknown that would have stopped Gaddafi from progressing to an easy win against the opposition was the possibility of massive defection, or insurrection within his ranks. That seemed less and less likely as time went on.

    Let’s also hope that the do unleash the full effort on Gaddafi and that once they do that they don’t accept any cease fires, and they accept nothing less than unconditional surrender.

    What a contrast: all the establishment voices against doing something about Gaddafi as he is engaged in mass murder and the absence of establishment voices against going into Iraq, even when, eventually, Hussein was willing to step down and go peacefully into exile.

  8. And where is the serious response to Bahrain? Surely a stronger response from the West is required?

  9. Pr Q said:

    Clearly, the idea of non-intervention in internal affairs of sovereign states is dead. Moreover, it’s now clear that dictatorships are effectively second-class members of the international community, open to overthrow with international support when the opportunity arises. That’s a big break with traditional Westphalian ideas.

    So when there is a peasant uprising, tax-payer revolt or secessionist movement in the (dictatorial) PRC the UN will get together to authorise military strikes against the PLA (a wholly owned subsidiary of the CCP).

    [irony] I’d like to see that.[/irony]

    I daresay the Wesphalian settlement still has some legs.

    PS Serbia (former Yugoslavia) was a democratic state when the US bombed it into abandoning its sovereign claim over Kosovo.

  10. If I were a Brit, Frenchman and US citizen, one of the 101 reasons why I would never join the military would be:

    No matter where I was sent I would quite likely be killed by military hardware sold to my opponent by my own country.

  11. @Doug
    Says “arms sales” are a major undiscussed issue for obvious reasons. Already David Cameron was cauht out attempting to fly into the trouble zones with a coterie of arms dealing executives in tow. The advanced Western nations are truly some of the biggest hypocrites. They have one face for the media and another doing dirty business deals on the side to sell arms into the mess.
    You cant trust a thing you read – except Wikileaks.

  12. So far, the UN is taking a consistent line, condemning Bahrain in much the same terms as in the previous cases at the same stage. I agree though, it’s hard to see the US being keen on airstrikes

    Wow, “hard to see the US being keen on airstrikes”?? Holy smokes, talk about an understatement! America might as well be directing their own airstrikes at the democrats in Bahrain.

    Do you think Saudi Arabia would ever even think of moving its troops into a neighboring country which happens to be one of the USA’s most important military bases in the world, in order to put down a democratic uprising in that country (using US weapons), if they hadn’t received permission from the United States first? NO WAY. The massacres in Manama are pure stars-and-stripes.

    America (which owns a good part of Saudi Arabia), and the Saudis (which own a good part of America) both need the Bahraini democracy movement disposed of. They’ve seen the domino effect in action in Northern Africa. They know that if the Shiite community in Saudi Arabia (which happens to live in the most oil-rich part of the country) starts to revolt then the whole global economic system will be turned upside down. The 70s shocks would be literally nothing in comparison.

    Even if the Bahraini royal family wanted to cede power the Saudis wouldn’t let them.

    The other big implications are for the kings of Bahrein and “Saudi” Arabia, whose decisions in the last few days to murder protestors and arrest opposition leaders, apparently emboldened by Gaddafi’s successes and the distracting effects of the Japanese disaster, now look spectacularly ill-timed.

    More like perfectly timed. The Libyan thing takes the attention away, and the Saudis would not have agreed to go along with it without this quid-pro-quo.

    Meanwhile, I’m sure that the people of Gaza are looking forward to the international community protecting them with a no-fly-zone next time they’re getting pulverized like fish in a barrel. With white-phosphorous.

  13. Gaddafi has apparently announced an immediate cease fire.

    Good. Sitting targets are easier to hit. Apparently his tanks are about a third to half way on a road to Benghazi. If they are quick they should be able to clean them up.

  14. Gaddafi is cunning – and crazy but even he can see that he needs to stop murdering vast numbers of civilians if he is not to become a pariah or worse once more. t is a huge shift because it did look like the UN was just going to wring its hands but do nothing. That the Security Council managed to find a common position was extraordinary.

  15. Many years ago the US killed Gaddafi’s son, in an ill-fated missile strike on Gaddafi’s tent in the desert; the objective had been to get Gaddafi himself but he was somewhere else at the time. These tents are biiggg – think Spiegeltent rather than cubscouts type. Anyway, since then Gaddafi and the USA have hardly considered all sins of the other to be forgiven.

    I doubt that Gaddafi was ever just going to turn over the keys to his opponents when his next son in line was ready to take over the family business. Still, one thing that Saddam Hussein’s demise has shown is that it isn’t difficult, just extremely expensive, to kick out a dictatorship. What this gets replaced with is where the new difficulties begin. It still isn’t clear to me that the front runners for replacing the regime are even known to the rest of the world, let alone being suitable material for establishing a democracy.

    I don’t think I’ll venture a prediction as to whether democracy will flourish, or instead some nasty brutish thug of a dictator takes the reins, and that includes Gaddafi’s clan. I wonder if Gaddafi’s son Saif is being accommodated in a blast-proof bunker or whether the Gaddafi family still like their tents – somehow I doubt it.

  16. Pr Q @ #12 said:

    This is silly, Jack. I’m sure if you think a bit about it you can work out the fallacy.

    Well it would take a sharper man than me to spot it, but I shall have a crack in the interests of good sportsmanship.

    To recapitulate as syllogism the Quiggin take on the UNSC’s revision of international law, in the aftermath of the Libyan “pariah state” exception to Westphalian sovereignty:

    Unconditional national sovereignty is partially voided when a state:

    Major Premise 1. Engages in military attacks against civil uprisings (“the idea of non-intervention in internal affairs of sovereign states is dead”)

    Major Premise 2. Prohibits or prevents democratic modes of civil expression and representation (“dictatorships are effectively second-class members of the international community”)

    I argue that the PRC has, does and will satisfy these two conditions in that it is:

    Minor Premise 1. Engages in military repression of civil uprisings (eg Tianamen Square, Tibet, etc)

    Minor Premise 2. Maintains an undemocratic government and authoritarian censorship (Politburo, internet censorship)

    Conclusion: The PRC does and will satisfy the condition of “pariah state”, and should, on this supposed revision of international law, be subject to UNSC military intervention. Good luck with that!

    Nope, my logic is flawless.

    There must be something wrong with your principle if it implies that we must go to war with the PRC everytime it uses the PLA to break a few heads. The Chinese have a curse prepared for such course of action: “may you live in interesting times”.

    PS It would be nice for a change if people responded with rational argument rather than point-and-splutter dismissals of the kind “shameful”, “pseudo-scientific” or out-right bans. Still “silly” represents an improvement of sorts. I suppose my abrasive style gets on some peoples nerves. I should try harder to be more convivial but old blogging habits die hard.

  17. The principle of non-interference has always been honoured as much in the breach as the observance. Intervention over religious issues was common in Europe the 17th and early 18th centuries, against radicalism in the late 18th and 19th centuries (cannonade of Valmy anyone? Holy Alliance? 1848), over left/right issues in the 20th. And common against non-Europeans at all times. One should not mistake rhetoric for practice.

  18. Of course its always possible to water down the “pariah state” policy of UN military intervention from a general principle to an opportunistic practice. That is, we play favourites with our no fly zones, depending on the potential strength of adversaries and what is in our interest at the time.

    This would have the merit of being sane and reducing the probability of a nuclear war with the PRC.

    But this form of opportunistic interventionism would not be some grand revision of international law. Its just boring old national interest policies dressed up in high-falutin’ Wilsonian rhetoric.

    Its possible that the UN’s “pariah state” exception for Libya is a form of opportunism rather than a New World Order. After all, Libya has a lot of oil which UNSC states would be licking their chops to get at with mining concessions, if they can get Gaddaffi & Sons out of the oil monopoly way. And it has annoyed a lot of people with its terrorist excursions.

    But I am having trouble seeing what national interest we have in empowering the Shiites across the Middle East. Its not as if they have any enduring affection for the Occidental world.

    Basically George Bush started this Middle East democratic uprising by empowering the Shiites through democracy promotion in Iraq. Now all the other Shiite-majority/Suuni-minority dictatorships in the region are catching the democratic fever.

    The Suunis are not to happy with this political turn of events, since they are what Amy Chua would call a market (and state)-dominant minority. They have a lower birth rate and hence don’t have the numbers to win democratic contests.

    I would not be surprised if the Iranian’s were pulling a few strings behind the scenes. Their finger prints were all over the Iraq WMD hoax.

    Canny buggers, they got their major global enemy (US) to get rid of their major regional enemy (Iraq), under the guise of “democracy promotion”. Now playing the same trick with all the other Shiite nations in the Middle East. Machiavelli rules in the country which invented chess.

    Next installment: A nuclear-armed Iran leading a revival of the Persian empire, Shiite version.

  19. Of course its always possible to water down the “pariah state” policy of UN military intervention from a general principle to an opportunistic practice. That is, we play favourites with our no fly zones, depending on the potential strength of adversaries and what is in our interest at the time.

    You got it Jack! But miss the bonus points for picking up that any UN military intervention against China would require that China vote for it as a permanent security council member.

    Basically George Bush started this Middle East democratic uprising by empowering the Shiites through democracy promotion in Iraq. Now all the other Shiite-majority/Suuni-minority dictatorships in the region are catching the democratic fever. Which would be silly.

    “All”? There is only one Shiite majority/Sunni minority dictatorship in the region: Bahrain. Two with Yemen if you count Zaydism as being Shiism. And it would seem that they caught the democratic fever from Tunisia, just like all the other Sunni majority countries in Middle East and Northern Africa. Sorry but it’s drawing a ridiculously long bow to give Bush any sort of credit for this, but that isn’t stopping those embarrassed by their support of the Iraq War from trying.

  20. Obviously, you need a hint, Jack, so here it is. The phrase “whatever is not prohibited is compulsory” is intended as a black joke, not as a policy rule. I’m sure you’ll get the point this time, but tell me if not.

  21. gerard @ #21 said:

    You got it Jack! But miss the bonus points for picking up that any UN military intervention against China would require that China vote for it as a permanent security council member.

    Yes, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” is going to be a problem when considering the prospects for international Rule of Law. Pr Q’s Brave New post-Westphalian World Order of UN military intervention against repressive dictatorships (“pariah states”) requires a certain permanent member of the UNSC to vote for military action against itself. I am not going to hold my breath waiting for the PRC to tell the PLA to attack itself next time it puts down an uprising.

    gerard said:

    “All”? There is only one Shiite majority/Sunni minority dictatorship in the region: Bahrain….Sorry but it’s drawing a ridiculously long bow to give Bush any sort of credit for this, but that isn’t stopping those embarrassed by their support of the Iraq War from trying.

    Actually I am inclined to give even more credit to the Iranian Shiites, with GWB acting as a somewhat unwitting mid-wife to the birth of Shiite democracy in the most powerful Arab nation. Its clear that they have a strategic game plan (building nukes, regime change in Iraq, arming Hezbollah). Funding and co-ordinating a Shiite uprising in the region nicely suits their purposes.

    But Dubyah should certainly get his fair share of any laurels being handed out for democracy-promotion in the Arab Middle-East. He got the Shiite democratic ball rolling, both in Iraq with results that speak for themselves, and Lebanon which is always up for some sectarian fun-and-games.

    Even more significantly the Shiites form a majority or growing plurality in some of the Gulf oil states/provinces such as Bahrain, Kuwait and eastern Saudi Arabia. It will not have escaped the notice of these people that local control of oil is a nice little earner for those who the Iraqi Shiia who have the numbers at the ballot box.

    To be sure democracy exercises an ideological pull for the long oppressed peoples of the Middle East that transcends sectarian lines, evident in the largely secular democratic uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. But there is also an underlying ethnological push for democracy that is being driven by the Shiite resurgence, very probably orchestrated by the fiendish Iranian intelligence service.

    More generally you miss the point that the Shia have substantial and growing minorities in most Middle Eastern states, owing to their much higher birth rate. That gives them populist momentum. Demography is, as always, destiny, especially amongst the nations which boast a restive “Arab Street”.

  22. @Jack Strocchi
    says “But Dubyah should certainly get his fair share of any laurels being handed out for democracy-promotion in the Arab Middle-East.”

    Oh come on – all Dubya did in Iraq was create chaos and enrich his private sector corporate mates like Hallibburton on the back of the US taxpayers who funded it (and the US wonders why it has the unspeakable deficit??)…as for his grand rebuilding plan…is Iraq rebuilt?

    No.

    It didnt happen and if you call that democracy at work Jack Strocchi – there is something wrong with you.
    Thats not democracy – that is destruction.

    Ive told Jack time and time again he has a view through rose coloured glasses for the conservatives in the US (at least we know Jack is predictable). They dont deserve it. The US is a mess. Foreign policy is a mess. Unemployment is a mess. Economic policy is a mess. Their entire economy is a mess – but you think its all hunky dory as long as the conservatives rule.

    They have been ruling Jack and they have stuffed up big time and they have their fingers on so many control levers even when the democrats get control its almost not worth arguing. Lets just let them keep going with bad policies until they crash the economy and themselves iirevocably and lets then stand up, wipe ourselves clean of the false ideologies of indvidual greed and really move forward.

  23. Alice @ #24 said:

    Oh come on – all Dubya did in Iraq was create chaos and enrich his private sector corporate mates like Hallibburton on the back of the US taxpayers who funded it (and the US wonders why it has the unspeakable deficit??)…as for his grand rebuilding plan…is Iraq rebuilt? No

    GWB certainly did all of that and worse, unleashing a sectarian civil war. But he did institute democracy in Iraq. This is obviously important directly in itself and indirectly by example.

    The example of Shiite democracy in Iraq has percolated into the political consciousness of the region. This would not have happened, or at least not so rapidly, without Bush’s regime change.

    More importantly it will have established and cemented regional Shiite political associations. Undoubtedly the Iranians are stirring that pot.

    Shiite “illiberal democracy” in the Middle East is a mixed blessing for liberals. Already the Iraqi Shiites are pulling up the democratic ladder on which they clambered up to power. The NYT (JAN 2011) reports on the way the Shiites are tightening the screws on the Suunis:

    Last Thursday, Iraq’s Independent High Election Commission upheld a ban on nearly 500 Sunni politicians handed down (possibly illegally) some days earlier by the Accountability and Justice Commission.

    If the ban is allowed to stand, it will do more than just throw a wrench in the works. It will persuade a great many Iraqis that the prime minister or other Shiites, like Mr. Chalabi, are using their control over the electoral mechanics to kneecap their rivals. It may also convince many Sunnis that they will never be allowed to win if they play by the rules, and that violence is their only option.

    Nice timing, huh?

    Whether Shiite democracy is a good thing or a bad thing depends largely on which side of the sectarian divide you stand on. But it is a thing.

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