The bombing in Libya was justified under UN Resolution 1973 in targeting tanks and artillery which were shelling Benghazi. It is not justified if it continues to bomb the entire country long after anti-aircraft batteries have been destroyed, nor is it justified in targeting non-military targets (such as Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli) nor in supporting rebel assaults on towns or cities held by Gaddafi’s forces, as this will kill as many civilians through “collateral damage” from bombing as would be killed by artillery and tank shelling. The repeated bombing of Tripoli which has taken place despite the fact there is no fighting on the ground is not authorised by the UN resolution for the same reason – it is likely to be killing civilians, not protecting them (1) – (5).
Cameron and Sarkozy have made a great deal of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 authorising the use of “all necessary means” (i.e military force), while largely ignoring the “to protect civilians” part of the same sentence.This has a lot to do with the very poor poll ratings and high unemployment both politicians have in their own countries. Cameron would dearly like to repeat Margaret Thatcher’s Falklands ‘patriotic war’ bounce back by moving the media’s focus to foreign policy.
This explains his government’s claim that attempting a re-run of Reagan’s 1986 attempt to assassinate Gaddafi by airstrike (actually managing to killed a very young girl – Gaddafi’s adopted daughter - along with dozens of other people and hit the Austrian, Swiss and French embassies) would be within the remit of the UN resolution to “protect civilians” as Gaddafi has ordered the killing of unarmed protesters (6) – (8). It would not, because, as with the 1986 strike, it would be likely to kill civilians in large numbers itself. It already seems to have been attempted in an air-strike on an “administrative building” or “Gaddafi compound” in Tripoli (9). The likelihood is that, as in 1986, civilians will have been killed. (Some people claim that the girl killed in the 1986 strikes was only posthumously adopted as Gaddafi’s “daughter” for propaganda purposes. Even they admit that the strikes killed civilians including children though. The same people – the badly mis-named ‘Accuracy in Media’ also use the neo-con rag ‘The Weekly Standard’ as a source on Iraqi WMDs though. The Weekly Standard is so unable to separate what it wants to believe from rational thought that it once simultaneously claimed both that former CIA head George Tenet was a proven liar and that a book he wrote proved Saddam had WMDs and links to Al Qa’ida – a considerable feat of doublethink) (10) – (13).
British Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey and others have even suggested the possibility if deploying ground troops, claiming that if it wasn’t “a large deployment” it wouldn’t breach the Resolution. In fact the resolution clearly states that it involves “excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory” from “all necessary means”. Those suggesting the “necessity” for ground troops also ignore the fact that even the rebels say they would fight them “with more force than we are using against Gaddafi” if they are deployed - in order to avoid being occupied like Iraq or Afghanistan (14) – (15).
Not sending in ground troops will prevent an Iraq 2003 style war (though it still risks a long civil war if fighting continues – and even if Gaddafi is overthrown), but that still leaves the possibility of an Iraq 1991 – 2002 style air war in which tens of thousands of civilians are killed directly by bombing and hundreds of thousands killed by the indirect effects of it (e.g damage to water and sewage systems) (16) – (17).
Suggestions reported by Al Jazeera from some NATO governments that their takeover of the air campaign in Libya could involve preventing either side assaulting towns held by the other are welcome and – unlike some current strikes – would be enforcing the UN resolution by preventing civilian casualties, not going beyond it in a war of regime change.
These suggestions presumably come from the Turkish government, since the French and British have been following the opposite course – trying to “break the stalemate’ by supporting rebel offensives on Gaddafi held towns or those containing the forces of both sides (18).
While we know Gaddafi is a dictator and would very likely have killed or disappeared much of the population of Benghazi if he’d captured it, we know very little of the rebels, their past, their aims, who they are and who is funding and backing them. Gaddafi has the support of at the least a large minority of the population in the West and there is no guarantee that the rebels taking Tripoli would kill less people than Gaddafi would have if he’d taken Benghazi – especially if it involves air strikes.
We know from Kosovo, from Afghanistan and from Iraq that US and NATO air strikes are as likely to kill civilians as anyone else’s air or artillery strikes are. Given that the US military’s default line on air strikes killing civilians in Afghanistan being blanket denial (followed, months later, by admitting to killing half the number of civilians they actually did), the claims by NATO governments not to have killed any civilians in airstrikes in Libya are likely to be equally hollow (19) – (21).
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates claim that Gaddafi’s forces are killing civilians then moving their bodies about to pretend they were killed by air strikes is as ridiculous as his similar (and comprehensively disproven) claims on air strikes in Afghanistan and the Taliban in 2009.
The best outcome for avoiding civilian deaths would be a negotiated peace with an agreement that Benghazi and other rebel held towns will become a de facto autonomous zone like the Kurdish North in Iraq after the 1991 war and no fly zone, while Gaddafi will be left control of the rest. Both sides could agree not to attack the other and a UN air force (preferably including Turkish and Russian planes so both sides can trust it) will patrol it and order any armed forces moving towards towns held by the other side to turn back or be bombed.
As long as fighting continues hundreds of thousands of stranded migrant workers and people in disputed cities will also continue to suffer from lack of food, water and medicines and many wounded who could have been saved if treated, will die. A ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid in has to be a priority.
Peace negotiations could involve negotiating Gaddafi standing down and going into exile, before further negotiations on a transition to democracy without further fighting and loss of lives
(1) = UN Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011), http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/268/39/PDF/N1126839.pdf?OpenElement
(2) = Channel 4 News 21 Mar 2011 ‘Libya: Gaddafi’s air defences ‘knocked out’’,http://www.channel4.com/news/libya-gaddafi-base-hit-in-second-night-of-allied-bombing
(3) = Reuters 28 Mar 2011 ‘Aided by air strikes, Libya's rebels push west’, http://uk.news.yahoo.com/22/20110325/tts-uk-libya-ca02f96.html
(4) = MSNBC 21 Mar 2011 ‘Blasts, anti-aircraft fire rock Tripoli’, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42189217/ns/world_news-mideast/n_africa/
(5) = Sky News 22 Mar 2011 ‘Explosions Rock Tripoli For Third Night’,http://news.sky.com/skynews/Home/World-News/Libya-Gaddafi-Compound-In-Tripoli-Hit-By-Missile-In-Second-Night-Of-Allied-Airstrikes/Article/201103315956752?lpos=World_News_Carousel_Region_0&lid=ARTICLE_15956752_Libya%3A_Gaddafi_Compound_In_Tripoli_Hit_By_Missile_In_Second_Night_Of_Allied_Airstrikes
(6) = Guardian 22 Mar 2011 ‘Is Muammar Gaddafi a target? PM and military split over war aims’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/21/muammar-gaddafi-david-cameron-libya
(7) = Bovard, James (2003) ‘Terrorism and Tyranny’, Palgrave-MacMillan, NY,2003, Chapter 2, pages 24-26
(8) = Geoff Simons (2003) ‘Libya and the West’ Center for Libyan Studies, Oxford, UK, 2003,Chapter 7, pages 131-134 of hardback edition
(9) = See (3) and (4) above
(10) = Accuracy in Media 22 Feb 2011 ‘http://www.aim.org/aim-column/nbc%E2%80%99s-mitchell-regurgitates-gaddafi-lies/’,
(11) = Accuracy in Media 28 Feb 2006 ‘Where are the WMD?’, http://www.aim.org/media-monitor/where-are-the-wmd-2/
(12) = Weekly Standard 29 April 2007 ‘"George Tenet's Imaginary Encounter... With Richard Perle. by William Kristol"’, http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/013/593daqmw.asp
(13) = Weekly Standard 01 May 2007 ‘"More Than Enough Evidence" What George Tenet really says about Saddam's Iraq and al Qaeda. by Thomas Joscelyn"’, http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/013/596texms.asp
(14) = Guardian News Blog 22 Mar 2011 ‘Libya: air strikes continue live updates’, 11.09 am, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/blog/2011/mar/22/libya-no-fly-zone-air-strikes-live-updates#block-17 ‘My colleague Sam Jones writes that armed forces minister Nick Harvey has refused to rule out the deployment of British ground troops in Libya. But he did stress that there was a huge difference between a limited intervention and a full-scale occupation force, which is banned under the terms of the UN mandate. Asked whether British ground troops could be deployed in a defensive role to protect civilians, the armed forces minister did not discount the possibility, although he said he did not believe that any deployment would be on a "significant scale". He told BBC1's Breakfast programme: "I don't think we would at this stage rule anything in or rule anything out but I agree with the distinction that you draw between landing an occupying force and the use of anybody on the ground."
(15) = See (1) above
(16) = Bennis , Phyllis & Moushabeck , Michael (Editors) (1992) ‘Beyond the Storm’ ; Canongate Press , London , 1992, p326 – 355
(17) = Lee , Ian (1991) ‘Continuing Health Costs of the Gulf War’, Medical Educational Trust , London , 1991
(18) = See (3) above
(19) = HRW 26 Oct 2001 ‘Under Orders : War Crimes in Kosovo’, http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2001/10/26/under-orders-war-crimes-kosovo
(20) = BBC News 01 Jan 1999 ‘Nato's bombing blunders’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/340966.stm
(21) = Phillip Knightley (2000) ‘The First Casualty’, Prion Books Limited, London, 2000, Chapter 20 is on the Kosovo war and propaganda and NATO war crimes in it in general; pages 516-517, on bombing of Chinese and Indian embassies in Belgrade by NATO after they’d criticised NATO’s air war – and given NATO the addresses of their embassies at it’s request, supposedly to ensure they wouldn’t be hit