Qaddafi's Men Can Fight the Rebels, But Not the Planes

The foreign governments in agreement over the need for direct action to prevent a civilian massacre in Libya, could be felled by their own mission statement: to protect civilian lives and uphold the will of the people. Intervention by a superior external military force must by definition overtake the agency of the Libyan population, and, if ground enforcement is deemed necessary, the foreign intervention may subjugate the people’s will to its own military authority. Even if this is done in order to effect the will of the people by handing victory to the widely supported rebel forces, the conflict may drag on, support may splinter, and, once involved on the ground and for the long term, the allied forces may be blamed by the civilian population for the perpetuation of a conflict that would devastate their country, and for civilian casualties which would surely become inevitable over the course of the intervention.

Source: Ya Libnan

The Nato led forces are currently intervening to prevent the loss of civilian life. To achieve this they have used their arms to drive the pro-Qaddafi forces into retreat. To achieve a permanent end to the violence inflicted by the pro-Qaddafi army, the loyal forces would either have to be defeated or disengaged as part of a ceasefire. The latter is the main item on the agenda of tomorrow’s Libyan London summit. The former outcome is being pursued by the rebel forces at the moment in Qaddafi’s home city of Sirte. It is beyond the scope of the UN resolution for the Nato forces to coordinate their attacks with the rebel side and aid their bid for victory. The forces are there to prevent civilian casualties, not to wage war alongside an amorphous, unpredictable entity with no sovereign rights and no formal mandate from the Libyan people.

If the military venture cannot draw to an end Libya’s violent civil war, either by forcing Qaddafi to implement a ceasefire or by enabling the victory of the rebel side, a stalemate will ensue, requiring allied involvement in the long term if the achievements of the intervention are to be maintained. If Qaddafi refuses a ceasefire, either in word or deed, and the rebel side cannot achieve victory with the support of allied air strikes alone, the coalition forces may be required to intervene on the ground if they are to consolidate the effects of their combat rather than presiding over a stalemate, or, worse, partition.

Qaddafi’s crimes against his people are irrefutable and thus render him a legitimate target for the forces if their aim is to enforce international law and protect the lives of the Libyan people in the long term by ending the threat of violence against them which Qaddafi’s regime poses. But to go further than the conditions of the current UN mandate allows would amount to a western declaration of war against the dictator. This level of intervention would raise difficult issues of legitimacy and consent. Foreign nations must respect Libya’s state sovereignty, although this is not currently vested in any government or figure as democracy has been absent from the country for decades and the majority of the population violently oppose the country’s current leader. Yet the indigenous population has the right to self-determination as the people of the state. Foreign intervention cannot be seen to jeopardise this. The Nato forces are therefore in a difficult position; Nato is perceived by many outside the west (and within, to include France) as the tool of American hawkish foreign policy. Western military intervention has long been associated with the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Furthermore, the foreign forces have a vested interest in the outcome – oil, al-Qaeda, immigration – which undermines their claim to a singularly humanitarian motive. France, which has been the most vocal about the ideological thrust of the mission, was offering to help contain the riots in Tunisia only two months ago.

Source: Yidio

Even if the Nato led intervention were to escalate its involvement to the level of mobilisation on the ground would they then, after presumably defeating Qaddafi, hand power to the Transitional National Council, a body with only a de facto mandate from the people? Going so far would require a leap of faith from the coalition. To quote the most recent issue of The Economist, “What if many of the eastern Libyans whom the outside world is protecting turn out to sympathise with al-Qaeda? What if they go on to behave as murderously as the colonel and his paid killers?”

Whatever the motives of the Western intervention, the situation has to go somewhere. These are some of the shapes it might take:

Qaddafi will implement a ceasefire.

If the ceasefire were credible, the allied forces, whose mandate for intervention is to protect civilians, would no longer have cause to continue their assault on the pro-Qaddafi forces. But the rebels would not retract their demands in the event of this development. Perhaps this option could pave the way for Qaddafi to step down, but so far he has been determined to fight for survival, nor does mercy seem to be on his agenda.

Foreign forces walk away leaving Qaddafi’s army a clear path to victory.

If the allied forces do not see a path to a result they are content with or even willing to compromise for, using their current methods of intervention, they may well balk at the prospect of a drawn out conflict and further involvement and walk away. Without the allied forces there to eliminate and force back Qaddafi’s army, and if the rebels’ inferior military capacities and resources give way to the loyal army’s advance, the regime will be able to retake the East of the country. Once the rebel insurgency has been crushed, and its supporters have grown too afraid to keep the uprising alive, the regime may reach a point of equilibrium, presenting a situation stable enough for the “coalition of the willing” to grudgingly accept.

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

The rebels are victorious.

If the rebels are able to continue their advance westwards, while Qaddafi’s troops are held back by the allied air strikes, they may emerge victorious. Qaddafi’s army may grow hopeless in the face of continued allied bombing which has so far laid waste to their resources, reportedly killed over 150, and demoralised the forces causing many to escape from the frontline. If the army is constituted of foreign mercenaries as has been claimed, they would surely withdraw their services once payment was no longer guaranteed by victory. Perhaps others would defect to the winning side in order to gain some influence in the new Libyan state, or to save their own skin. But, if the rebels can manage to forge ahead, forcing Qaddafi into exile or securing his capture, what would be next for the Transitional National Council? And who are these rebel fighters? Would they be capable of harnessing popular consent and translating this into a workable democracy? What would become of Qaddafi’s defeated army and his elite? Where would they fit into a multiparty system dominated by those who brought about their bloody overthrow?

Source: The Guardian

The allies step up involvement to the level of fighting on the ground.

Prolonged allied violence against Qaddafi could see the situation turn into another Iraq or Afghanistan. Civilian casualties could turn popular opinion against the intervention, which could no longer be justified if it became apparent that its aims were unachievable. This sort of outcome would be devastating for the Libyan people and could damage the allied nations through the loss of popular support for their violent intervention, which could be blamed for the collapse of another Arab civilisation inciting further hostility and even violence against them.


The worst of these outcomes according to expert observers would be a stalemate leading to a partition of the country into East and West. The civil war could then continue intermittently as the two sides wrangle for ultimate victory, or just survival and control over the nation’s natural resources and the revenues to be drawn from its oil supplies. In this scenario there would be no winners, not from within Libya or amongst the coalition whose main aim is to secure stability in the state and the region. Division of the country would only increase instability and entrench inter-regional violence, Yemen is an apt example of the kind of internal turmoil that could ensue. Hopes of development, politically, socially and economically, would be lost, as the country’s leading factions would be preoccupied with desperate military action for the long term.


Rahima Begum

Partition would be a disaster on so many levels.
Excellent article Kate!

29 March 2011 delete
Jamal Mehmood

Brilliantly written Kate!

09 April 2011 delete