Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Impose a No-Fly Zone in Libya

At least 300 people have been killed so far in the violence in Libya. Muammar Gaddafi's statements today included rhetoric such as, "come out of your homes and attack them in their dens" and "anyone who undermines the state will be punished by death." Gaddafi also referred to the protesters as "drug addicts" and "rats," and implied he could use violence at the level of Tiananmen Square or Waco.

Gaddafi's threats are credible and real. There is an imminent danger that Gaddafi will order action in which innocent civilians are lethally targeted.

Already, this threat has been actualized. Protesters have been targeted by anti-aircraft missiles, artillery and mercenaries. If left unchecked, the lethality of Gaddafi's tactics may increase. It in the interest of the United States and the International Community to take steps that will prevent mass casualty attacks on Libyan civilians. Credibility in the region will depend on being on the right side of history. We and our values lost credibility over Rwanda and Darfur. Let us not lose it over Libya.

The United States should support, in the United Nations, the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya by order of the UN Security Council. Imposition of a no-fly zone will mean that Libyan aircraft cannot target civilians. Private mercenaries will also be unable to fly into Libya. The no-fly zone should meet the following conditions:

1) It will be enforced multilaterally.
2) Pilots violating the no-fly zone will be given a chance to defect rather than carry out their mission. Given the high levels of defection, it is important that pilots are not being sent up on suicide missions, and that antagonism of the Libyan army is minimized.
3) There will be a time limit, in months, of the duration of the no-fly zone. This will prevent it from becoming permanent, draining resources and prolonging the violation of Libyan sovereignty.
4) Humanitarian aid will be allowed to fly in. Evacuations of foreign citizens, diplomatic personnel, and medical casualties will be allowed to fly out.

The US is currently remaining relatively quiet, according to sources with eyes and ears in the White House, in order to facilitate the successful evacuation of American citizens from the country. In the meantime, however, the US can work covertly to shore up support for the resolution from Russia and China, who may veto it.

Imposition of a no fly zone is a controversial tactic which should not be used except in extreme cases, and in particular, cases where an imminent threat exists to many human lives.

The situation in Libya is such a case.

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