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Updatedx3: Libyan Ceasefire? In Defence of the Defenders: UN Resolution 1973

Though I understand the reservations about military action in any field, I felt a deep sense of relief when the UN Security Council voted through resolution 1973 last night UK time.

Why? Because in all the mess of the wars of choice in Iraq and Afghanistan, I always feared one of the casualties of those debacles would be the careful constructed Responsibility to Protect principle established after the genocide in Rwanda, and near genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo.

To me this isn’t about the right to wage war, but the responsibility to prevent it

Before this becomes a generalised debate about the rights and wrongs of NATO or US military action, or the many neo colonial mistakes and mixed motivations, let’s just be clear about what UN Resolution 1973 says

1. It condemns the “gross and systematic violation of human rights, including arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, torture and summary executions” of the Libyan regime which “may amount to crimes against humanity“.

2. It calls for no-fly zone “for the protection of civilians… (and) the cessation of hostilities in Libya”.

3. It “demands the immediate establishment of a ceasefire

4. It calls on member states and Arab League nations “to take all necessary measures” to enforce the ban on flights, the embargo on arms and “armed mercenary personnel”

The reaction to these measures on the Arab Street?

I know Americans are weary of war, and wary of any further embroilments abroad. Many fear that, like the No Fly Zone imposed over North Western Iraq in the 1990s, this could the thin edge of an endless wedge, involving civilian casualties from air attacks, insurgent terrorism, and the general depletion of US blood and treasure.

I have no idea where this will lead. But the principles for intervention here are nothing like the pre-emptive or retaliatory strikes on Iraq or Afghanistan.

War has already come to Libya. This resolution was so urgent because of the massive loss of civilian life and human rights abuses of Libya’s Arab Jamahiriya.  

Of course, Britain, France and the US have a poor history in the Middle East, intervening mainly in pursuit of their own interests. But 2011 – the year of revolution in the Mashriq and Maghreb – gives us an opportunity to finally prove we’re on the side of democracy and Arab self determination

So to those who, like I do, believe neo imperial adventures in the Middle East are doomed to failure, let’s note the popular demand for intervention from the rebels, Arab League support and the fact their will be no Nato boots on the ground.

For those who, like I do, believe war is an evil that should be avoided wherever possible, let’s remember the resolution aims to stop the bloodshed going on in Libya. The violence is already happening. This seeks to stop the attacks on civilians by Gaddafi’s forces.

This isn’t about starting a war – it is trying to end one.

UPDATE:  As of 12:46 Mousa Koussa, the Libyan foreign minister, has announced that the country had decided on the ceasefire, and the “stoppage of all military operations” at a press conference in Tripoli.

Koussa said the country has studied the UN resolution, and as a UN security council member will accept the resolution. He said Libya encourages the “opening of all dialogue channels” with the international community.

Whether this ceasefire will be observed, and what other terms will be imposed on  Gaddafi’s forces, waits to be seen. For those who remember Bosnia, one has to be careful of all manouevres short of a proper peace settlement with dictators: 8,000 men and boys were murdered during the ‘ceasefire’ in Srebrenica in 1995. However this is good news, and a sign that resolution 1973 is already working.

UPDATE TWO: as per my comment above, it seems that Gaddafi’s forces are still in action against rebels in Misrata

Whether the contradiction with what Kussa has said represents a split in the regime, or just more duplicity, remains to be seen.  

UPDATE THREE:  Hillary Clinton has clarified some of the preconditions of any ceasefire:

“It is a fluid and dynamic situation,” Clinton said. She added that the US was not looking at what Gaddafi says but deeds on the ground.

We want to see a very clear set of decisions operationalised on the ground by Gaddafi’s forces to move a significant distance from the east.”

She also insisted that Gaddafi would have to leave

President Obama will be speaking about the Libyan situation later today: 2pm EST.

Crossposted at Daily Kos


  1. While Britain and America may be held in contempt by many in Iraq and Afghanistan for the wars of choice in those countries..

    Both they and Nato are held in the highest respect in Kosovo and Bosnia for the defensive interventions there.

  2. jsfox

    On what I think about intervention, but I am pleased about the cease fire if it is true and not just an attempt to buy time.

    But the question now is – Now what?

  3. Rashaverak

    If so, this is good news indeed.

    It seems to me that there is a tension between: (a) Security Council Resolution 1973; and (b) the principle of non-intervention and non-interference in the internal affairs of States embodied in the UN Charter.

    I do not support Qaddafi.  I’d like to see him gone a month ago… no, make that decades ago.

    Also, I’m not arguing in disfavor of the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1973.

    It just seems to me that the principle of non-intervention is weakening.  In the larger picture, that may well be all for the good.  In the extreme example, if a government is waging a campaign of genocide against an ethnic minority, that government should not be able to prevent relief by the UN based on claims of “this is an internal affair.”

    How would one differentiate the present situation from, e.g., Biafra’s attempt to secede from Nigeria?  Here, the rebels are trying to overthrow the Qaddafi regime.  In the case of Biafra, the Igbo people were trying to secede from a country that they felt was dominated by Muslims and Animists.  The Nigerians were pretty ruthless, as I recall, blockading all supplies, including food, from reaching the Biafrans, leading to widespread starvation among the civilian population.

  4. Strummerson

    …in all the mess of the wars of choice in Iraq and Afghanistan, I always feared one of the casualties of those debacles would be the careful constructed Responsibility to Protect principle established after the genocide in Rwanda, and near genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo.

    I understand jsfox’s perspective too.  But if I could change 1 thing about Clinton’s presidency and had to choose from among Lewinsky, Welfare Reform, and inaction on Rwanda…hell if I could choose anything, it would be Rwanda.  If no one else will do it, it doesn’t excuse our inaction.  I would love a more involved and engaged international community.  I don’t support the US being the cop and footing the bill AND THEN claiming the right to boss others around.  And Peter is right that Iraq and Afghanistan threaten our ability and willingness to use force when and where it’s truly imperative.  But I don’t want to push for a new precedent and doctrine on the backs of Bengahzi.  

  5. jsfox

    So the the UN through the power of Britain, France, The Arab League and the US are going to force a cease fire. Because of the killing of civilians. All well and good, but does this mean the next stops on this train are Bahrain and Yemen were equal atrocities against civilians are taking place?

    Who gets to decide what causes are righteous and which are not?

    Next Sullivan is apoplectic over this and has called Obama a worse imperial President than Bush by this action.


    Now on this I do not agree. At least here we seem to be following the international community instead of trying to lead them into war. And by what Obama said in his talk a bit ago we are also going to be following their lead on military action.

  6. creamer

    I believe we are all interconnected. When I see starving children (pictures) in Africa I feel it. I’m deeply moved by the pain and suffering that Japan is going through. But this makes me very uneasy.

     Bahrain and Yemen were mentioned, what about the Saudi’s?If I remember news reports Shia protesters where fired on and killed by Saudi military. What level of death and destruction warrants our intervention? I thought national security needed to be tied in somwhere.

      The Arab League and France want to step up. Cool. Long overdue. I’m sure al the democracies in the Arab League will help the rebels set up some form of representitive government when this is all done. France has refugee concerns and proably a finacial stake. England? the U.S.?

    We are doing this because we care about people. OK. What about Flint and Detroit? Youngstown, Ohio? Whats the unemployment and poverty rate in England doing Peter?

       I really understand where your hearts are. But I think this is a mistake. I fear we are being sucked into another fight with nothing to gain and everything to lose. How long before we see pictures of children killed by NATO bombs. I hope we (the US) does nothing but provide intel and maybe AWACS. If we start shooting people my initial reaction would be to look for another canidate in 2012.  

  7. Col Muammar Gaddafi’s air force “no longer exists as a fighting force”, the commander of British aircraft operating over Libya has said.

    Air Vice Marshal Greg Bagwell said the allies could now operate “with near impunity” over the skies of Libya.

    He said they were now applying unrelenting pressure on the Libyan armed forces.

    allied aircraft had flown 175 sorties in the last 24 hours – 113 of them by US aircraft.

    Western aircraft have flown more than 300 sorties over Libya in recent days and more than 162 Tomahawk cruise missiles have been fired.

    Earlier, witnesses reported that international forces had launched new air strikes near Libya’s rebel-held western city of Misrata.

    Witnesses said tanks pulled back from their positions, from where they have been spearheading a siege of the city for days, but said snipers continued to target people from rooftops.

    Mohamed, a spokesman for the rebels in Misrata, said: “Misrata was in a desperate state… we almost lost all hope, but the strikes came at a good time with good intensity and frequency.

    “They even managed to take out some convoys inside the city which was very impressive.

    “The strikes made such a difference – Gaddafi’s forces are scared of them. I want to express our gratitude and appreciation for these actions – we will never, ever forget.”

    Col Gaddafi’s forces have also resumed their pounding of Zintan, near the Tunisian border, according to reports.

    And there are also reports of fierce fighting between rebels and pro-Gaddafi forces in the strategic eastern town of Ajdabiya. Residents fleeing the town described shelling, gunfire and houses on fire.

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