International forces are threatening to launch air strikes inside Libya following Thursday’s vote by the U.N. Security Council to authorize a no-fly zone over Libya, and to undertake “all necessary measures” to protect civilians against leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s forces. Earlier today, Libya’s Foreign Minister announced an immediate end of military operations. We get analysis from UCLA Law Professor Asli Bali, who has written and commented extensively on the question of international intervention in Libya. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: International forces are threatening to launch air strikes inside Libya following Thursday’s vote by the United Nations Security Council to authorize a no-fly zone over Libya and to undertake “all necessary measures” to protect civilians against leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces. The measure was co-sponsored by France, Britain, Lebanon and the United States. Russia, China, Germany, India and Brazil, however, abstained from the vote. The U.N. resolution comes as Gaddafi’s troops advance toward Benghazi, the rebel stronghold in eastern Libya.
Europe’s air traffic control agency reports Libya has now closed its airspace to all traffic. British Prime Minister David Cameron says his country will deploy aircraft to enforce the no-fly zone. He told the House of Commons preparations to deploy those aircraft have already started. France has yet to announce its plans, but said it will take action within hours.
The U.N. resolution has been controversial. Some observers say it sets a dangerous precedent for intervention and could inevitably lead to protracted war and occupation. Others insist intervention is necessary to prevent a slaughter by government forces. The AFP news agency reports that Gaddafi has threatened to turn “into hell” the lives of anyone who attacks Libya.
To discuss these developments, we’re joined by Asli Bali at UCLA Law School. Professor Bali teaches public international law, international human rights and the laws of war. She has written and commented extensively on the question of international intervention in Libya.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor.
ASLI BALI: Thank you very much.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you — your reaction to the United Nations vote to approve a no-fly zone over Libya?
ASLI BALI: I mean, I would just start by noting that it is an incredible reversal of the direction that things appeared to be going in. As recently as this past weekend, there was clear opposition to the idea of a no-fly zone, based on a host of different considerations, including the fact that it did not appear that a no-fly zone would effectively address the source of principal threat to the civilian population in Libya. Now, this resolution goes a good deal further than simply endorsing a no-fly zone, but the fact that we’ve had this sudden reversal in the direction that’s taken by the international community, and particularly the U.S. position, I think it’s something that’s worth noting.
This is a tactical decision that’s been taken, that the situation needs to be addressed at this point through the authorization of the use of force. The question is whether there’s been time to think through the consequences of this decision, and particularly what the strategic orientation is with respect to the goals of this use of force.
At the moment, it would appear, from the basis that we have in the Security Council resolution, that the goal articulated is to obtain a ceasefire. That’s one possibility. But the measures that have been authorized are very extensive. It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which the international community will be comfortable with the Gaddafi regime remaining in place in Tripoli. A ceasefire, if it means freezing the situation on the ground at the moment, would conceivably mean that a no-fly zone will be an enforcement of a partition of Libya, under the circumstances we see now on the ground, where rebels will hold parts of the eastern provinces, centered in Benghazi, while the regime will retain control over the other provinces remaining and Tripoli. It just — it is very difficult to see at this point exactly what the strategic endgame is behind the decision tactically to go with a no-fly zone and more extensive use of force, potentially.
“All necessary measures” have been authorized in paragraph four of this resolution to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas. And there’s reason to believe that the interpretation of this is that it goes a good deal beyond a no-fly zone to what some have called a “no-drive zone,” meaning strikes on Libyan forces on the ground from the air. That is a very, very extensive authorization of use of force for member states acting in coordination with the Security Council.
We don’t yet know what states are going to be involved. We do know that the U.K. and France have both come out forcefully, saying that they are preparing military aircraft almost immediately to enforce the Security Council resolution. The United States seems to have taken a more cautious approach, possibly providing intelligence, surveillance and so forth, assistance at this point, but not yet mobilizing. And we understand that there’s going to be Arab participation from Gulf Cooperation Council countries, as well as Egypt. There were reports from the Wall Street Journal that the Egyptians are arming rebels in Libya.
I think that we are entering a scenario, at this point, in which the international community has effectively authorized a very extensive use of force against the Libyan regime without a clear endgame as to where this tactical decision is going to go and without very clear constraints on preventing this from in fact escalating to some kind of a, for example, ground invasion. There’s a clear constraint that’s been placed within the language of paragraph four of the resolution, which says that a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory is to be excluded. But it wouldn’t take a great deal of sophisticated lawyering to be able to craft that provision quite narrowly and enable further action, including ground forces, down the line, if that becomes necessary. And it is hard to see what the limits will be, if the endgame, as it appears to be in this instance — something on the order of regime change, given that we’ve heard that Gaddafi must go numerous times from many actors, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as early as late February was making that point. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which the Gaddafi regime is going to be allowed to remain in power.
And if that’s not going to be possible, then one has to ask, what happens under a variety of scenarios? What if, for example, Gaddafi agrees to a ceasefire? And do we enforce a partition, if that was going to happen? Or do we continue — is there going to be continued action against Gaddafi’s forces notwithstanding that agreement? What are the rules of engagement if he chooses to retreat? What happens if there is a protracted conflict and the no-fly zone, together with the strikes that have been authorized from the air, are not sufficient? All of these, I think, are, at this point open questions.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Professor Bali, we have breaking news that apparently Libya has announced a ceasefire, and it’s stopping all military operations. I know you’re just hearing this, but your immediate reaction to that?
ASLI BALI: Well, exactly as I just said, it’s just an open question at this point whether that is going to be sufficient. I mean, obviously, if there is a ceasefire and it sticks, that will be a great improvement. There’s no question at this point that the direction that the Gaddafi regime was taking with his forces did suggest that there might be a bloodbath in Benghazi, and that would have been a catastrophic outcome. So, a ceasefire at this point, at least to the extent that it enables the people of Benghazi to have some respite and it protects civilian lives on the ground in Libya, is to be welcomed, but it’s not clear from the structure of this resolution, and from the statements that have been made around it by various actors, whether a ceasefire is going to be enough. And one has to ask, what is it exactly that has motivated it? Again, to understand the endgame, the strategy behind this resolution, one has to identify what are the goals. And if the goals include the toppling of this regime, if it’s not from the international community’s perspective permissible for Gaddafi to remain in office, then it’s hard to understand how a ceasefire is going to be sufficient to meet those goals under this resolution.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Professor Asli Bali at the UCLA School of Law, I want to thank you for being with us. We’re going to have to end it there, but we’ll continue to report on the situation in Libya.
I wanted to note, in other news from the Middle East, that we’re getting reports from Yemen that 30 people have been killed and scores wounded as government security forces there opened fire on anti-regime protests in the capital.
We’re going to break now. When we come back, we’ll turn to Haiti and the return of President Aristide, who is flying there right now.