No-fly zones protect civilians, but political uncertainties remain

(By Deutsche Welle) As the UN-backed coalition seizes control of Libyan airspace, Washington maintains that Gadhafi must leave power. But past no-fly zones in Bosnia and Iraq suggest that air campaigns have a limited impact on the ground.

With Moammar Gadhafi’s forces allegedly crippled after the initial round of airstrikes, coalition forces are moving to expand the UN-sanctioned no-fly zone to encompass Libya’s vast and densely populated coastal region, General Carter Ham – commander of US Africa Command – told reporters in Washington earlier this week.

According to the UN resolution 1973, the no-fly zone’s express purpose is to protect civilians from Gadhafi’s forces and maintain the arms embargo imposed against Libya. Although the resolution focuses on humanitarian ends, US President Barack Obama has called on Gadhafi to step down, suggesting that the political goal is regime change.

Past experience with no-fly zones imposed over Iraq and Bosnia during the 1990s points to the uncertainties associated with such operations. While no-fly zones often achieve the limited goal of protecting civilian life, they rarely force the targeted government to make broad concessions and can result in political stalemate.

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Regime change in Libya may require involvement in ground war

(By Deutsche Welle) Coalition airstrikes against Gadhafi’s forces have stopped his advance toward the opposition stronghold of Benghazi. However, ousting Gadhafi from power may require directly supporting the opposition in a ground war.

After weeks of deliberation, the international community has intervened militarily in Libya. France, Britain and the US launched airstrikes against Moammar Gadhafi’s regime over the weekend, the opening salvo of a UN-sanctioned military operation designed to stop Gadhafi from targeting Libyan civilians.

Although Admiral Mike Mullen – head of the US Joint Chiefs – said the initial strikes halted Gadhafi’s advance toward the opposition stronghold Benghazi, the strategic endgame remains unclear. Limited airstrikes may stop Gadhafi from committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. But if the international coalition wants regime change in Libya, then active participation in the ground war may become unavoidable.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague and members of the US Congress have already discussed sending weapons to the opposition Transitional National Council. However, an arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council against Libya complicates the prospect of shipping military hardware to the country. And the White House, unsure of the Libyan opposition’s goals, remains reluctant to get pulled into what could be a protracted ground campaign.

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Dealing with dictators: Why the West sanctions some and rewards others

(By Deutsche Welle) The US and EU have long condemned the dictatorship in Belarus. Yet Arab strongmen like Hosni Mubarak and Moammar Gadhafi received military support from the West. How should Washington and Brussels deal with dictators?

Grassroots uprisings have gripped not just the Arab World as of late. Last December, around 15,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Minsk to challenge the manipulated presidential election that awarded long-time Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko another term in office with 80 percent of the vote.

The Belarusian security apparatus struck back and effectively decapitated the opposition. Around 600 protesters were arrested as well as eight of the nine candidates who ran against Lukashenko. In a little over a month, the EU and the US had imposed travel restrictions and asset freezes on more than 150 members of the country’s political elite.

But as uprisings spread across North Africa and the Mideast, both the EU and the US responded tepidly as friendly dictators like Hosni Mubarak and Moammar Gadhafi used violence against peaceful protesters to maintain their grip on power. In the case of Mubarak, sanctions were not imposed at all. And although the US and EU condemned the recent violence in Libya, imposed sanctions and have now launched military action, they have a history of cooperating with Gadhafi’s now embattled dictatorship.

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ICC’s Gadhafi probe could empower neighbors more than Libya

(By Deutsche Welle) The international criminal investigation against Gadhafi may have limited impact on the Libyan conflict. But it could give protesters in other Arab countries new momentum in their bid to force democratic reforms.

In a period of two weeks, the world community stripped Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi of his status as rehabilitated dictator, relegating him to the rank of international pariah and possible war criminal.

On February 26, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to refer Gadhafi’s violent crackdown on peaceful protesters to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. It was the first unanimous referral in the Security Council’s history.

But in the weeks since the Security Council’s historic vote, the international response to the conflict in Libya has floundered. As world powers debate the pros and cons of military intervention, heavily armed and well-trained Gadhafi loyalists have regained momentum and pushed deeper into rebel-controlled territory, closing in on the opposition stronghold of Benghazi.

So while the Security Council’s vote to investigate the Gadhafi regime may lend moral support to the embattled rebels, it has little practical impact on the balance of power in Libya. However, holding the Gadhafi regime legally accountable for alleged crimes could give renewed momentum to other opposition movements throughout the Arab world.

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Death by fire: Self-immolation in the Arab World

(By Deutsche Welle) As the political upheaval that began in Tunisia spreads from Egypt to Libya, dozens of people across the Arab world have publicly set themselves on fire. Are these self-immolations acts of despair or political protest?

Last December, a young unemployed street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi doused himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire outside of the municipal building in the remote Tunisian town Sidi Bouzid. He died of his self-inflicted wounds weeks later.

Bouazizi’s self-immolation, the act of burning oneself to death, became the symbol of a popular uprising that toppled Tunisia’s authoritarian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Inspired by events in Tunisia, the Arab street protests subsequently forced Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down and have now placed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi under siege.

As revolutionary fervor engulfs the Arab world, dozens of people from Morocco to Yemen have lit themselves on fire in front of municipal buildings, parliaments, and presidential palaces. Are these gruesome suicides acts of personal desperation triggered by hopeless social conditions, or are they a form of political protest designed to expose societal injustice and incite popular uprisings?

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NATO allies warn US on too much defense scrimping

(By Deutsche Welle) While the Pentagon tightens its financial belt, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has hinted at reducing American troop levels in Europe. However, Washington must reconcile a smaller force with traditional NATO obligations.

With US engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, the Obama administration is promising to cut spending. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has announced cuts to the tune of  $78 billion (57 billion euros). And these cuts may impact what Gates has called an “excess force structure in Europe.”

Once meant to hold the Soviet Union at bay, the Atlantic alliance is redefining its mission on a continent now largely united and at peace. In the future, a smaller US military presence in Europe will focus on rapidly deploying elsewhere in the world. However, Washington must balance this smaller, more cost-effective force with its traditional security obligations as a NATO member.

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Obama unlikely to close Guantanamo as ‘War on Terror’ continues

(By Deutsche Welle) The politics of war and terrorism have put President Obama’s order to close Guantanamo on hold. In America, the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists remains an accepted cost of waging a global war.

Just two days into his first term, US President Barack Obama ordered the Guantanamo Bay detention camp to be closed. However, his initial earnestness has given way to a painstaking implementation process fraught by the politics of war and terrorism.

Last December, Congress blocked funding to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo. The move came a month after the surprisingly narrow conviction of Ahmed Ghailani for his role in the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa. Ghailani’s controversial trial raised concern about the unpredictability of prosecuting terrorism suspects in civilian courts.

This politically charged environment has stalled the closure of the Guantanamo camp by a year. Although President Obama came to power promising to end what he called “a sad chapter in American history,” it appears that this chapter is still being written. Indefinitely detaining suspected terrorists without trial, a policy developed during the Bush administration, remains an accepted cost of waging a global war.

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