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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