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No-fly zone for Libya

Written By: - Date published: 1:00 pm, March 1st, 2011 - 42 comments
Categories: International - Tags: , , ,

NATO leaders are discussing a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent the crumbling Gaddafi regime bombing and strafing protesters. Gaddafi’s loyalists are tied up keeping Tripoli under control, and the opposition is preparing to send in troops. Meanwhile, the big question elsewhere in the Arab world is what will happen on Saudi Arabia’s March 11, ‘Day of Rage’?

Muammar Gaddafi holds just two major cities in Libya – his tribe’s home of Sirte and the capital, Tripoli.

The capital is home to a third of Libya’s two million people and the revolution that has swept nearly the entire rest of the country cannot succeed until Tripoli falls too. Unrest in the city is being contained, for the most part, by a very heavy military presence, which seems to be taking up most of the loyalists’ remaining military resources.

The quicker this is over, the better for the Libyan people. To do that, the rebels need to bring in forces from towns they control to help wrest Tripoli from Gaddifi’s loyalists. But the loyalists control the remaining Libyan Air Force, which makes it hard for the rebels to move large numbers of vehicles and soldiers between cities.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron is proposing a no-fly zone over Libya and other NATO leaders have discussed it too.

Presumably, the UK and Germany have already been enforcing de facto no-fly zones during their rescue missions for expat oil workers in the Libyan desert. It seems unlikely they would send in Hercules with special forces on board without any air support. But there is no complete barrier to the remaining loyalist airforce mounting sorties – on Monday, they reportedly bombed an arms dump held by the rebels.

If the UK and other countries are serious in saying that Gaddafi must go, then the least they can do is protect the rebels with a no-fly zone. It wouldn’t even mean actual combat, necessarily – it’s unlikely the Libyan Air Force would dare to take on patrolling NATO fighters – and removing the loyalists’ air supremacy would definitely help turn the tables in favour of the rebels and allow them to move forces from the eastern cities to assist their comrades in Tripoli. There is probably no need for NATO to bomb loyalist targets (and too much risk of hitting civilians) and certainly no need to send in ground troops. This is the Libyans’ fight for their freedom, but NATO can and should give them a hand-up with a no-fly zone.

While Libya has been the most dramatic of the Arab revolts, it is hardly the only one underway. Protests are growing, and the government is cracking down harder, in nearly every Arab country.

The markets are nervously watching for any threat to Saudi oil supply. Protests have occurred in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah on the Red Sea and in Qatif, the region that produces most of Saudi Arabia’s oil. So far, these protests have been small-scale but a ‘Day of Rage’ like the one that sparked the Egyptian revolution is planned for March 11. The Saudi monarchy takes this threat very seriously – it has announced US$36 billion of spending and benefits to try to placate its people.

We’re already in an oil shock that has possibly sent the world back into recession but trouble in Saudi Arabia would make current petrol prices look cheap. Nonetheless, we must support the Arab people’s bid for self-determination. For 50 or more years they have been ruled by people who  have offered the West ‘stability’, now the people must have the chance to rule themselves.

42 comments on “No-fly zone for Libya”

  1. ianmac 1

    How does a foreign country enforce a no-fly zone over a sovereign country? Hope the do enforce but how?

    • Bright Red 1.1

      by patrolling the airpace with fighter planes and shooting down anything the regime puts up.

      The Northern No Fly Zone worked in Iraq for years, protected the Kurds from Saddam because no large land force can maneuver successfully without air superiority.

    • Colonial Viper 1.2

      If it was like the northern Iraq no fly zone they would run it out of nearby friendly airbases, clearly communicate to all Libyan and civilian forces the rules of the no-fly zone, set up surveillance of the entire zone and run combat air patrols, and then engage as hostiles any unauthorised unfriendly aircraft entering or taking flight within the zone.

      Problem is that to do it safely and thoroughly they would have to engage and destroy all Libyan anti aircraft defences first.

      Without UN authorisation enforcing a no-fly zone over a sovereign country is an act of war.

      *Actually looking at the map, they might be able to enforce a limited no-fly zone from off the coast of Libya, using AWACS and ship borne surface to air missiles. Those would have no trouble hitting targets 100km inland – almost enough to protect all towns and population centres.

  2. Gosman 2

    I thought Gaddafi was a big friend of the international socialist brotherhood. Why are you so down on him. He certainly kept the right group of close friends such as Chavez, Castro, and Ortega.

    • Colonial Viper 2.1

      Ya so funny mate. Tony Blair was the one who welcomed Gaddafi back into the fold.

  3. Gosman 3

    Yes but Chavez, Castro, and Ortega never abandoned him all through his wilderness years.

    Don’t lefties hold a special affection for Chavez and Castro? I’m pretty sure I have seen a number of posters praising their regimes.

    • So???

      Does this mean that you continue with your admiration of Attilla the Hun because he was a rightie?

      • Bright Red 3.1.1

        or he who shall not be named (AH)

        Gaddafi’s regime was never socialist in any sense.

      • mcflock 3.1.2

        Nah, Gosman loves the Attilla because Franco was a fan.

      • Gosman 3.1.3

        Why do you think Atilla the Hun was a rightie?

        As far as I know he didn’t care to much for the protection of private property and individual liberties.

        Do you have some evidence that he did uphold these values?

        • mickysavage 3.1.3.1

          Gawd Gosman I was trying to show that your statement was ridiculous and the use of Attilla was the best way to show this. I happily accept you do not support Attilla, just in the same way that I and just about every other leftie I know do not support Gaddafi.

          Attilla was into pillage and rape and to hell with the consequences, just like most of Wall Street …

        • Daveosaurus 3.1.3.2

          What makes you think that ‘righties’ have any interest in the protection of individual liberties of anyone who isn’t a wealthy white male?

  4. wild.colonial.boy 4

    Does NATO – presumably – also enforce No Fly Zones in Oman, Bahrain, Yemen, Morocco, and the family fief of Saud ?

    And then, a new form of imperial engagement with popular regimes seeking independence ?

    Spot the contradiction ?

    • Colonial Viper 4.1

      No contradiction if you bothered to look.

      In the main, those countries you have mentioned are not currently using fast attack jets and helicopters to kill their own mass populations.

      • mcflock 4.1.1

        meh – I suppose it’s always possible that NATO decisions to bomb somebody could be based strictly on humanitarian grounds, rather than geopolitical expansion and resource grabbing. It would just be a departure from the norm.

        It is of course slightly more problematic to justify air suppression in another country with the overt intent to destabilise the governing regime than it is to protect evac flights which by their nature are geographically limited incursions for a brief period of time. Actual military support for the rebels might backfire if they’re not prevalent in the general population, but are cadres of revolutionaries in a generally ill-motivated populace. After all, Gaddafi kept much of his support for several decades by pulling the “Support me against the Western Imperialist who kills fine Arabs” card, so really it might help him get back to his roots – like Winston pulling an “Asian Invasion” speech.

    • Bright Red 4.2

      There’s this concept called ‘responsibility to protect’ in international law. It means we don’t turn a blind eye when a government turns its military on its own people – of course, intervention isn’t always practical but in this case it certainly is.

      None of the countries you list are yet in the position of Libya. If they end up in the same position, I think a no-fly zone will be called for then, too.

  5. Bill 5

    Dontya just love the difference in attitude being exhibited by our ‘glorious leaders’ and ‘our’ media when they are talking of western-backed despots or ‘official enemies’ of the west?

    Mubarak…as big a bastard as any of them…with tacit western approval for all his past ‘good deeds’ was meant to simply quietly step back to afford the regime in Egypt a face lift and enjoy retirement. The same attitude probably applies to any other Arab state that comes under popular pressure. Solution?. Good old US approved ‘cosmetic surgery’. ‘The people’ don’t matter a toss.

    But not so in Libya. Well, ‘the people’ still don’t matter a toss. That constant remains.Our ‘glorious leaders’ are merely anxious for a pro-western regime there. And, importantly, a distraction from their rank hypocricy and complicity in maintaining the truly horrendous regimes throughout the Arab world and Africa that are coming under pressure.

    Meanwhile. All this talk of no-fly zones had better be nothing but hot air. The precedent it sets is truly frightening.

    Wild.colonial.boy has a point. Where are the calls for sanctions, (if not ‘no-fly zones’) and the cries of utter condemnation from our ‘glorious leaders’ toward the no less horrendous regimes of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt etc, etc, etc?

    Nothing like screaming out the window in righteous anger while ignoring the elephants under the carpet in the hope that nobody can be bothered to notice or comment on what you’re pointedly ignoring.

  6. Pascal's bookie 6

    I can appreciate the idea behind this, (doing what we can to prevent airstrikes on poorly armed and trained irregular infantry that we are sympathetic to), but I don’t think it’s a particularly good idea.

    If the west enforces a no fly zone, what next? They essentially demand a seat at the table in determining the future of the new Libya, that’s what.

    It looks like the Libyans are going to the job themselves, in spite of the firepower against them. Let them have their country, is my view.

    Also, and relatedly:

    http://www.newshoggers.com/blog/2011/02/us-readying-for-stupid-intervention-in-libya.html

    Libyan tweeters keep saying they don’t want American intervention, that they still remember Iraq, that they want to handle the situation themselves. But America is setting ready to intervene anyway. What is this, Animal House? “I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part” and we’re just the guys to do it!

  7. ak 7

    Yay. The coalition of the willing struts again.
    Texta: quick, Mike, tuck a lamburger in ur belt and sign us up. What cd possibly go wrong? j-man.

  8. ChrisH 8

    Unless the locals actually want a no fly zone, we should not impose one. I can’t help thinking that willingness to impose no-fly zones on Arab countries–meaning, nobody fly except us–is a Kiplingesque ruling class reflex dating back to the days when Bomber Harris patrolled the skies over the British Mandate of Mesopotamia, a country known these days as Iraq. Imperial air policing in the ‘ot countries turned out to be much cheaper and more one-sided than sending in Tommy Atkins to be sniped at by a ten-rupee jezail. It made Harris the very model of a modern major general by 1920s standards.

  9. clandestino 9

    I presume all those happy to allow the Libyan air force to bomb and strafe their own people, possibly in the hundreds or thousands, will be equally unapologetic in saying to families of the dead: ‘we stood by and did nothing’. Did the west learn nothing from Rwanda??

    • Pascal's bookie 9.1

      Who’s happy about it? Who says we should ‘do nothing’? What’s going on there is brutal, but it’s nothing like Rwanda, and I’ve not seen any evidence that the govt is winning.

      But say we declare a no fly-zone, come up with the rules of engagement (which took years to get sort of right in Iraq) and get the work done to make it legal, all in record time. What say Gaddafi responds by grounding his air assets and switching to nerve gas?

      Nuke him?

      • Colonial Viper 9.1.1

        I reckon the need for a no fly zone is not as urgent at the moment, as the rebels have been reported to have captured some government triple-A batteries. Not of the “Energizer” variety either 🙂

      • ak 9.1.2

        Damn right Pascal: 40,000 perfectly-formed children died for want of cents today and every day Clandy boy, whatcha sayin to their families, hmmm, while the yanks spend double the rest of the world combined on human-killing crap? The west learn? Don’t make me larf….(mutter, call me happy….grrr)

        • clandestino 9.1.2.1

          Don’t be obtuse ak. The analogy is simply that the west, through the only forces with the overwhelming muscle to intervene and be successful, (as you rightly point out because they spend the most dosh on it) being the US and the UK, could and should intervene in the event of a ‘going down all guns blazing’ Colonel Ghaddafi. That is all. If it doesn’t happen then the carriers can remain off the coast and fly in food and medicine, but I suppose you’d object to such ‘interference’.

    • Con 9.2

      Alternatively, give NATO a free hand and it will be all sweetness and light? The “humanitarian intervention” propaganda campaign is a combination of bullshit and naivety. The onus is on those proposing it show that it would not be an even worse disaster for the people of Libya. And no, it’s not enough to say “we must do something”.

  10. You might mention the fact that the fighters on the ground don’t want NATO or any other big brother to intervene because their only possible reason can be to protect oil assets. As in:
    @ShababLibya LibyanYouthMovement
    US repositioning forces around Libya, this is the curse of the oil i tweeted about earlier, we do NOT want foreign intervention #Libya
    @Dima_Khatib UK, USA, France sent military advisors to #Libya for “humanitarian aid” but we’re not stupid. Seting up bases by in east by OIL
    @afneil Andrew Neil
    by stephen2421
    Pentagon briefing that US aircraft carrier group, bristling with jets, helicopters and marines, moving from Red Sea to Libyan coast. #Libya

    • Rosy 10.1

      But the neo-cons don’t care about what the people want! let’s intervene! couched in humanitarian concerns.

      “I’m horrified to read liberal interventionists continue to suggest the ease with which humanitarian crises and regional conflicts can be solved by the application of military power,” wrote Andrew Exum, a counter-insurgency specialist at the Center for a New American Security. “To speak so glibly of such things reflects a very immature understanding of the limits of force and the difficulties and complexities of contemporary military operations.”

  11. exit lane 11

    a great summary of the Saudi situation from Jeff Rubin here

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/why-saudi-arabia-can-no-longer-temper-oil-prices/article1918139/

    and why the penny will soon drop in oil markets that the Saudis have little extra oil to pump – regardless of internal upheaval

    and the WikiLeaks revelations on Saudi reserves and production here

    http://oilshockhorrorprobe.blogspot.com/2011/02/peak-oil-for-saudi-arabia-confirmed-by.html

  12. Gosman 12

    One thing the Libyan situation does do is put the lie to the idea that US military intervention is dictated by Oil. The US has a ready made excuse in what is happening in Libya to intervene via force and attempt to impose a pro-western regime. Yet the US foreign policy on the matter has been very cautious (as it should be) to date. Where is the influence of all those dark shadowy forces which many left wing nut jobs believe control the levers of power in the US?

    • Colonial Viper 12.1

      Gosman seems you haven’t thought it through.

      A US invasion of yet another Arab/Muslim country will further destabilise partners like Saudi Arabia. The Sauds, Bahrain etc. will be pleading for the US not to use a ground invasion in Libya as that will only increase popular anger.

      Also the US military budget is bleeding red ink all over the place from over commitment, as are US troops. The military hierarchy does NOT want another distant land war, thank you very much.

      • Gosman 12.1.1

        But it is all about the oil apparently so all your practical considerations are moot.

        • Colonial Viper 12.1.1.1

          Idiot. It IS about oil. Hence why maintaining the stability of Saudi Arabia is so important.

          • Gosman 12.1.1.1.1

            If it was about the oil then the US would be attempting to maintain the status quo in Libya as well as everywhere else in the Middle East. Gaddafi after all was quite willing to sell oil and gas to the West and to allow Western oil firms in to the country.

            • Colonial Viper 12.1.1.1.1.1

              Whateva. The US has tried for decades, and it is failing, in case you haven’t noticed.

              • Gosman

                In your mind the US has tried for decades, and is failing. However the real world is as simplistic as you like to think it is.

  13. Bill 13

    According to the map in the post, the oil and gas fields are already under ‘popular control’. I put that in parenthis because we all know that the only proper popular control is the control excercised by ‘our’ glorious leaders and their institutions. Which is presumably the next step; to secure proper ‘popular control’.

    If Gaddafi can be holed up in Tripoli……no fly zone….effective partition….

    Seems the peoples of Libya might have two fronts of a very different nature to fight on. Tripoli to the west and ‘the west’ all over them like a bad rash.

    • mcflock 13.1

      I’m getting a wee bit concerned about how much of this is “popular uprising” rather than “regime power struggle”.

      ISTR stories a few days ago where the Gaddafis were shooting officers of units that had defected (not so much about the grunts), and it doesn’t seem to be the revolutionary mob practise to drive into the desert to sit on an oil platform. A coordinated strategic move, yes – but someone’s thinking ahead, which revolutionaries tend to take a while to do.

      The Egypt solution was largely moderated by the military – maybe the libyan military isn’t quite so cohesive? Or they have the A team politicals/loyalist forces and then the regular army?

  14. Con 14

    Such naivety is on display here … an imperialist military alliance is transformed into a humanitarian agency by pure wishful thinking.

    What happens when NATO bombs start killing people in Tripoli? No matter, they will be conveniently demonised as “Gaddafi loyalists”, “regime hardliners”, etc. Dead babies will be ignored, and later excused as “collateral damage”. Leftists should have more of a clue about this sort of thing; the propaganda campaign (“report could not be independently confirmed”) is to soften up Western public opinion to prepare for war and occupation. Too bad if the Libyan rebels themselves ask NATO to stay out; the decision isn’t being made in Libya but in Brussels.

    A few commenters have cited the air exclusion zones which NATO established in the north and south of Iraq as humanitarian exercises. But what evidence of this is there? Apart from the public statements of NATO-bloc officials, that is? Actually, while this “protection” was taking place, the vast marshes in the south were drained (by Saddam’s regime) and marsh-dwelling people were thereby displaced, while the so-called “protection” did nothing to stop it. In the north of Iraq, the exclusion zone was actually used by NATO (Turkish) forces to attack Kurds of the PKK.

  15. Con 15

    Headline in today’s Sydney Morning Herald “Nine boys gunned down by NATO helicopters”. Of course it’s a deeply regrettable error, but what were those NATO helicopter gunships supposed to do when they saw people openly walking around in the mountains of Afghanistan? Are they supposed to just sit on their hands and do nothing?

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