Shashank Joshi: We would be ill-advised to be dragged into another land war like the Iraq disaster


Related Topics

The phrase "second resolution", with its echoes of the pre-Iraq diplomatic wrangling of 2003, strikes an ominous note. The French call for UN authorisation of regime change is, at best, a rash gamble.

At worst, it will shatter the coalition, drive Britain in the direction of another catastrophic land war, and chip away at the pillars of legality on which this war was erected.

But the minimalists are no less confused. Those who advocate a narrow interpretation of UN Resolution 1973, as allowing only a no-fly zone and purely defensive measures, have no credible answer to the questions of how western forces will halt their military operations without risking a resumption of horrific attacks on civilians, or why the rebels would accept a de facto partition. It is therefore imperative that Nato degrade Gaddafi's war machine, because no settlement will be stable or enforceable without irreversible change in the balance of power.

Regime change as an ambition is neither imprudent nor unusual. This is the British position in, say, Myanmar and Iran. But as explicit policy, it is reckless, wishful, and devoid of strategic nuance

First, France could not get the resolution it hints at. Resolution 1973 barely escaped a Russian and Chinese veto. Only days ago, a meeting of the Bric countries condemned the use of force against Libya and called it all-but illegal. Every one of these four emerging powers is a member of the UN Security Council.

Second, Resolution 1973 was a triumph of international diplomacy. It combined Arab support, elastic language, and humanitarian objectives. Libya was everything Iraq was not. If western powers sought – and were denied – a second resolution, but pushed for regime change regardless, this triumph could be stillborn. Unilateral action would inflame Arab opinion, dissolve Turkish and German support, and generate an international chorus of condemnation.

The war in Iraq demonstrated that unilateralism has grave symbolic costs. The war in Afghanistan shows that a fractured and weary alliance is an ineffectual one. Repeating these two mistakes would leave Britain and France, in a few months' time, isolated from allies and their own parliaments.

Third, and most important, by what means does the coalition intend to topple Gaddafi? The two obvious answers – relying on the rebels, and an expansion in airstrikes – are unworkable.

Though the rebels will soon be flush with cash and arms, this will not swing the balance. They lack any meaningful organisation, training, doctrine, and cohesion.

The alternative to relying on the rebels as Nato's army is to turn Nato into the rebels' air force. In the 1999 Kosovo War, Milosevic's defiance forced Nato to target dual-use facilities such as bridges and power plants and, eventually, to begin concrete preparations for a ground campaign.

But emulating this model would be the height of folly. Targeting dual-use infrastructure in Libya would amplify the humanitarian crisis and would anger many otherwise supportive Libyans.

Above all, the prospect of ground forces should be viewed with alarm and scorn. In February, the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, argued that "any future Defence Secretary who advises the President to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined". There is wise counsel here for both Whitehall and the Quai d'Orsay: limited war demands limited aims.

The writer is an associate fellow of the Royal United Services Institute

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent