A few hours of discussion in Qatar yesterday left an impression of modest progress within the Libya contact group that contrasted with the conspicuous lack of progress, so far, on the ground. Two factors clearly remain as problematic as ever: the intrinsic weakness of the anti-Gaddafi opposition and the legal position relating to outside assistance. The 10-point communique bore the hallmarks of much hedging.
In an advance on the London meeting, which established the contact group, there was agreement that Muammar Gaddafi's continued presence threatened any resolution to the current crisis, but no open support for regime change imposed from outside. There was no agreement either on the permissibility of supplying weapons to the anti-Gaddafi forces. One question is whether the embargo that currently applies to Libya bans arms supplies to everyone, or just to the Gaddafi regime. Another is whether the regime's frozen assets abroad can be unfrozen to fund the rebels' cause. The additional help approved in Doha was described as non-lethal or humanitarian – with more than 3.5 million people said to be in need.
As the past three weeks have demonstrated, what amounts essentially to more of the same may not be enough to bring the opposition forces victory, at least not soon. And if it is not, what then? The UN mandate does not extend to the forcible removal of Gaddafi – who shows no sign of readiness to give up power voluntarily – and the requirement to protect civilians can apply equally to opposition-controlled areas as to those controlled by Gaddafi. It can be stretched only so far in tipping the advantage towards the rebels.
A Nato meeting today and tomorrow will be an opportunity for the alliance to review the efficacy of its operations to date, but statements yesterday suggested that the French President's impatience is not shared by either Britain or the Nato secretary general. The unsatisfactory conclusion is that all concerned will either have to reconcile themselves to the present uneasy stalemate or show themselves as prepared for the long haul as Gaddafi himself appears to be.