Leading article: A welcome moment of unity, but there are dangers ahead

Will Western governments press for intervention in our strategically important allies in the Gulf, to protect democratic protesters there?

Share
Related Topics

The United Nations has risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes of institutional paralysis. The bloodthirsty threats of Muammar Gaddafi have managed to unite a squabbling and mistrustful global community in a conviction that the Libyan dictator must be prevented from massacring those opposed to his rule.

Security Council Resolution 1973, passed late on Thursday night, authorises all necessary measures, short of military occupation, to protect civilians in Libya.

This means a no-fly zone for Libya's 42 or so jets, but the resolution also permits the bombing of Gaddafi's ground forces if they advance on opposition population centres. There has been nothing like it since the UN authorisation of force to eject Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait in 1990. The vote did not win unanimous support on the Security Council, but no nation voted against it. And crucially China and Russia both decided not to wield their veto.

In Britain, the Stop the War Coalition yesterday condemned this as yet another neo-imperialist adventure. But it is not a repeat of Iraq. Proper authorisation has been secured from the United Nations, conferring international legitimacy on the operation. This is something that George Bush and Tony Blair never managed to acquire in 2003.

And it is not a war of choice, like Iraq, but a response to the imminent threat of a massacre. In this respect it is more like the Nato operation in 1999 to protect the Kosovo Albanians from the depredations of the Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic. David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy, the two prime movers behind the resolution, deserve credit for securing their goal (which goes some way towards atoning for their cynical behaviour during an earlier stage of the Arab uprising). But the resolution on Libya is only the beginning of the job. Just as important is the matter of how it is implemented. The best-case scenario is that Gaddafi's troops and pilots will, over the coming days, recognise which way the wind is blowing and defect, opening the way for the opposition to sweep to victory and hold free elections. The outside world will thus successfully level the battlefield, but the domestic Libyan opposition will be able to take the credit for the deposition of a vicious oppressor.

The announcement of a ceasefire by the Gaddafi regime yesterday was an early hopeful sign, promising success even before a single jet had left the runway. But Gaddafi, with his back to the wall, is perfectly capable of breaching that ceasefire. And there were indications last night that he already had. Alternatively the wily Libyan tyrant might simply choose to dig in, inviting the rebels to try to dislodge him. Then he could argue that the use of force against the opposition would be self-defence, rather than aggression, and thus not in breach of the resolution.

That is where things get difficult. Nothing in the UN resolution authorises regime change. The mandate is purely protective. If the opposition fails to secure outright victory, there is a very real danger that the outside world will have fostered the creation of a divided Libya. And we could then find ourselves embroiled in a protracted civil war.

There is also the likelihood of innocent casualties if our planes are called into action. We should know by now that aerial bombing is never as accurate as the military chiefs like to pretend. During the Kosovo conflict, Nato planes accidentally bombed a convoy of Albanian refugees and also the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Similar disasters now could see Arab opinion turn very quickly against the intervention.

Further, this action could open up the West to the accusation of double standards. If the opposition in Libya does prevail, it could give a second wind to the uprising across the Arab world. Suppression of protests in Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia continue. In the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, yesterday, some 40 protesters were shot by snipers from roof tops (although the government denied these were state forces). The regime in Bahrain this week brutally cleared opposition demonstrators from their base on Pearl Square in Manama.

Will our governments press for intervention in these nations, all strategically important allies, to protect democratic protesters too? The Arab League's call for action against Gaddafi helped to prompt the UN to act over Libya. But that organisation is highly unlikely to demand action against some of its most influential members in the Gulf.



The international community has managed to come together over Libya in a way that, even a few days ago, seemed impossible. The adventurism of Bush and Blair in 2003 looked as if it had buried the principle of humanitarian intervention for a generation. It has returned sooner than anyone believed possible. Given the slaughter that might have happened in Benghazi without the resolution, that must be welcomed. But if humanitarian intervention is to be rehabilitated, it needs to be applied with great care. The test for this newfound unity of nations in the face of a brutal tyrant is only beginning.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Should parents be allowed to take pictures at nativity plays?  

Ghosts of Christmas past: What effect could posting pictures of nativity plays have on the next generation?

Ellen E Jones
The first Christmas card: in 1843 the inventor Sir Henry Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to draw a card for him to send to family and friends  

Hold your temperance: New life for the first Christmas card

Simmy Richman
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick