Leading article: Nato must not be seduced into prolonging the conflict in Libya

Related Topics

Three weeks after the first UN-authorised air strikes on eastern Libya, there is a distinct sense that the conflict is stagnating. The rationale for intervening, and the haste with which this was done, remains as valid today as it was then.

Without such prompt and decisive action, the bloodbath forecast for Benghazi could well have come to pass. The rebel movement might have been crushed even before it had had a chance to coalesce. There is no latitude for "what ifs" here.

As time has passed, however, certain realities have become clearer, and not all of them are welcome. One is the motley nature of the opposition to the Gaddafi clan. Given the repressive nature of Gaddafi's rule, there should be no surprise that those trying to unite against him seem ill-prepared either to fight or, were they to prevail, to govern.

Another is Gaddafi's continuing determination and strength. At the start of the intervention, his forces appeared to be in full retreat; the way seemed to be open for opposition forces to consolidate their gains in the east and speed to Tripoli. Paradoxically, the day before the first air strikes saw the first serious setbacks for the opposition. Since then, control of the western city of Misrata has been in almost continuous contention, and a shifting front line has established itself between Ajdabiya and Brega in the east.

The command structure for the intervention has also seen changes. The United States has relinquished overall command to Nato, with the British and French reportedly not always seeing eye to eye over targets. Inevitably, and not necessarily connected with this, mistakes have been made. In the latest, 13 people were reported killed as a result of a strike on rebel tanks. A Nato spokesman said the alliance had been unaware that the opposition had tanks at their disposal, so assumed they belonged to government forces. He expressed regret for the deaths, but refused to apologise – insisting "our job is to protect civilians".

That formulation – rightly – underlines the limitations of the intervention. At the start, the air strikes had the effect of bolstering the opposition. But the UN resolution did not underwrite the use of force as assistance to the rebels; the focus was on the protection of civilians. Now, with the no-fly zone in operation and the opposition controlling more hardware, the fighting, in the east at least, is more evenly balanced. Although some have mooted supplying arms to the rebels, it may be that they have now received as much help as UN resolution 1973 allows. Regime change might have been desirable, but it was never the official purpose of the intervention.

If, as it appears, the conflict is stagnating, with Gaddafi still holding sway in the west and the opposition holding almost uncontested power in the east, the time may be approaching when consideration should be given to an outcome short of a complete opposition victory. It may be premature to talk about the division of Libya, but a de facto recognition of two areas under separate control might be the optimum interim solution. There is no sign yet that this would be acceptable to the two sides, and Nato might have to continue to fund and maintain the no-fly zone even if it were, but an uneasy peace might be preferable for everyone to an indefinite war in the desert.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General


£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Luton: SECONDARY PRU / SEN / LSA experie...

Website Editor

£15 - £17 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently r...

Teaching Assistants Needed in Bolton

£12000 - £14400 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you an...

Nursery Assistant Plymouth

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Qualified Nursery nurs...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Ed Miliband is so scared of becoming Tony Blair he has forgotten how to communicate

Lance Price
Young Syrian refugees gather around a small fire at the Minieh camp in Lebanon  

Cameron and Obama may want to ‘destroy’ Isis, but what will they do about the growing number of refugees fleeing Iraq and Syria?

Kate Allen
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments