Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Naive or Cynical?

On Thursday 17th March, with the belated and reluctant support of the USA and the Arab League, the UN Security Council passed resolution 1973 authorising a no-fly zone over Libya and any military action necessary to protect civilians. Russia, China, Germany, Brazil and India abstained. Read the full text here.

Gaddafi immediately announced a cease fire, but his troops continued to attack civilians. On 19th March, after the absence of a cease-fire was verified, and a meeting of coalition leaders had been held in Paris, air strikes started and are rapidly degrading Gaddafi’s military capability. His tanks were forced to withdraw from Benghazi and a massacre of civilians there was avoided. His forces continue to attack civilians elsewhere.

As soon as the coalition forces had started to attack strategic targets in Libya, Gaddafi’s propaganda machine began to broadcast claims that (Gaddafi loyalist) civilians had been injured or killed and a clamour began amongst his friends, fellow Arabs and those with economic interests in Libya to stop the bombing. They seem to think that just enforcing a no-fly zone will stop the tanks and ground troops from killing civilians. They are either naive or highly cynical and playing to their own domestic constituencies, I suspect the latter.

I can understand why Russia and China are against the military action. In Chechnya and Tiananmen Square they have both killed their own citizens and they want to preserve the right to do so again without the risk of Western interference. Brazil and India are both so far away from Libya that these events must feel very remote and quite frankly I have no idea about their motivation in calling for the air strikes to stop.

Italy has economic interests in Libya, but I can’t understand why Germany is against the action. Would they really have preferred to stand by and watch a massacre take place on their television screens? Perhaps they are so guilty about their history that pacifists are dominant, or maybe the massacre of Libyans doesn’t count? I think they should take a long hard look at themselves and question their own motives. Taking an isolationist view is not facing up to Germany’s responsibilities as the most important and successful nation in the EU. *(see note below)

Meanwhile the tide of civil unrest continues to sweep through the Arab world, most recently in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria, but it is being resisted by the authorities.

In France there is a specific offence under which you can be prosecuted for not giving assistance to someone who is in danger. For most people here (apart from the National Front) this concept applies in Libya. I am glad that France and the UK, although weakened economically, are still sufficiently principled to uphold the human rights of others not to be massacred by their own governments.

I would like to see concerted attempts by the international community to prevent this wherever it takes place, not just in the area of influence of the European Union.

*Yesterday 24th March Bernard Guetta, who does an excellent daily piece on World Affairs for France Inter, was in Germany and he reported that 60% of Germans think that the coalition action in Libya is justified.  The decision to abstain was a political one which has back-fired on Angela Merkel and her coalition partners.  So my faith in shared european values has been restored!


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