Home US & World News COMMENTARY: The case for and against UNSC 1973

COMMENTARY: The case for and against UNSC 1973

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On Friday, Phyllis Bennis lamented that U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 "has essentially declared war on Libya," and argued that "yesterday's U.N. resolution is not the way" to support the uprising there.[1]  --  COMMENT:  Unfortunately, as she admits, she is at a loss to say what "the way" is.  --  Since United for Peace of Pierce County adopted a statement on Mar. 17, 2011, supporting Res. 1973 that has elicited criticism on the SNOW-NEWS listserv, perhaps this is an appropriate place to respond, not for the group, but only for myself.  --  On the other hand, I was the author of most (though not all) of the statement, which was edited in the course of an extensive discussion at UFPPC's March 17 meeting and endorsed without objection by all present.[2]  --  Its basic stand is the legitimacy of a U.N. Security Council Resolution aimed at checking a dictator who is attacking his own population.  --  The fact that there was, remarkably, support for the resolution in the Arab League was also a factor.  --  UFPPC's mission statement, adopted many years ago, reads:  "We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."  --  The U.N. resolution and the actions it calls for are not unilateral military actions, and the resolution is the result of cooperative diplomacy, so it is not in conflict with the group's principles.  --  In fact, the resolution was not a U.S. initiative, and there was much opposition to it in U.S. national security state circles.  --  My impression is that UFPPC members in general regard the United Nations as a flawed institution but one that is legitimate and deserving of support, and regard it as needing to be strengthened, though of course we are aware of how it has been misused by the great powers, especially the U.S.  --  As for the argument that what is happening in Libya is about seizing oil, I don't regard this as persuasive.  --  In fact, the West has been very comfortable with working with Muammar Gaddafi as head of an oil state.  --  Phyllis Bennis's hopes for a cease-fire and negotiations with a leader as brutal, cynical, and megalomaniacal as Gaddafi does not appear to me to be a credible approach to the present situation, and suggest the weakness of her analysis of the present case, as does the weak conclusion of her essay.  --  It is true that people will die as a result of Res. 1973.  --  But people were already dying in Libya.  --  Estimates of the number of deaths in the fighting in Libya in the past week range from 1,000 to 10,000.  --  And should Gaddafi prevail, as he was well on the way to doing before the passage of Res. 1973, many more are likely to die in harsh reprisals....



By Phyllis Bennis

Real News
March 19, 2011


Libya's opposition movement faces a ruthless military assault.  They have already paid a far higher price in lost and broken lives than activists in any of the other democratic uprisings shaping this year's Arab Spring.  They are desperate.  So it is not surprising that they have urged, demanded, pleaded for international support from the powerful countries and institutions most able to provide immediate military aid, even if it threatens their independence.  Yesterday the U.N. Security Council gave them what they asked for.

Or did it?  The legitimacy of the Libyan protesters' demand does not mean that the decision by the United Nations and the powerful countries behind it was legitimate as well.  The Libyan opposition, or at least those speaking for it, asked for a no-fly zone, for protection from the Qaddafi regime's air force, to allow them to take on and defeat their dictatorship on their own terms.  Many of us opposed that idea, for a host of reasons including the dangers of escalation and the threat of a new U.S. war in the Middle East.  But whatever one thinks about that demand, the Security Council resolution went far beyond a no-fly zone.  Instead, the United Nations has essentially declared war on Libya.

[Note: Friday morning EDT, Libyan Foreign Minister Mousa Kusa announced a ceasefire.  Early reports have not shown any change on the ground, and the ceasefire claim focused on preventing the division of the country rather than protecting civilians.  But serious or not, the ceasefire claim should be tested, and answered with an immediate halt in U.S.-European-NATO war preparations.  New diplomatic efforts should be launched under the auspices of regional governments and organizations, aimed at ending the Qaddafi regime's brutal control and establishing real democracy in Libya.  Answering a ceasefire declaration, even if not yet implemented, with a military escalation is the opposite of what is needed.  What we need is both negotiations and accountability -- not greater militarization.]


While the U.N. resolutionwas taken in the name of protecting civilians, it authorizes a level of direct U.S., British, French, NATO, and other international military intervention far beyond the"no-fly zone but no foreign intervention" that the rebels wanted.  Its real goal, evident in the speeches that followed the Security Council's March 17th evening vote, is to ensure that "Qaddafi must go," -- as so many ambassadors described it.  Resolution 1973 is about regime change, to be carried by the Pentagon and NATO with Arab League approval, instead of by home-grown Libyan opposition.

The resolution calls for a no-fly zone, as well as taking "all necessary measures . . . to protect civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory."  The phrase "all necessary measures" is understood to include air strikes, ground, and naval strikes to supplement the call for a no-fly zone designed to keep Qaddafi's air force out of the skies.  The U.S. took credit for the escalation in military authority, with Ambassador Susan Rice as well as other Obama administration officials claiming their earlier hesitation on supporting the U.N. resolution was based on an understanding of the limitations of a no-fly zone in providing real protection to [in this case Libyan] civilians.  It's widely understood that a no-fly zone is most often the first step towards broader military engagement, so adding the U.N. license for unlimited military escalation was crucial to getting the U.S. on board.  The "all necessary measures" language also appears to be the primary reason five Security Council members abstained on the resolution.  For Russia, China, Germany, India, and Brazil, that phrase meant giving the Pentagon and NATO a blank check backed by U.N. legitimacy.  Unfortunately, their unease was not strong enough to result in opposition to the resolution; the collective abstention of the five still allowed the resolution to pass with a ten-zero vote in favor.

Some supporters of the resolution (which sadly included South Africa) insisted on explicitly excluding a "foreign occupation force."  But in the real world, that prohibition means little.  Any U.S., British, or French troops arriving in Libya could easily be disguised as an"assistance team" or "training mission" or any of a host of well-honed diplomatic pseudonyms for what would otherwise be easily identified as foreign occupation forces.  The language was designed to assuage regional and international concerns that the U.N. resolution threatened to turn the Libyan opposition's struggle into a third U.S.-NATO war in the Middle East.

But in fact the U.N. resolution threatens exactly that.  The resolution's focus on immediate military engagement on behalf of the rebels (exactly what led to a deafening celebration in opposition-held Benghazi when the vote was announced) threatens to sideline the referral of the Qaddafi regime's crimes to the International Criminal Court and other potential pressure points, in favor of escalating the militarization of the entire region and internationalizing the military battle.  Imposition of a no-fly zone will not have any impact on the regime's tank and artillery assaults currently underway, but it is likely to be the first international engagement.  That means the first U.S. (or French or British, both of which are rumored to be trying to out-run the Pentagon as first to engage in Libya) military action will likely be bombing Libyan air defenses.  If one of those U.S. or British or French planes is shot down, leading to a NATO pilot or bomber team ending up in Qaddafi's custody, it's a pretty good bet that special forces or other ground troops would quickly be deployed to rescue the captured airmen.  Under those circumstances, the claim so often heard that this resolution "allows everything except boots on the ground," will be quickly proven untrue.  U.S. or other NATO boots on the ground may yet be in store for Libya.


There is a significant danger that the engagement of international military forces in what is shaping up as a civil war in Libya could result in a longer-term stalemate, perhaps based on the division of the country between the regime-controlled western sector, and the rebel-held east.  In fact, the text of the U.N. resolution seems to anticipate the likelihood that international military involvement will go on for a long time.  It calls on governments participating in the military attacks in Libya to keep the U.N. secretary-general informed of their actions, and asks the SG to "report to the Council within 7 days and every month thereafter" on implementation of the resolution.  That is not how you describe a short-term effort to help end an urgent crisis.

There continues to be breathtaking hypocrisy from the U.S. and its allies in responding to the disparate Arab movements.  The U.S. demanded not only that the Arab League endorse any authorization to use force in Libya, but also that Arab countries agree to actually participate in any U.N.-authorized or NATO-led military action.  Apparently at least two governments from Arab Gulf states have agreed.  Qatar is one of them.  The other likely one is United Arab Emirates, who along with Saudi Arabia, just sent hundreds of troops into democracy-shaken Bahrain, to help the king there keep his monarchy's hold on absolute power.  The U.S., fearful of losing Bahrain's strategic port as home for the Navy's Fifth Fleet, has yet to condemn the foreign troops imported to Bahrain to suppress the democracy protesters.  So far, the Obama administration's only response to the soldiers pouring into Bahrain has been to urge the heavily armed foreign troops to support dialogue between the Bahraini people and their discredited king.


Thirty years ago the U.S. decision to arm and strengthen Saddam Hussein's weaker Iraqi side against the stronger Iranian side kept the Iran-Iraq War going, U.S. war profiteers wealthy, and young Iranians and Iraqis dying, far longer than might otherwise have been the case.  Soon after, the U.S. bribed and threatened Security Council members to get most of them to endorse a U.S. war against Iraq.  Then in 1991 George Bush used a false humanitarian claim to justify imposing a "U.S.-UK only" no-fly zone in already war-ravaged Iraq, without even bothering going to the U.N.

Today is not quite 1991, and Libya is not quite Iraq.  The decision made in the Security Council yesterday may not lead to a third U.S. war in the Middle East.  It may not even lead to a long military stalemate or a permanent division of Libyan territory.  But the new resolution brings all those dangers closer.

The Libyan opposition, or at least much of it, has made a legitimate demand for international support; for all the right humanitarian reasons, many people in many parts of the world have supported their right to some kind of support.  Governments, however, are not people, and do not make strategic decisions for humanitarian reasons.  Governments do not use scarce resources and most especially do not deploy military force, to achieve humanitarian goals.  So the cold strategic calculations of powerful governments cannot be viewed as a legitimate response to the humanitarian needs of Libya's people or the humanitarian impulses of international civil society.

The Libyan opposition faced -- and faces -- a brutal regime willing to risk international opprobrium to escalate military force against its population.  One wishes that there was a global, civil society-based protection force, perhaps modeled on the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War, capable of responding and providing serious protection to civilians facing such an assault.  But such a force does not yet exist.  One might wish that regional neighbors such as Tunisia and especially Egypt, where new governments struggle to gain and keep the support of their newly empowered populations, were willing and able to provide sufficient military assistance to Libya's democratic forces, putting their military power, now at least partly under popular control, at the disposal of the regional democratic movement rising across the Arab world.

There may be new, not yet thought of ways of providing real solidarity to desperate movements, that do not threaten the authenticity and independence of the Libyan -- and other -- branches of these expanding Arab democratic revolutions.  But yesterday's U.N. resolution is not the way.  The U.N. Charter calls for ending the scourge of war, not globalizing it.

--Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and author of Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today's UN.



United for Peace of Pierce County (WA)
March 17, 2011



There is a world of difference between a unilaterally declared no-fly zone over Libya and one endorsed by the United Nations after a vote in its favor by the Arab League.  United for Peace of Pierce County supports Resolution 1973, voted this evening by the United Nations Security Council, as a useful measure against a brutal, cynical dictator repressing a popular rebellion.

The BBC reported this evening that Libyan rebel spokesman Saadon al-Misraty said:  "In Misrata here almost all of the people of Misrata have taken to the streets in jubilation and in joy at the actual passing of the resolution eventually. We have been hearing gunshots up in the air . We have been hearing car horns for the international response that took place just a minute ago.  This is definitely a major step towards the aim of toppling the Gaddafi regime altogether."

By itself the resolution is not a solution to Libya's problems, and we have no illusions about the goodwill of the various powers whose efforts produced the resolution or about the moral integrity of those who will carry it out.  And we are concerned about unintended consequences that may result from this action, including U.S. forces being drawn into an ever downward spiralling morass of violence and occupation.  But the fact is that innocents fighting for self-rule are being slaughtered in Libya. They deserve our support, and the international community is right to intervene.


Last Updated on Sunday, 20 March 2011 08:48  

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