The Libyan No-Fly Zone, my fearful Country, and its big Mouth

Demanding an immediate ceasefire in Libya, including an end to the current attacks against civilians, which it said might constitute “crimes against humanity”, the Security Council this evening imposed a ban on all flights in the country’s airspace — a no-fly zone — and tightened sanctions on the Qadhafi regime and its supporters,

writes the UN department of public information. Resolution 1973 (2011), the one which imposes the no-fly zone,

authorized Member States, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi,

but excludes a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory – not one inch, as the information department quotes Lebanon’s speaker at the United Nations security council (UNSC).

Just another German press review

Just another German press review

Just as on Iraq early in 2003, Europe presented itself divided once again. But different from then, I’m not so sure today that Germany’s government made the right decision in the resolution 1973 vote. I’d have preferred to see Germany supporting it.

I can sense some of the risks. Nobody seems to know if the resolution’s scope  will be wide enough to protect the Libyan population effectively. Not only Libyans, but other Arab countries supportive of the resolution, too, will blame any failure on America and Europe. A divided Libya may turn into a another failed state, close to the borders of the European Union. We don’t know who the anti-Gaddafi forces are – and after all, the resolution helps them more than Gaddafi and his connections.

In fact, the European-Gaddafi coexistence had been quite comfy during the past few years. The Great Socialist Jamahiriya‘s leader had kept North African refugees back on the African continent, and Western business people fell over each other to strike lucrative deals with the dictator and his connections.

But not knowing if the people who would replace Gaddafi are worse or better than him creates no obligation to stay on the sidelines and to watch Gaddafi’s revenge on his opponents (including scores of suspected opponents) unfold. We don’t know who the oppositionals are, but we do know what kind of “leader” Gaddafi is. By now, any suggestion that he should bring the entire country back under his control has become an unreasonable demand on the Libyan people.

There is no institution like the Egyptian military in Libya. If the no-fly zone, plus all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, but minus an option to occupy Libyan territory, will be successful in stopping Gaddafi’s forces (many of whom aren’t Libyan nationals, but mercenaries from elsewhere in Africa), either all Libyans, or those outside the reach of Tripoli, will have to find agreement among themselves before they can build such institutions. It’s looks like an adventure, rather than like a project.

Therefore, a government may abstain in the UN security council’s vote, and be proven right in the end.

But even if that should be the case, Berlin would have chosen its position for the wrong reasons, and in contradiction to messages it had sent during the past months. The German government cited some which one may find convincing indeed, but most crucially, it abstained because it was afraid of public opinion at home. The government  finds it hard already to maintain our country’s existing military commitment to Afghanistan.  German pacifism*), an attitude based on the experience of the second world war,  plays a big role here.  It helped for the short term in 2002, that then chancellor Gerhard Schröder succeeded in making the public believe that the Bundeswehr was basically sent to Afghanistan to rebuild bridges and protect little girls on their way to school. The rude awakening since wasn’t really that helpful. Afghanistan looks like a never-ending story, and involvement in Libya could become a quagmire, or a failure.

According to a survey quoted by the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Wednesday, 90 percent of the German public support the government’s position on Libya. Government and population seem to share the feeling that our allies could ask for a German fighter jet’s involvement, and the feeling that this would be asking too much.

Some German papers have criticized our government’s – and oppositional parties’ – siding with countries such as China or Russia. That doesn’t bother me. If I was convinced that the resolution 1973 on Libya was wrong, I wouldn’t mind our government’s company. Besides, one could say that China’s and Russia’s positions are pretty consistent with their previous views on the northern African revolutions.

Berlin? Not so. Here is some of Guido Westerwelle‘s (German foreign minister) exhilarated bushwah in Egypt, in February this year, according to an official German website:

“A movement for freedom has started here, and we intend to do our bit to help ensure that it brings success for the people.”


“Tahrir Square is to the Egyptians what the Brandenburg Gate is to Germans,” Westerwelle said, adding that Germany had a noticeably good reputation in Egypt – “perhaps in part because we made such a good job of our own peaceful revolution for freedom.”

That, plus some comments by Westerwelle on Libya, in a radio interview, also in February – i. e. shortly after Benghazi and other Libyan cities ousted the pro-Gaddafi forces (and therefore took the risk of being treated as “traitors”, should those forces return):

“This regime is hitting out like mad; it is waging war against its own people; it is threatening the people with a protracted civil war – and that’s why I have decided that we will again call for an emergency session of the UN Security Council. I believe sanctions are inevitable in the light of these severe human rights violations and the massive use of violence. These might include travel bans for the ruling family, but also the freezing of assets.”


We Germans made our position crystal clear right at the beginning of the week – along with other colleagues, may I say, France for instance – and this will not have been lost on our other colleagues. This morning I will be meeting my Italian counterpart, Franco Frattini, whom I value very highly, and whom I know to be a compassionate man who is completely aware that Europe’s foreign policy must be interest-based, but above all value-oriented. And we as European democrats stand on the side of democratic change.

Where is my country standing now?

To be fair, one should add that Westerwelle didn’t want to take a stance on possible military intervention then. But at that time, late in February, he didn’t need to. The situation in Libya was different from now, and without Britain, France, but above all America supporting military action, Germany’s position wouldn’t have made a difference anyway.

But Germany’s position now appears to be that, while it will always do “its bit” to “encourage” change, the risks will be exclusively for the people south of the Mediterranean themselves to take – even when Germany would be quite capable to take a share in it. That stinks.


*) I don’t think that my use of the word pacifism in this context is really doing justice to the concept. But as genuine pacifism and genuine callousness (plus lots of other mindsets in between) are habitually lumped together as “pacifism” anyway, I’m doing likewise here.

Reactions to the Fukushima I Disaster, March 15, 2011
LSE and “Biased Media”, March 4, 2011
Angela Merkel calls Kadafi Speech “frightening”, L. A. Times blogs, February 22, 2011


7 Responses to “The Libyan No-Fly Zone, my fearful Country, and its big Mouth”

  1. I totally support US, France, Britains etc present flyover destruction of Gaddafi’s military infrastructure, and look forward to some serious people’s justice for the echelons holding his regime together. Basically, Gaddafi’s whole gig will come apart like a cheap toy in the rain within a day or so, anyway.

    And yes, it has been a cinch to demonise the Colonel, with his strange moustache, truly gay dress sense and blood-curdling threats against all and sundry, not forgetting that most Europeon countries have been in bed with him on a whole range of matters, most of which you have noted.

    But hearing the nauseating rationales advanced by Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy have been a bit hard to stomach.

    Stepping back.

    To let Gaddafi have his way would be a major setback in the peoples democratic synergy sweeping the Middle East from Morocco to that really hardcase Syria (even Al Jazeera got that one wrong, if you do a news scroll).

    The Assad regime genocided a whole city Hama in 1982 and not a squeak from the West. Too bad Hama was a hotbed for the Muslim Brotherhood.

    This was an easy call for the Europeon powers since Gadaffi has pissed off just about everybody except Samoa.

    Look at the very recent brutal crackdown in Bahrain (major US fleet anchorage) with the 70/30 Shia – Sunni {the govt} mix. Very recent Shia demonstrations in Sunni Saudi Arabia. The West will let the Shia in these countries get slaughtered.

    Tread softly here. Oil and the fear of spreading Iranian influence.

    The Yemeni govt, location of another brutal crackdown, is a major beneficiary of US military assistance.

    Tread softy here, due to the Al Qaeda problem.

    Welcome. Highly selective, but truly hypocritical in terms of Middle Eastern geo-political realities.


  2. I’m not so sure about people’s justice, KT – it depends on what it means. I don’t expect that there will be genuine rule of law anytime soon in Libya, and that’s one of the things which makes the no-fly zone issue so tricky, I believe. The best starting point for a free and prospering country would be a kind of justice where human rights apply to everyone, including the the Great Socialist Jamahiriya‘s leader. If he is defeated and survives, he should be put on trial, in accordance with the law. (I know – this is a very idealistic expectation.)

    I’m not terribly fond of the Obama and Cameron statements either, and **** Sarkozy. But there is no global government. National governments have to make choices, and sell their decisions to their public. That’s basically fine with me – can’t see how else it should work. But above all, I don’t care that much about their hypocrisy, because they are foreign countries’ officials.

    Besides, it seems to me that their positions are currently less lethal than that of my country’s peace-loving government.



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