Thursday’s Security Council resolution on Libya is both sweeping and limited.
Sweeping: It authorizes all necessary means to enforce a no-fly zone and to protect civilians.
Limited: It does not authorize warfare to overthrow Gaddafi’s government and it upholds the ban on supplying arms to anyone in Libya, including the rebels.
That ban on arms is reportedly being broken by Egypt and Saudi Arabia with the blessing of the United States. No one seems to be telling them to stop violating two Security Council resolutions. So you can pick and choose which parts of a resolution you want to enforce or obey?
The Libyan government might not be serious about the ceasefire, but let’s suppose for a moment that it is. Why should the rebels go along with that? They were offered negotiations weeks ago and they rejected them. That makes sense. You don’t start a revolution and then stop just when you seem to be winning. Then they started to lose. Now they can win again with NATO’s help. So why should they stop?
All ceasefires are messy. They are always broken to some extent by both sides in a conflict and both sides always blame the other. But even if government forces do respect the ceasefire, they will surely not just sit back and take it if they are attacked. Then what? Presumably, Britain and France will become the rebel’s air force (as NATO was for the KLA) and bomb them.
Or, what if the rebels and the government do respect a ceasefire - at least more or less. Almost from the start the Libyan uprising has been different from others in the region. Elsewhere, the opposition has been unarmed protests, whereas Libya’s opposition has been an armed rebellion - a civil war.
So what if that stops? Not likely, but let’s just suppose. What about unarmed protesters attacked by security forces? Like in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen. How many protesters would need to be killed for foreign forces to start bombing under the new resolution? One? Two? Twenty or more, like Bahrain? Three hundred, like Egypt?
Some people are asking these questions publicly, but it is not the main tune. The main tune is that Gaddafi is mad - all our enemies are personified as a single madman. He killed his own people - true, but so have our allies and they continue to do so.
What the British and French governments, among many others, want is the defeat of Gaddafi. But Resolution 1973 does not authorize that. It authorizes the protection of civilians.
So, one last question before I sign off. Since the protection of civilians is supposed to be the goal - and that would be a worthy goal - when someone suggests negotiations instead of war, who will support them?