Indian Decade

Endgame for Gaddafi?

The US needs a quick result following imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya, or it risks inflaming the Muslim world.

The endgame appears to have begun in Libya. France has been spearheading diplomatic efforts aimed at Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, with a no-fly zone having been introduced shortly after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973. As Sumit mentioned here earlier today, India was one of five countries on the 15-member Security Council to abstain from voting. (Russia, China, Germany and Brazil were the other members).

India claims that it abstained because it wasn’t sure how the resolution would impact the ongoing civil war in Libya—would it ease or exacerbate the difficulties facing Libyans? Indian Deputy Permanent UN Representative Manjeev Singh Puri underlined the country’s concerns in his brief speech before the Council, citing three specific reasons for his government’s decision.

The first is that neither the special envoy appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the Libyan crisis nor his office had shared the envoy’s ground report on the situation. Another Indian concern is that the resolution adopted by the Council authorized far-reaching measures despite there being relatively little credible information about the situation on the ground. Third, India said the resolution lacked clarity about the details of any enforcement measures, including who would participate, and with what assets.

Setting aside the merits or otherwise of India’s decision to abstain, it’s clear that actually enforcing the no-fly zone won’t be easy. France and Britain have called for such a move virtually from the start, but the United States has been more reluctant, and has quickly indicated its desire to hand over lead responsibilities.

Participation of some Arab League states has clearly been crucial for the West to maintain some kind of credibility in Arab eyes. But even the participation of countries like Qatar won’t be enough to stem criticism if the no-fly zone is poorly executed and civilian casualties mount. With the wounds of Iraq and Afghanistan still festering, the United States can hardly afford to get sucked into another extended conflict in the Muslim world.

Gaddafi has already warned that he will destabilize the Mediterranean region if attacked by foreign forces, and he has been quick to try to rally support by talking of Western invaders. The need for NATO to wrap this up quickly is clear.