The Libyan no-fly zone is a no-fly zone over Libya that was approved by the United Nations Security Council on March 17, 2011 by way of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. The no-fly zone was proposed during the 2011 Libyan uprising to prevent government forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi from carrying out air attacks on rebel forces.On 12 March, the Arab League called on the United Nations Security Council to impose the no-fly zone. On 17 March 2011, the Security Council voted 10-0 to approve the no-fly zone. There were five abstentions, including permanent members China and Russia who have veto power and often oppose military intervention against a sovereign country.
Although the no fly zone is immediately enforceable, and several countries have prepared to take immediate action, it is unclear how long the operation will take to enforce the measures. French officials previously stated that this could be ‘within hours’, although British officials have cautioned against this suggestion. Which nations and their roles in applying these measures have not yet been specified, although France and the UK have stated their intention to uphold them as a matter of urgency, and Lebanon and the US heavily backed the resolution.
Planning for a possible NFZ was made in late February and early March by NATO, especially by NATO members United Kingdom and France. The United Kingdom and France were early supporters of a no-fly zone and have sufficient airpower to impose a no-fly-zone over the rebel-held areas, although might need additional assistance for a more extensive exclusion zone.
The US also has air assets needed, but was cautious about establishing a no-fly zone prior to obtaining a legal basis for violating Libya’s sovereignty. Because of the sensitive nature of military action by the US against an Arab nation, the US has sought Arab participation in the enforcement of a no-fly zone.
At a congressional hearing, United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates explained that “a no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses … and then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. But that’s the way it starts.
An act of war
U.S. Congressman Ron Paul said that “for the US to establish a ‘no fly’ zone over … Libya would constitute an act of war and any kind of military presence in the sovereign territory of Libya will require committing troops to engage in combat against the Libyan air force, as well as anti-aircraft systems.”
U.S. Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated that: “If the Obama Administration is contemplating this step … it should begin by seeking a declaration of war against Libya that would allow for a full Congressional debate on the issue.”
Risk of co-option
Richard Haass argues that:
“It is one thing to acknowledge Moammar Gadhafi as a ruthless despot, which he has demonstrated himself to be. But doing so does not establish the democratic bona fides of those who oppose him. And even if some of those opposing him are genuine democrats, there is no reason to assume that helping to remove the regime would result in the ascendancy of such people.”
According to Haass, removing Gadaffi by force could “easily set in motion a chain of events in which a different strongman, with the backing of a different tribe, took over” or create a power vacuum exploitable by al Qaeda and similar groups.
On a per capita basis, twice as many foreign fighters in the Iraqi insurgency came from Libya as from any other Arab country—most of them from Darnah or Benghazi, the locus of the current uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.However, according to National Journal, “[reports] from the ground in Libya suggest that Islamic groups in eastern Libya are working closely with secular rebels in the fight against Gaddafi and have made no effort to take control of the situation or impose strict Islamic law in the areas they control.”