Security Council Authorizes Military Intervention in Libya

March 17, 2011 - 6:52 PM

Chinese UN Ambassador Li Baodong

Chinese Ambassador Li Baodong raises his hand to abstain during Thursday’s vote on a Security Council resolution authorizing military intervention in Lebanon. (Screenshot: U.N. Webcast)

( – As fears mount that it may already be too late to rescue the faltering anti-Gaddafi rebellion, the U.N. Security Council on Thursday evening narrowly passed a resolution authorizing countries to take “all necessary measures” short of foreign occupation to protect civilians under threat of attack by the Libyan regime.

China and Russia did not support the measure, but abstained. A no vote from any of the five permanent members would have killed the resolution.

Non-permanent members Germany, India and Brazil also abstained but the resolution received 10 votes, one more than the minimum required in the 15-member body.

The text was introduced by France, Britain and Lebanon, and the U.S. on Thursday added its sponsorship.

Apart from other unspecified “measures,” the resolution establishes a ban on all flights in Libyan airspace except for those used for humanitarian and evacuation purposes.

It calls for “the immediate establishment of a cease-fire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians.”

Hours before the vote, Muammar Gaddafi issued a warning over state radio to rebels in the de facto opposition capital, Benghazi – surrender or face imminent attack.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe speaks upon arriving at the United Nations for a meeting of the Security Council on Thursday, March 17, 2011 in New York. (AP Photo)

Addressing the council ahead of the vote, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the international community cannot abandon Libyan civilians to “these warmongers.”

He urged strong support for the resolution.

“We have very little time left,” he said. “It’s a matter of days. It’s perhaps a matter of hours.”

Sources in the British and French government indicated earlier that the two countries would be ready to act within a very short time following the passage of a resolution. Italy informed NATO last week that its bases were available.

A NATO airbase is located in Aviano, north-eastern Italy (about 880 miles from Tripoli) while the U.S. Sixth Fleet is headquartered in Gaeta, near Naples (about 500 nautical miles from Tripoli.) Even closer are bases in Sicily, which the Italian government on Thursday night said would be available. Palermo in Sicily is about 350 miles from the Libyan capital.

The Obama administration has taken flak for what critics – on the right and left, at home and abroad – have described as overcautious foot dragging and an unwillingness to lead.

Some analysts attribute President Obama’s approach to a determination to avoid being compared to his predecessor by initiating military action in the Islamic world.

In an interview with the BBC in Cairo on Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked how history would judge the administration if Gaddafi’s forces capture Benghazi “because the U.S. was seen to take its time deliberating.”

“It is important that no one sees the United States acting unilaterally,” she replied. “This is what we were criticized for in the not-so-distant past. I think President Obama has been very clear. He has said there needs to be action. This man must go. He has lost legitimacy to govern. Let’s get an international consensus as to how we’re going to do that.”

Arab participation

The administration in recent days has been stressing the need for Arab participation in enforcement actions – beyond mere support from the sidelines – a stance Clinton repeated during a visit to Tunis on Thursday.

The representative at the U.N. of the Arab League – which on Saturday appealed to the Security Council for a “no-fly zone” over Libya – said Thursday that two Arab states had indicated a willingness to take part, and hinted that they were United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar.

Riad Kahwaji, head of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, last week cited a retired commander of the UAE air force, Maj.-Gen Khaled Al-Bu Ainnain, as saying Gulf states and Egypt could successfully help enforce a no-fly zone.

He said the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt could together provide 120 fighters and attack aircraft, backed with early warning AWACS planes, pilotless drones for reconnaissance, and air-refueling tankers. Helicopter squadrons could be on hand for search and rescue missions.

“Crews and troops needed for the operation could be quickly airlifted to western Egypt, and even Algeria, within hours using a large fleet of UAE and Egyptian C-130 and Qatari C-17 transporters.”

Kahwaji quoted Al-Bu Ainnain as saying bunker-buster bombs could destroy Libyan runways and ground its planes, while Libyan gunships could be destroyed on the ground.