Politics @ Surrey

The blog of the Department of Politics at the University of Surrey

Karzai’s Police Force: While State Security Forces in the Middle East Come Under Pressure, in Afghanistan, NATO Continues to Build.

Our perceptions of the future of the Middle East and the ability of western states to influence events therein have shifted radically over the course of these historic months. President Obama proudly proclaimed after the fall of Mubarak that Egyptian citizen’s rights must now be irreversibly recognized and fair elections should be a priority. In the interim NATO has launched a significant intervention on behalf of anti-government rebel forces in Libya. These actions do however lie in stark contrast with existing policy in Afghanistan and raise interesting questions about NATO’s current approaches to state building operations.

While the streets of Kabul have not yet witnessed the kind of mass uprising seen across many states in the middle east, foreign policy analysts across the west will no doubt be harbouring growing concern about what exactly this transnational social movement may mean for their strategy in central Asia.

Specifically, as the horrific reports of violence perpetrated by increasingly desperate police and state security forces leak out from activists, journalists and bloggers in states such as Syria, Bahrain and Yemen it must be difficult for pro-Karzai NATO governments to see their project in the same light as before. Proclamations that ‘Security is the most necessary building block to development and prosperity’ is a typical headline oft seen at conferences on Afghan development, but surely even the most hawkish supporter of COIN must feel that, given current events, this long held truth may count for nought. The corner stone of NATO’s commitment to increasing ‘Afghanistan’s Security and Stability‘, has been, and continues to be, a massive investment in the type of state security apparatus against which the populations of countries across the middle east are currently bloodying their fists.

Chad J. McNeeley, U.S. Navy

ANP Line Up, Chad J. McNeeley, U.S. Navy – Wikimedia Commons

In 2008, the Department of Defence announced it had budgeted 20 Billion USD to double the size of Afghan security forces by 2012(p.27) to over 300,000, with the police growing from 95,000 to over 120,000 in just 12 months (although current existing forces may be a fraction of this number). At the time of writing, negotiations to increase the number by a further 70,000 are being spearheaded by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Levin, backed by top brass figures Mike Mullen, Robert Gates and David Petraeus. There is a wide appreciation in the security literature that these expansions are extraordinarily rapid and raise serious doubts about the extent to which what these forces will be fit for purpose in anything like the time frame NATO has set out.

Beyond the policy debates of the international security establishment, which is of little concern to the people living under the security system it designs (92% of respondents to a recent ICOS poll were unaware of the events of 9/11), lies a fundamental question of how this apparatus functions as a part of the Karzai state. Those with an interest in Afghanistan will be familiar with the torrents of accusations against the Afghan National Police (ANP) over corruption, abuse and unlawful killings. In the South, where NATO has its most rudimentary concerns with the establishment of a strong and effective security presence, distrust and hatred for the police is well documented.

Helmand and Kandahar in particular are areas that NATO has spent years trying to establish a strong presence for Afghan police and is also the area where that presence is most strongly resented. Current polls by the UN show less than half of Afghans in the South hold a positive view of the police in the region, a figure which has been decreasing for several years. My own experience in focus group analysis for populations in the area leads me to suspect even these figures might be ambitious as far as NATO is concerned.

Much has been made of the positive polling data from urban areas such as Kabul, which show 70-90% of respondents holding positive views of their local police force. This might be put down to progressive initiatives such as Kabul’s Family Response Unit (p.27) which aims to protect women from domestic violence (strange coming from an administration that gave constitutional legalisation to marital rape). Initiatives such as these might risk being described as ‘diplomat friendly’ in that they are nice demonstrations of progress for liberal statesmen and women visiting Kabul, while in rural Afghanistan support for the police plummets as allegations of abuse of power become depressingly systemic.

The Obama administration’s decision of October last to waive legal requirements to cut military assistance to Chad, DRC, Yemen and Sudan for use of child soldiers received some minor flak. But in Afghanistan, such a decision might not be seen as quite so shocking as there has long been quiet acquiescence for the use of child soldiers in the ANP and pro government militias, who use them for sex as well as fighting. The wikileaks revelation that green berets working as police trainers for Dyncorp have incurred similar child sex allegeations might prove problematic for the Obama administration, should an uncontrollable desire to do something about the practice arise.

Further accusations against the police stem from the fairly accurate observation that the basis for security in much of Afghanistan’s rural areas simply involves dressing the militias of various warlords in official uniform. This strategy has a big proponent in David Petraeus who is apparently attempting to bribe local resistance with money and guns, much as he did in Iraq (p.517).

Human Rights Watch has in the past rebuked President Karzai for fielding potential provincial police chiefs who had previously been barred from running for parliament, such was the strength of their links to illegal militias notorious for grave human rights abuses. The nepotism, cronyism and outright gangsterism involved in the politics of the police hierarchy in the south, especially in relation to Hamid Karzai, brother of the president, would be enough to make Vito Corleone blush. The result of this endemic corruption endows Afghans with a police service that is unaccountable, corrupt and capable of great violence towards the people it is supposed to serve.

Common complaints from populations living under the authority of Afghan policing bodies are that its low paid officers typically operate arrest-bribe-release rackets and those arrested commonly suffer inhuman treatment and torture. British high court judges recently upheld a ban on British forces delivering prisoners to Afghanistan’s secret police due to the likeliness that they would be subject to torture or serious mistreatment.

Perhaps then it is unsurprising that in rural areas, particularly in the south, people will if necessary turn to the Taliban for protection as they are seen not to tolerate this kind of rampant corruption. “For God’s sake, do not bring back the Afghan police”,was the cry of some locals in a small town in the Sangin district of Helmand after it had been secured by foreign troops. The people of the town expressed fear that if the ANP were allowed back they would continue to rob people and sexually assault young boys. It is indicative of why the UN study mentioned above shows that the police are almost as unpopular as the Taliban in the south.

Indeed, as a 2009 report for the UK’s Department For International Development found, by far the strongest factor driving young men to join either the Taliban or Hizb-i Islami was precisely this abuse of power. Specifically, corruption in government institutions and the failure of both the state and coalition forces to provide security and justice appear the strongest motivators in the areas of high insurgent activity studied.

As investigative journalists like Gareth Porter have extensively demonstrated, NATO’s command hierarchy has a difficult time claiming ignorance of these issues either nationally or locally. Their response to continuing allegations of brutality and corruption usually involves spending more money on further training. Or to put it in White Housespeak;“efforts to expedite reforms aimed at improving and expanding access to the formal justice sector by increasing capacity and reducing corruption in state justice institutions”.

It’s easy to suspect this is due to the extremely lucrative contracts available to those military contractors lobbying for expansion in security force training. The Department of Defence tends to accept bids on such contracts from pre-approved ‘vendors’ such as Xe (Blackwater), Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and ARINC Engineering Services (Carlyse Group subsidiary). Dyncorp has supplied the majority of training to the Afghan police for the last 7 years and has recently managed to secure a further 3 year contract worth up to 1.04 Billion USD, despite ample evidence of its failings.

The impetus behind expansion is a great deal more complicated than just straight corporate mercantilism, although its undoubtedly a beneficial side effect. The real goal in Afghanistan is the development of a vaguely stable region that provides NATO access to the Central Asia and the Middle East. In much the same way as Mubarak’s regime received consistent support with an obligatory hum of disquiet about democracy and human rights, the Karzai state will continue to have its centralised power structure normalised against the backdrop of liberal hand wringing about his legitimacy (until someone less distasteful is found).

The police play an extremely important role in the international legitimization of the Karzai state for two reasons. Firstly, and most practically, foreign forces see the police primarily as tools for counterinsurgency and thus, a means to reduce troop exposure in a deeply unpopular war. For most contributing states, popular support for continued operations in Afghanistan have declined to around 30-40%. The most recent study, by the US Army War College’s Charles Miller reaffirms previous work indicating that the strongest explanatory factor for this decline is troop death. This information is certainly nothing new to military strategists. Using a low paid, domestic security force to conduct operations, in tandem with foreign troops, helps absorb losses and has the potential to increase perceptions of progress and stability, therefore softening the gradient at which public support falls.

Secondly, the police are vital in any “exit strategy” from Afghanistan (exiting in this instance will almost certainly involve a very substantial military presence left behind) as they, along with the army, will provide security for the Afghan government. While the Taliban are not particularly well supported in North, they are increasingly more popular than the government in the South where they enjoy an average of 57% popular support (p.7). There are many hints that even these type of figures may be optimistic for NATO.

If, as an editor from the Atlantic Council put it, Petraeus runs his ‘COIN’ strategy by the book, the timetable for continued counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan could be 15-30 years. Extending Charles Miller’s study along this period leads one to the conclusion that a continued NATO counterinsurgency operation will need to fairly rapidly divest itself from actual troop exposure, relying instead on an independent militarized internal security system that can continue a prolonged ‘low intensity’ conflict. The greatest evidence for this lies in the aforementioned rapid development of internal security forces that can consolidate gains, and the huge increase in targeted killings by unmanned drones (which the UN has declared to be in violation of established legal principle).

In a way discussing the development of security apparatus like the ANP is not a discussion of how the war in Afghanistan is being pursued, as they are not the first line of attack against anti-state forces as far as NATO is concerned. But it does demonstrate what NATO planners see as being the end game for the Afghan war.

It seems accepted by NATO that any draw downs in deployed forces it may hope to make in the next few years depends entirely on the ability of Afghanistan’s security forces to protect the beleaguered governance structure NATO leaves behind from a Taliban resurgence. Even if, as many analysts expect, the US and UK finally agree to formal peace talks with the Taliban, they will still essentially be relying on the security forces they have set up to act as the enforcers for the pro-NATO elements of an Afghan coalition governing arrangement (although it is unlikely to be accepted by much of the population in the Taliban strongholds of the south).

The very least the US and UK governments expect from 10 years of military occupation in Afghanistan is a moderately stable and compliant partner which will be willing to provide NATO a base of operations for the South East Asian ‘theatre’. One can discern that the reason for such a great focus on the security apparatus of the state is a recognition of their best realistic scenario – they will be leaving Afghans to deal with the kind of permanent low level insurgency which is still tearing streets and communities apart in Iraq.

Ciaran Gillespie is a PhD student in the Department of Politics.

The Obama Doctrine: Intervention after the War on Terror

The shooting of Osama Bin Laden, President Obama’s latest foreign policy speech, and the looming drawdown of American forces in Afghanistan all point towards a welcome possibility: the sun may soon set on the War on Terror.  This could be Obama’s 9/11 moment: the twilight of an ending era, followed by a slow dawn.  And as Obama is acutely aware, America’s tomorrow is still to be written.

The shooting of Osama bin Laden has induced the most open moment in American politics and security since the events of September 11th, 2001.  This small act, colossal in symbolic significance for Americans, could mark the beginning of the end of the War on Terror.  Closing the chapter on terror has been an important desire driving Obama’s ambitions since the launch of a particularly ‘dumb war’ in 2003.  Less clear, is what Obama envisages next?  An overt liberal, it is unsurprising that his speech to the State Department emphasises American values and downplays American interests.  Inevitably, however, in this admirable recalibration, two crucial questions remain unanswered: To what extent can foreign policy promote American values? And by what means should American values be promoted?

On the first question, Obama remains a Democrat caught in a classic liberal tension.  Supporting and encouraging the spread of democracy is hardly new to American foreign policy.  It was at the centre of Bush’s 2005 ‘Freedom Agenda’ and Bill Clinton’s earlier policy of enlarging the zone of peace.  For Clinton, however, it was secondary to a desire to spread free markets.  When the chips were down, economics trumped values.  The embarrassment of Clinton’s spectacular U-turn on China in 1994 stands as stark warning for an Obama Administration reliant upon the stability of an autocratic Saudi Arabia.  The prospects of crude oil at $250 a barrel and tripled petrol prices will ensure that Obama’s liberalism has limits.

On the second question, Obama also remains a Democrat caught in a classic liberal tension.  On the one hand, he exudes the deliberative caution, risk assessment and nuance of Thomas Jefferson.  On the other hand, he has begun to speak of universal American values in a presidential voice reminiscent of Woodrow Wilson.  His most recent speech shifts the balance from the calculated cost-benefit timidity of Cairo in 2009 towards a far more robust American exceptionalism.  As professor-in-chief, Obama feels that the fierce urgency of the Arab Spring has granted him both reason and right to lecture.  It is the death of Bin Laden that has afforded him the space to speak out at home.  But abroad, after two years of disappointment, his audience is far less engaged.

Looking at Obama’s record to date, we can find evidence to suggest how words might be matched with actions.  In Libya, Obama was a reluctant but willing warrior: reluctant due to recent history, willing due to moral outrage. Obama did not lead calls to intervene in Libya; he was scarred by the context of War on Terror.  These scars placed the prospect of putting boots on the ground or explicitly seeking regime change off limits.  Instead, Obama supported a multilateral operation fought from the air, minimising the risks to America’s image and military personnel.  His Jeffersonian desire to avoid risks was accommodated within Wilsonian calls to defend universal human rights.

In Afghanistan, Obama took ninety days to deliberate a troop surge requested by military leaders.  The gains on offer were painstakingly weighed against the potential pitfalls, as Obama anguished over a decision he felt compelled to make in spite of his reservations.  The promise of a surge followed by quick withdrawal, like the compromise on troop numbers, was indicative of a president reluctant to put Americans in harm’s way.  Technology has helped Obama to square the circle of fighting without the risk of dying.  The hum of American drones has become increasingly familiar in parts of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province.  Piloted remotely, Obama’s preference for the use of drones reflects his desire to minimise risks to American life.  Given this desire, it is likely that the freedom and democracy of others will not be achieved at the expense of American blood.

Obama came to power concerned at the corrupting influence of ill-advised interventions overseas, the erosion of civil liberties at home and their root cause in the imperial presidency.  He sought to create a more perfect union at home that curbed the damaging excesses of a War on Terror characterised by a permanent state of emergency.  As critics have been quick to note, the rhetoric of change quickly ran up against the realities of the Oval Office.  And yet all of Obama’s decisions have been shaped by a prudent, consistent caution.  Wilson’s legacy has been hijacked in recent years by a neoconservative proclivity to use military means to pursue liberal ends.  Obama provides a necessary and important counterweight to this tendency.  While prepared to fight, Obama’s first concerns are for American life and the preservation of democracy at home, not its spread abroad.  The interventionism of the immediate post War on Terror era will be limited and primarily linguistic.  When circumstance demands and allows, Obama’s interventions will continue to be fought from the lofty heights of exceptionalist rhetoric and American air power.

This piece is also available at http://www.e-ir.info/?p=8911

Celebrating the Death of Evil

The death of Osama bin Laden is far more important for the United States than it is for Islamic terrorism.  While the shooting of Al Qaeda’s leader will certainly damage the morale of would-be jihadists around the world, the most significant impact will be at home.

The events of September 11th 2001 were deeply shocking for Americans, unaccustomed to viewing large-scale illegitimate violence on domestic soil.  The Bush Administration adeptly incorporated this sense of shock into the narratives that would graft meaning onto what became ‘9/11’.  Politicians and the public agreed that September 11th was the day that changed the world.

Speaking of 9/11 came to operate in a similar manner to speaking of the Holocaust.  Saying ‘September 11th’ invoked deep memories of trauma as well as the correct solution to rectify this loss: fight and kill terrorists.  It is necessary to recall this process of constructing and remembering September 11th in order to make sense of the spontaneous scenes of jubilation outside the White House and at Ground Zero.

In late 2001 Bush taught Americans how to think about the ‘new’ threat of terrorism.  His speechwriter David Frum has recalled that bin Laden was deliberately portrayed as literally satanic: a pure embodiment of evil.  And this Manichean thinking was wedded seamlessly to the language of the Old Wild West.  Bin Laden was wanted ‘Dead or Alive’.

In 2002 Bush made light of American desires to see bin Laden killed.  On the campaign trail for midterm Congressional elections, jokes about the irrelevance of whether bin Laden was captured or killed resonated with Bush’s core voters.  Whether America brought her enemies to justice or justice to her enemies, Bush reassured that it did not matter, as justice would be done.

In the ten years that have passed since September 11th, America’s inability to capture bin Laden has eaten away at the top brass in the United States.  It was one of Bush’s principal regrets on leaving office.  And Dick Cheney was left to find success in the avoidance of a second 9/11.  Since his escape into Pakistan during the Battle of Tora Bora in late 2001, bin Laden has proven infuriatingly elusive for the United States Government, Intelligence Services and Army.

On May 1st 2011, President Obama was finally able to announce that this now mythical enemy had met his death at the hands of American Special Forces.  The announcement initiated an outpouring of joy for ordinary Americans, for whom bin Laden’s continued existence had become a source of acute discomfort and an affront to American values.  Their celebrations reflected the successful resolution of a story that had dragged on far longer than expected.  And it was a resolution yearned for across America.

In Britain it is difficult to appreciate the American context.  Calls to stop and reflect on the deaths of a million people since September 11th are in marked contrast to American jubilation.  And jokes about the sad loss of an Arsenal fan are unthinkable in the United States.  In the United States, Osama bin Laden was the face of an evil that has redefined America, restructuring its politics and society over the last ten years.  His death marks the partial healing of a national wound.

For President Obama there is no single event that could have better improved his presidential image, polling figures and re-election prospects.  Bin Laden’s death is vindication of the re-shaping of American efforts in the ‘War on Terror’ away from Afghanistan and towards the ‘AfPak’ region.  It is vindication that Iraq was mere distraction: a dumb war.  And it is vindication of both his own identity as a patriotic American and a capable Democratic Commander-in-Chief.  For President Obama, as we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the timing could hardly have been better.

Dr Jack Holland,

Lecturer in International Relations

University of Surrey

Jack appeared on BBC Surrey on Tuesday 3rd May to comment on the death of Bin Laden to listen again on BBC iplayer. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00g9f6r/Surrey_Breakfast_with_Nick_Wallis_03_05_2011/

Jack appeared on BBC Surrey and Sussex mid-morning programme on Wednesday 4th May from 8 minutes in to 20 minutes. here http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00gb22g/Danny_Pike_04_05_2011/

Author of:

  • ‘From September 11th 2001 to 9-11: From Void to Crisis’, International Political Sociology, 3:3 (2009) pp.275-292.

As well as (recent relevant selection only):

  • ‘Australian Identity, Interventionism and the “War on Terror”’, with McDonald, M., in Siniver, A. (ed.), International Terrorism Post 9/11: Comparative Dynamics and Responses, (London: Routledge, 2010).
  • ‘Blair’s War on Terror: Selling Intervention to Middle England’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, (forthcoming, 2011).
  • Framing the War on Terror, forthcoming book.
  • ‘Howard’s ‘War on Terror’: A Conceivable, Communicable and Coercive Foreign Policy Discourse’, Australian Journal of Political Science, 45:4, (2010), pp.643-661.
  • ‘Shocked and Awed: How the War on Terror and Jihad Have Changed the English Language, by Fred Halliday’, book review, Critical Studies on Terrorism, (forthcoming, 2011).
  • ‘When you think of Afghanistan, think of Poland: Teaching Americans ‘9-11′ in NBC’s the West Wing’, Millennium Journal of International Studies, 40:1, (forthcoming, 2011).

Libya: Did We Have a Choice? PSA Plenary Lecture 21 April 2011

Sir Michael Aaronson addressed the Plenary lecture of the annual Political Studies Association, in London on the 21st of April. Further details about the PSA 2011 Conference can be found on their website: http://www.psa.ac.uk/2011/

In this lecture I want to explore how it was that the UK became committed so quickly to military intervention in Libya following the outbreak of protests against the Gaddafi regime – and specifically to the removal of Gaddafi himself – given that as a nation we are still embroiled in Afghanistan and licking our wounds over Iraq. I will attempt some possible explanations, and suggest areas for further research at the interface between UK foreign and domestic policy. I make clear at the outset that I am no expert on Libya; I speak rather as someone who has witnessed a great deal of international intervention in a variety of forms over many years, and who believes that we need a much greater focus on ourselves as interveners if we are to understand intervention properly and do it better in future.

In January 2010 David Cameron’s Conservative party published a National Security Green Paper, which included a commitment to “reducing the need for military intervention by building a capacity for preventative action, including  diplomacy led by the FCO and for contributions from a wider range of government departments”. That was welcomed by those of us who have long regretted the run-down of our diplomatic capability and detailed area understanding. Yet 14 months later, as Prime Minister, Mr Cameron played a leading role in mobilising the international community in support of military intervention in Libya.

During the tumultuous events in January and February, first in Tunisia then in Egypt, Libya was relatively quiet. Then, on 16 February, riots broke out in Benghazi in the eastern part of the country, which has long had a mutually antagonistic relationship with Gaddafi. On 17 February, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, was making a statement in the House of Commons about the situation in Bahrain. Asked about Libya, he said “we call on the government of Libya to recognise the right to peaceful protest and to avoid the excessive use offorce”. However the violence continued and on 18 February it was reported that dozens of protesters were said to have been killed by the security forces.

Interestingly for the purposes of this analysis, the UK Parliament then took a week’s break. The Prime Minister left for the Middle East heading a trade delegation that – controversially – included a number of arms manufacturers. Meanwhile the protests in Libya spread to other parts of the country, including the capital, Tripoli. There were also reports of Gaddafi using his air force to bomb civilian targets to contain the uprising against him. Fears began to rise for the fate of foreign nationals caught up in the fighting, including a good number of UK citizens, and political pressure on the UK government to rescue them began to grow. While the PM was away, on 21 February, William Hague – in Brussels for an EU foreign ministers meeting – said he had been told Gaddafi might have fled to Venezuela. On the same day the Deputy Head of the Libyan Mission to the UN in New York requested the UN Security Council to take action to prevent further violence in Libya, and in particular to impose a no-fly zone to prevent Gaddafi’s forces from attacking civilians.

On 22 February, William Hague said the Libyan state was collapsing, but on the same day Gaddafi made his first TV appearance in Tripoli since the outbreak of the crisis, vowing to fight “to the last drop of blood”. Meanwhile reports of violence and atrocities continued. On 23 February the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting to discuss Libya and issued a press statement (SC/10180) calling on the government of Libya to “meet its responsibility to protect its population … to act with restraint, to respect human rights and international humanitarian law, and to allow immediate access for international human rights monitors and humanitarian agencies”.

On 24 February the Daily Mail carried a headline “British rescue turns to farce”, as the plane meant to evacuate British nationals from Libya was grounded at Gatwick airport by a technical fault. However, while the government faced criticism for its handling of this aspect of the crisis, its diplomats were active behind the scenes at the UN (as the Prime Minister confirmed in his statement to the House of Commons the following week). On 25 February the UN Human Rights Council discussed a proposal to expel Libya (the expulsion was confirmed by the UN General Assembly on 1 March). Then on Saturday 26 February the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1970, which referred the Gaddafi regime to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for possible “crimes against humanity”, and imposed an arms embargo, travel ban, and asset freeze. In other words, a very tough set of measures, passed remarkably quickly by Security Council standards, and without any abstentions – quite an achievement for the sponsors of the Resolution. On the same day both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton were quoted as saying Gaddafi “must leave now”.

Returning to UK domestic politics, with Parliament due to reconvene on Monday 28th February, on 27 February the Labour MP and former International Development Secretary, Douglas Alexander, called on the Prime Minister to come to the House of Commons “not just to explain why the Foreign Office got its evacuation plans so badly wrong at the start, but how Britain can be a leader and not a follower in the efforts to increase the pressure on Gaddafi to stand down”. Thus the scene was set for David Cameron’s statement to the House on 28 February.

Much of the statement was about the evacuation of UK nationals, where as we have seen the government was feeling the political heat. But the most striking aspect of the Prime Minister’s statement was his uncompromising stance towards Gaddafi: “I turn to the pressure that we are now putting on Gaddafi’s regime. We should be clear that for the future of Libya and its people, Col Gaddafi’s regime must end and he must leave.” The PM referred to the UK’s efforts at the UN to bring about a Security Council Resolution, describing Gaddafi’s “murderous regime” and pointing to the ICC referral, which would mean that Libya’s leaders could “face the justice they deserve”. On military intervention he said “we do not in any way rule out the use of military assets” and said he would ask the Chief of Defence Staff and the MoD to work with allies on a plan for a no-fly zone over Libya. He said “it is clear that this is an illegitimate regime that has lost the consent of its people, and ourmessage to Col Gaddafi is simple: go now.” He added that “There is a real danger now of a humanitarian crisis inside Libya”.

This was a strong statement, supported by the Leader of the Opposition, who on the subject of Gaddafi said: “I think that the whole House will endorse the Prime Minister’s view that the only acceptable future is one without Col Gaddafi and his regime.” Thus there was a remarkable degree of cross-party agreement about the need to remove the Libyan leader, only 12 days after the initial outbreak of violence.

Although there was subsequently quite a lot of to-ing and fro-ing about whether a no-fly zone really was an effective means of resolving the crisis, with the US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, in particular questioning the level of military intervention this would require, it would seem that for David Cameron at least the die was already cast. There was further embarrassment for the British government the following week with the Daily Mail reporting on 7 March “SAS troops rounded up and booted out as Libyan MI5 mission turns to farce”, but on the international front things were moving Mr Cameron’s way. There were statements on Libya by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference on 8 March, by the Peace and Security Committee of the African Union on 10 March, crucially by the Arab League – calling for a no-fly zone over Libya – on 12 March, by the UN Secretary-General – calling for an immediate ceasefire – on 16 March, culminating on 17 March with the passage of UNSCR 1973.

This Resolution authorised military action against Libya, although this time five Security Council members abstained (Brazil, China, Germany, India, and Russia). The explanations of vote of the abstaining members make interesting reading. All deplored the violence in Libya and were critical of the Gaddafi regime. But Germany “saw great risks” in undertaking military action and said “the likelihood of large-scale loss of life should not be underestimated”. India regretted that the Resolution had been passed without waiting for the report of the Secretary-General’s Envoy to Libya and argued that the resolution “was based on very little clear information … there must be certainty that negative outcomes were not likely before such wide-ranging measures were adopted. Political efforts must be the priority in resolving the situation.” Brazil was concerned that the measures approved might have the unintended effect of exacerbating the current tensions on the ground and “causing more harm than good to the very same civilians we are committed to protecting”. Both China and Russia prioritised peaceful means of resolving the conflict and said that many questions had not been answered in regard to the provisions of the Resolution, including how and by whom the measures would be enforced and what the limits of the engagement would be. As subsequent events have shown, all these comments were very pertinent.

It should be emphasised that, even as the Resolution was being passed, Gaddafi’s forces were reversing some of their earlier territorial losses, had retaken the key town of Adjabiya, and were threatening the main opposition stronghold of Benghazi. Although Gaddafi initially reacted by declaring a ceasefire, this was quickly revealed to be a sham and on the basis of past statementsby him and his sons there appeared to be an imminent threat of a massacre. In justifying the NATO-led Operation Odyssey Dawn shortly after it began on Saturday 19 March David Cameron said “we have all seen the appalling brutality that Col Gaddafi has meted out against his own people. And far from introducing the ceasefire he spoke about he has actually stepped up the atrocities and the brutality that we all see.”

The most fervent advocates of the intervention have sought to justify it in terms of a “humanitarian crisis”, or an impending “humanitarian catastrophe”. The “H” word is probably one of those most abused by politicians – and, dare I say it in this distinguished audience, even by scholars. Let us remember that the word “humanitarian” describes an altruistic intention translated into action consistent with that intention; i.e. an intervention resting on a belief that our common humanity alone creates an obligation to relieve suffering and distress. In its more technical application, under international humanitarian law, it means treating the victims of conflict equally, regardless of which side of the conflict they are on.

Therefore, if Libya was facing a “humanitarian crisis” it meant that people on both sides of the fighting needed assistance and protection, and that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) should be given unrestricted access to them. This would include access to both sets of combatants and to civilians fleeing the fighting and congregating, for example, on the Tunisian and Egyptian borders. This, one might think, ought to have been the first priority of the international community when the fighting erupted in February. And yet, although all three Security Council documents refer to the importance of humanitarian access and respect for international humanitarian law, this was decidedly not the main focus of official statements in the UK.

In the years following the end of the Cold War the term “humanitarian intervention” came to be used, by both politicians and academics, to describe coercive military intervention for ostensibly humanitarian reasons. I say “ostensibly” because almost inevitably, when a decision to use force is taken, considerations other than purely humanitarian ones come into play. So, under the Just War tradition formulated by Christian theologians from St Augustine onwards, one of the principles is “reasonable prospects of success” i.e. you do not fight a Just War unless you are reasonably confident you can win – otherwise it ceases to be just. Equally, when Tony Blair gave his famous Chicago speech in 1999 one of his five “considerations” before undertaking military intervention to right wrongs was “do we have national interests involved?” Therefore, so-called “humanitarian intervention” can immediately be seen to be much less straightforward than is claimed. It usually involves – as in the case of Libya – coercive action against a tyrant abusing the human rights of his own people; this is often controversial and always complicated.

By the end of the 1990s the concept of “humanitarian intervention” had become discredited because of the manifest failure of the international community to act in a concerted, consistent, and effective way to deal with mass atrocities committed in Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo and elsewhere. Instead the UN adopted the new concept of “The Responsibility to Protect”. This affirmed member states’ primary responsibility to protect their own citizens, but said that where they were unable or unwilling to do so, there was a place for collective action by members of the UN, including by coercive means if necessary.

Since it was adopted by the General Assembly in 2005 and endorsed by the Security Council in April 2006 “R2P”, as it is known, has been honoured more in the breach than the observance (for example in the case of Darfur). It was therefore highly significant that first the Security Council Statement SC/10180 on 23 February, then both the Resolutions, 1970 and 1973, used the language of R2P, by calling on Libya to meet its responsibility to protect its people. This will no doubt give support to those who argue that, in addition to its undisputed force as an ethical imperative, R2P is beginning to acquire the status of customary international law. However one can be sure that this will continue to be debated by international law and international relations academics for many years to come!

In fact, over the years, where the Security Council has been of a common mind it has managed to justify international intervention to address violations of human rights on the grounds of a “threat to international peace and security” (which, other than self defence, is the only basis for military action under the UN Charter). In the case of the Libyan crisis it might be argued that the immediate threat to international peace and security was actually quite limited, with the main issues relating to what was happening within Libya’s borders. Nevertheless, the preamble to UN SCR 1970 states that the Security Council is “mindful of its responsibilities for international peace and security” and UN SCR 1973 refers to the Security Council’s “determining that the situation in Libya continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security”. And, in fairness, some would argue that the prospect of large numbers fleeing the country in response to the violence would indeed constitute such a threat.

So, the Security Council has no difficulty justifying international intervention when it is minded to do so. The issues are always around the politics of the situation and in this case it was a political triumph for the UK and her allies to secure a unanimous vote for UN SCR 1970 and to avoid a veto of UN SCR 1973. However, problems started almost immediately in terms of whether the protection of civilians could be achieved without aggressive military action over and above the enforcement of a no-fly zone (as Robert Gates had feared) and, ultimately, without regime change; although both the UK and the US had already declared this was their political objective, they also had to acknowledge it was not mandated by UNSCR 1973. That is the game we are still playing now, over five weeks later. In that sense, and not for the first time, the US and the UK settled for a Resolution that pushed at the limits of what was politically acceptable, although it did not give them what they really wanted – a licence to remove Gaddafi.

There is no doubt that the Security Council would not have acted as it did without some highly effective diplomacy from the UK and her allies. The question to which I now return is: why did the UK decide so early in the day that its political objective was the removal of Gaddafi? As already stated, from a purely humanitarian point of view there is a strong argument that the priority should have been to intervene to broker a ceasefire and to create the space for a political settlement between Gaddafi and his opponents. Given the willingness of the OIC, the Arab League, the AU, and Turkey to engage with this conflict this might have been a more obvious focus for diplomacy in the early stages of the crisis. But by pushing for such a strongly worded Security Council Statement on 23 February, and by characterising Gaddafi in the way the Prime Minister did in the Commons on 28 February, the room for manoeuvre was seriously restricted. As with the coalition intervention in Afghanistan in 2001/2 the language of victory and punishment crowded out the language of peace and reconciliation.

This was in sharp contrast to the more measured international response to the violence elsewhere in the Middle East, both before the Libyan crisis erupted and subsequently. There is no denying the extreme nature of Gaddafi’s response to the protests against him, nor the bloodcurdling nature of the threats made by him and other members of his family. And, as subsequent events in Misrata and elsewhere have shown, these threats were not empty. But by moving so quickly to suggest that Gaddafi may have been guilty of crimes against humanity (as per SCR 1970) the UK and its allies left themselves little room to manoeuvre to mediate a halt to the fighting in the hope that a political settlement could be found.

Then, when the warnings contained in SCR 1970 did not work, the West had little option but to move to more coercive measures. In that sense it was a victim of its own earlier rhetoric; the parallels with the situation in which NATO found itself in late 1998 when Milosevic paid no attention to its threats concerning Kosovo are instructive. However, taking the military route is a high risk strategy. If the campaign is over quickly it is hailed as a success; if it drags on it can become extremely unpopular. The willingness to contemplate a military intervention in Libya was perhaps surprising given the difficulties encountered – and, one would hope, lessons learned – in Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. In all these cases a lack of understanding of the local political economy led to an unrealistic sense of what an intervention from outside could hope to achieve, and to subsequent failure on a grand scale. Somalia is still in deep trouble, Iraq is fragile, and in Afghanistan we are still trying to find a way out of the mess we helped to create. Less than a year after coming into office with a promise of a new foreign and security policy David Cameron was prepared to take the risk of military intervention – why?

An obvious explanation is that the Government believed that Gaddafi would not last very long, and that calling for his removal was therefore a relatively safe option. William Hague’s unfortunate remark about Venezuela on 22 February would seem to suggest this, as would suggestions from other members of the foreign policy establishment in the UK that it would not take long for Gaddafi’s generals to “sort him out”. If this wishful thinking determined the direction of UK foreign policy it was a grievous error. And, as the subsequent mission to Benghazi that went embarrassingly wrong suggested, not enough was known about the opposition to justify backing them from the start to defeat a much more heavily armed and better organised Gaddafi. It was apparent at the time that we knew very little about Libya as a tribal society dominated by an authoritarian leader or about the long-standing antipathy between the eastern and western halves of the country. So it is possible that the very definite nature of the UK position reflected either a failure of intelligence, or of local knowledge, or a misjudgement based on the lack of either. In other words, the UK government may simply have made a miscalculation about the “reasonable prospect of success” of an intervention to bring about regime change in Libya.

In addition, it must be remembered that in the first week of the crisis the government was very much on the back foot and needed to re-establish its credibility with its own domestic constituency. The Prime Minister had been out of the country and there was much criticism in the media both about the arms sales element of his mission to the Middle East and about the delays in evacuating UK nationals from Libya. Hence Douglas Alexander was able to challenge the Prime Minister directly, not only to explain the embarrassment of the evacuation, but also to show he was a man, not a mouse, in dealing with Gaddafi.

This raises the interesting question how much public opinion contributes to decisions to go to war, and whether the UK public has a natural tendency to be supportive of foreign military interventions or not. It is argued that Margaret Thatcher rescued her first term as Prime Minister as a result of a successful war with Argentina over the Falklands. Tony Blair will be remembered for taking us to war five times — although neither he nor we much liked the term, whence “humanitarian intervention”. Do we, as a society have some kind of pathological need for a villain, someone we can demonise, wage war on, and defeat — Galtieri, Milosevic, Saddam, Gaddafi? Real-time TV and “embedded” journalists allow us to engage in an action packed game of virtual war, safe at home in our armchairs. Preventive diplomacy, third-party mediation, impartial humanitarian assistance, all take second place in the popular imagination to cruise missiles and Tornado strikes. Is this something that should worry us?

Interestingly, and somewhat at variance with this characterisation, public opinion polls show that in the early days of the Libyan crisis the UK public was ambivalent at best about the wisdom of military intervention, with opposition growing as the prospect of a drawn-out campaign has come to seem more likely. Perhaps public attitudes are shifting as we leave our imperial past further behind and experience the harsh economic reality of life in the 21st century. Some commentators argue that our institutions – the military, the intelligence services, the foreign policy establishment, – have yet to catch up.

Unlike a US President, a British Prime Minister does not have to seek the approval of the elected representatives of the people in order to declare war. But this has not made the UK more likely than the US to describe military intervention as “war”, even where this might be the most honest description, as in the case of Libya. Here, although the coalition is clearly supporting the opposition in its war against Gaddafi this is unlikely ever to be spoken of in these terms, given the language of UNSCR 1973, which is based on the protection of civilians. This, I suggest, is not a healthy situation in a democracy. Let us hope it does not lead to the situation faced by our troops in Afghanistan, where for a long time we were at peace in Whitehall but very much at war on the ground. Significantly, as of mid-April, the ICRC’s position is that there are now two armed conflicts in Libya: an internal one between Gaddafi and his opponents, and an international one between the coalition and the Libyan regime. This has consequences in terms of creating obligations under international humanitarian law, and is surely a more honest description of what is actually happening.

In his statement to the House of Commons on 18 March following the adoption of UNSCR 1973 David Cameron sought to justify the bombing of Libya in very simple terms: demonstrable need, regional support, and a clear legal basis. President Obama and other senior members of the Administration have spoken with equal clarity and it is hard to argue with them. It is fair to ask, though, whether a Security Council Resolution alone is sufficient to bestow legitimacy in the absence of a popular mandate at national level. In the case of the UK it could be said this was provided by the absence of major opposition in the House of Commons on 28 February, but in contrast to this is the lack of strong public support as revealed by the opinion polls. How much public support does a Prime Minister need in order to go to war? However, ultimately the main issue is not whether the intervention is legitimate, rather whether it is wise; one can always make a case, but is it the right thing to do? This, perhaps only history can judge.

In this lecture I have asked some questions about the interaction between foreign and domestic politics in the UK’s intervention in Libya that I believe would benefit from further research. Does the UK have a natural predilection for military intervention, while being reluctant to call this “war”? If so, does this come from the foreign policy establishment or the people? Have we lost sight of the need to promote peace among warring parties, as opposed to supporting one side to victory over the other? Do we still value neutral, independent, humanitarian action as the primary means of carrying out our “responsibility to protect” civilians caught up in armed conflict?

I suggest that the challenge for academics and policymakers alike is to attempt a serious answer to these questions and to arrive at a point where we take a much broader view of international intervention, using the wider range of instruments available to us rather than by default settling for the military option. International intervention can take many forms: some supportive, some coercive; some short-term and tactical, some long-term and strategic. For better or for worse, the UK has a long tradition of engaging with the wider world – and knows more than most about what works and what doesn’t. But in recent times we have neglected our capability to acquire and retain detailed local knowledge and understanding. If we still want to play a role on the world stage we need to build this up again, as the Green Paper of 2010 seemed to promise. We do have a choice; it is up to us to use it wisely.

Follow Mike on twitter: @MikeAaronson

Why “Humanitarian Intervention” in Libya is not Humanitarian

Why does my heart sink when I hear the current UN-mandated action in Libya described as “humanitarian intervention”? After all, over the last 20 years the term has acquired currency — not only among Western politicians but also academics — as a description of coercive, usually military, intervention ostensibly for humanitarian purposes.

When I was a relief worker in the Nigerian Civil War over 40 years ago, there was, if anything, too little “humanitarian intervention”. Instead both local and international state actors put the pursuit of political self interest ahead of the obligation to alleviate human suffering and failed to undertake any meaningful intervention to save lives. As a result, several hundreds of thousands of ordinary people died unnecessarily of starvation and sickness while politicians wrung their hands.

By the 1980s the problem was somewhat different. Particularly after the mushrooming of the aid industry following the spectacular Horn of Africa food crises in the 1980s, humanitarian action carried out by aid agencies was welcomed by western politicians as a proxy for effective political action to end long-running internal conflicts. In this sense the aid agencies were a victim of their own success, and politicians were let off the hook. Thus the international response to the widespread human suffering in the civil wars in Ethiopia and South Sudan was to support cross-border relief operations carried out by the agencies rather than to engage in concerted diplomatic peace initiatives — the world had other things on its mind.

But since the end of the Cold War “humanitarian intervention” has acquired a different meaning, initially in northern Iraq in 1991 and subsequently in places such as Somalia (1993), Kosovo (1999), and Sierra Leone (2000). In all these cases a decision was taken to deploy international troops to protect the lives of ordinary people either from their own governments or from rebel groups where governments had failed. Although at one level this was clearly a welcome development, some aspects of it were observed with concern by those of us who believe that the concept of neutral, independent, humanitarian action first articulated by Henry Dunant – the founder of the Red Cross movement – is threatened by a more muscular interventionism flying a “humanitarian” flag.

Let us be clear: a humanitarian act is one carried out for altruistic reasons; the term describes a specific intention translated into an act consistent with that intention, and any claim that an act has been a humanitarian one must be judged accordingly. The over-used phrase “humanitarian crisis” is actually meaningless, but if it means anything it is a crisis that creates an obligation on others to respond on grounds of shared humanity alone.

Where consent is given, for example by both parties to an armed conflict, this is relatively straightforward, although a good “humanitarian” often has to be a good talker in order to overcome suspicions and negotiate access to people in need of assistance or protection. The Law of Armed Conflict, otherwise known as international humanitarian law (IHL), is a hard-won body of international law that underpins this endeavour. It provides for humane treatment of both military and civilians involved in armed conflict, including the right of access to those in need on both sides of the fighting.

The problem arises when one or more parties to the conflict denies access to affected populations or itself commits atrocities against them. If a decision is taken to use force in response to this, a number of difficulties arise. First, there may be collateral damage (almost inevitable where the means chosen is aerial bombardment, as happened in Kosovo and has also been seen in Libya). Second, such decisions invariably involve considerations other than purely humanitarian ones (whether there are reasonable prospects of success, not to mention whether it is in the national interest to intervene) so the intention is less clear-cut and the action open to other interpretations. As a result the interveners may end up forfeiting their neutrality, which limits their ability to be effective on behalf of victims and gives humanitarianism a bad name.

From this perspective, it is better to conceptualise this form of intervention as a just war rather than a humanitarian intervention. Unfortunately the UN Charter does not easily allow this, which explains the mental gymnastics around “humanitarian intervention” and the more recent formulation of the “Responsibility to Protect”. Although the latter’s supporters claim — justifiably in this writer’s view — that it is a great advance on what came before, the debate about whether it is essentially an ethical prescription or has legal force continues to rumble on and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future. It certainly does not provide any easy answers to what should be done in particular situations.

However, from a purely humanitarian perspective this debate is academic. What matters is that there should be unrestricted access to victims of man-made and natural disasters, and that all aspects of IHL should be respected by all parties. Put differently, it matters that organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the custodians of IHL, should be enabled to carry out their mission in a neutral, independent, impartial way.

How does all this relate to the current situation in Libya? In short, although the main justification for the intervention has been humanitarian necessity, the label of “humanitarian intervention” is inappropriate. Political leaders from Barack Obama to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) have at various stages characterised the situation in Libya as a potential “humanitarian catastrophe”, although this is not the language of UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1970 and 1973, which instead talk of stopping violations of human rights and of IHL, and warn of possible crimes against humanity. But in reality, by insisting on Gaddafi’s departure the coalition has taken sides in a conflict; neutrality has been abandoned in favour of a specific political objective. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a different thing, and it does call into question the avowed “humanitarian” purpose of the intervention.

It is instructive to apply the traditional Just War criteria – right authority, just cause, right intention, last resort, proportional means, and reasonable prospects of success – to this situation. On two of them — just cause and right authority — most people might agree they have been satisfied; the passing of the two UNSCRs on the basis of Gaddafi’s blood-curdling threats to his opponents make this relatively uncontroversial. On two others — right intention and proportional means — the answer might be more nuanced; is ejecting Gaddafi really a good idea, and can the bombing campaign really be described as enforcing a “no-fly zone”? On the final two — last resort and reasonable prospects of success, many would argue they have not been met; was any serious attempt made to mediate between Gaddafi and his enemies before the bombing started, and was the coalition guilty of thinking it would all be over in a matter of days or weeks? So, even in Just War terms, this is a problematic intervention, which makes it even harder to characterise it as “humanitarian”.

Meanwhile, “humanitarian intervention” is taking place in Libya. With the support of both the authorities in Tripoli and the National Transitional Council in Benghazi it is being carried out by the ICRC in conjunction with the Libyan Red Crescent, who are: providing emergency food, water, and shelter for civilians affected by the fighting; treating the war wounded; maintaining access to prisoners on both sides. Other organisations such as Save the Children, who have a less formal mandate than the ICRC, are also carrying out humanitarian work. This is given less profile than the military campaign but it is where the truly humanitarian action lies.

So, are we in a reverse situation to that in the 1980s described above? Then, politicians were happy for aid agencies to provide humanitarian assistance, because it relieved them of the responsibility to intervene politically. Now, a new willingness to engage in politico/military intervention may make it harder to undertake meaningful humanitarian action, freely accepted by all parties. This is as mistaken a policy as was its predecessor and no amount of false labelling of the military intervention as “humanitarian” can alleviate this.

Mike Aaronson’s latest piece on Libya can also be viewed on the e-IR website.

Are we at war in Libya?

NATO is at war in the skies above Libya. Or is it? It is striking that there are two distinctly opposed narratives describing the current international intervention: the first that NATO is acting impartially to protect civilians under UNSCR 1973, and the second that it is supporting the rebels in a civilian conflict against Col Gaddafi. Which of these two descriptions is accurate, and what does each imply in ethical, legal, and political terms?

Politically, the reasons for the first interpretation are apparent. The coalition of states supporting the intervention would fall apart if the stated aim became to overthrow Gaddafi; not only the Arab League but also NATO’s Turkey would probably find this politically impossible.

Nor do Western political leaders find it easy to talk of military intervention as “war”. We are still conditioned by the horrors of the Second World War, and when the UN was established in 1945 one of its main purposes was to reduce the likelihood of war occurring in future. Under the UN Charter war is justified only in self defence or where the Security Council agrees there is a threat to international peace and security and authorises an intervention under Chapter VII. Hence over the last 20 years when we have intervened to protect civilians who are threatened by their tyrannical rulers we have preferred to talk of “humanitarian intervention”; seeking the moral high ground by claiming an altruistic purpose (although these interventions have still been justified under Chapter VII). This started in earnest with the Kurdish crisis at the end of the first Gulf War in 1991, and reached its high point with Kosovo and Sierra Leone in 1999 and 2000.

Kosovo, though, was a contested intervention: undertaken without UN approval. Partly in response to this, a new concept was formulated, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2005 and the Security Council in 2006. This states that the primary responsibility for protecting civilians from mass atrocities lies with the state to which they belong, but that where the state concerned is unable or unwilling to do so the international community has a responsibility to intervene.

The language of R2P is used in both Resolutions covering the current Libyan crisis: UNSCR 1970, where Gaddafi’s responsibility to protect his people is spelt out, and UNSCR 1973, which authorises “all necessary means” to enforce the will of the UN. But in general R2P is silent on the means of intervention should a state fail in its responsibility, and on who should carry it out. Although the prevailing assumption is that intervention means coercive military action, other policy options are available and, some would argue, are neglected. These options include forceful diplomacy, third-party mediation, or impartial humanitarian assistance if accepted by all parties. It is fair to ask whether the rush to condemn Gaddafi in the UN in February reduced the West’s room for manoeuvre and closed off these alternative avenues. In the early days of the uprising it might have been possible to secure some form of cease-fire and political process, but by the time Gaddafi was referred to the International Criminal Court (under UNSCR 1970) this opportunity had been lost – at least for the time being.

Once the military route is chosen clarity of objectives becomes paramount. President Obama has insisted that given the terms of Resolution 1973 the political objective for the military intervention cannot be the overthrow of Gaddafi. However both Obama and David Cameron have attempted to square the circle by arguing that Gaddafi’s departure would be a good thing and that this is, in that sense, a separate political objective. This immediately raises the question of whether it is possible to claim impartiality if one has an avowed preference for the victory of one side.

If Gaddafi goes quickly this will cease to be an issue; a new UN Resolution will doubtless authorise international support for the rebuilding of Libya both politically and economically. But if there is a protracted conflict NATO/the coalition’s position will become more complicated and some hard choices will have to be made: to stay within the terms of UNSCR 1973; to seek a new Resolution authorising some form of ground intervention; or to go it alone without UN cover. This dilemma is already visible in debates about whether to arm the opposition forces; the coalition is arguing that this might be justified for defensive purposes, but by implication not offensive ones – but who would determine the difference?

At this point one returns to the question of whether or not we are at war. Armed conflict is no less terrible for those involved just because we choose to give it another name. And it is not good for our troops if they are fighting a war while we pretend they are not. But the problem is that to be at war you have to have an enemy whom you are seeking to defeat, which is just what Obama and Cameron do not want to admit. If you are not prepared to be clear about this you are forced to hide behind equivocation and double-speak. Perhaps it is better to do what you believe to be right and take the political flak? As long as you get it right, of course, as Messrs Blair and Bush might ruefully admit. In this case that could mean conceding we are at war with Gaddafi, even though that would limit further the available foreign policy responses to the crisis.

An instructive parallel is with Tanzania’s intervention in Uganda as long ago as 1979. Initially this was to repel an invasion of Tanzania by Ugandan President Idi Amin’s forces, but the political objective subsequently became Amin’s removal from power. Tanzania’s President, Julius Nyerere, nearly bankrupted his country in the process of achieving this. He received no international support, neither from Africa nor the UN, but everyone was heartily relieved when he succeeded. At the time Amin was a political pariah with no friends or supporters – bar one, who furnished him with significant quantities of troops and military equipment that nearly swung the war in his favour. His name? Muammar Gaddafi.


United Nations Security Council Resolution 1970 – 26th February 2011

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 – 17th March 2011

Remarks by President Obama in Address to the Nation on Libya – 28th March 2011

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