Sunday, March 13, 2011

Greens debate the Libya NFZ

Over at the Daily Maybe Jim Jepps has set out his case against a No-Fly Zone (NFZ) over Libya.

I set out the case for an Arab League led NFZ here a last week.

Jim's case is basically that intervention would be counter-productive as it would be seen as giving Western backing for the revolutions which would rob them of all credibility. The fact that the Arab League has called for the NFZ is undermined by their own status as dictatorships.

In short, the West is bad, the Arab League is bad, and therefore anything they do is going to be bad.  By extension, the UNSC is also bad (containing as it does the USA, UK, Russia and China) so anything they decide is also bad.

In cognitive therapy, we find that absolutist dichotomies like this cause dysfunctional behaviour and emotions. Therapy is aimed at transforming these categories into more detailed analysis of the structure of systems. Rather than saying "I am 100% right" or "I am 100% bad", we try to identify self-defeating ways of thinking, and off-set them with more useful ways of thinking.

Jim (JJ) starts by saying " the Libyan regime has, from the outset, painted this rebellion as a Western backed coup." 
RL: Well, he may have done. Jim may be able to find evidence for that. What I remember most vividly is that Gaddafi has accused the revolutionaries of being Al Qaeda, clearly in the hope of bringing the West over onto his side.

JJ: "We have seen pilots take their jets to Malta rather than bomb their own people. Those pilots considering similar defections are likely to think again if their next mission is to defend Libya against foreign aggressors."  
RL: In fact the more important reason for the cessation of early pilot defections is that some 30 pilots were shot by Gaddafi for refusing to obey orders to bomb their own people.

JJ: "[The NFZ is] a response to current, awful, events not a long term plan." 
RL: Well, yes, it is a response to events, although the agonising slowness of the response of the international community, reminiscent of watching a snail trying to ride a small bicycle through cold treacle, is making it into some kind of long term response. 

In fact the UN's Responsibility to Protect (R2P) does set out a framework for the response. True, the details of R2P are sketchy, which is why the Green Party's Global Human Rights Index is so relevant to R2P, adding flesh to the UN's skeleton plan to reduce the capacity for states to do harm to their populations.

Jim correctly points out that the revolutionaries have given contradictory signals about intervention. In the early days, when they were winning, they were saying "Stay out, we can do it ourselves". 

Now, the Interim Transitional National Council (TNC) is asking for help, as are the revolutionaries who are actually engaged with Gaddafi's forces, watching his fighter bombers come over and bomb them at will.  There may be some who are still saying they can do it themselves, but I cannot recall any recently, and I would expect them to come more from the safety of Benghazi and the country, rather than from the front line.

It is not reasonable to identify these differences of opinion as "factions". They are differences of opinion based on different situations and perceptions.

JJ: I'm for the rebels against the regime, obviously, but Western intervention inevitably means strengthening the hand of one faction over others. I'm unconvinced we know what we're doing, or that if we do, we have the best interests of Libyan people at heart.

RL: The best interests of the Libyan people are to be rid of Gaddafi. Period. His air superiority is one of the factors that are helping him to prevail. Therefore a NFZ would assist the best interests of the Libyan revolution. The NFZ does not guarantee success for the revolutionaries, but it certainly would greatly strengthen their hand by helping to level the playing field.

JJ: "what would the wider impact of military intervention in the revolution mean? In Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia or Yemen the political implications of Western interference in what feels like a very home grown series of revolutions would be significant."
RL: This is bypassed by the fact that the above-mentioned countries, through the Arab League, are calling for the NFZ. Syria was  the most reluctant supporter of the NFZ, which may not be unconnected with the suspicion that it is sending arms to Gaddafi by sea as we speak. 

I am amazed that the Arab League, which is as Jim says a convocation of dictators, many of whom are in the queue waiting for their own revolution, came out for the NFZ. It suggests that diplomats are not 100% bad people. They are no worse than us, in that they can see unacceptable crimes against humanity taking place and be moved by humanity to put an end to it. 

Which is not to say that there is no realpolitik behind the AL decision. No doubt someone can dig some up. But let us not fall into the trap of saying "They are wily Arabs, up to no good". Let us give them credit for having human emotions too.

So what is the non-interventionist solution?

Jim offers two hopes: that the revolutionaries continue their brave stuggle, and that yet more Libyan servicemen and women lay down their arms or defecting with their equipment.

Well, amen to that, but the signs are at the moment that Gaddafi's tanks, aircraft, sea power and total disregard for humanity and rationality is prevailing, and that he will roll on into Benghazi and crush the revolution as surely as the Soviets crushed the Hungarian uprising in 1956

The consequence of a Gaddafi victory of this kind is that dictators everywhere, especially those in the MENA states, will watch and learn. They will learn that if they use lethal force on non-violent demonstrators, and even turn their army onto them, putting tank fire in city squares, and bomb their own cities, the international community will issue words of condemnation, but will not intervene.

This means that revolutions to come will find they face more lethal force, and probably be put down. Dictators everywhere will take heart. The Arab Spring could turn into an Arab Winter.

The revolutionaries need help. A NFZ is necessary, but not sufficient. Other measures - a sea blockade to keep Syrian arms out, and a supply of anti-tank missiles, are also needed.

I am a long term Green and a Quaker, and I have opposed every war that my country has entered into in my lifetime. However, the Quakers found out in Pennsylvania that 100% pacifism is impossible when you are in Government. There are circumstances where force is necessary, and this is one of them. Not just for Libyans, but for the movement of democracy that is stirring throughout the world.

Ultimately, isolationism is not a tenable Green position. Our political philosophy is founded on ecology, the recognition of the planet as a system where everything is interconnected. Libya is not a far-away country of which we know nothing. Libyan revolutionaries are our family (as indeed, are Gaddafi's supporters, although they are sadly misled). What happens in Libya will echo and re-echo around the world.

Gaddafi must be defeated.  The NFZ is a necessary, but not sufficient cause for his defeat.

In a way, this debate among greens is only marginally relevant, and I am not interested in continuing this debate to the nth degree.

For me, the most important thing right now is to block Gaddafi's broadcasts by TV and radio - a simple, feasible, non-violent intervention. I hope that Jim and other non-interventionists will at least join me in calling for this to take place.


Jim Jepps said...

Hi Richard, thanks for this conjsidered piece. There's quite a lot of points here so I hope you don't mind if I don't come back on them all at once.

I think you may have slightly mischaracterised my arguments as "the West is bad, the Arab League is bad, and therefore anything they do is going to be bad."

I don't think this.

What I do think is that the Arab League is not the authentic voice of the Arab people but of their dictators. They are made up of 22 governments over half of which have faced serious protests in the last two months.

These are the enemies of the Arab revolutions and it concerns me that their view is being held up to justify military invention.

What propontents of the no fly zone have not yet done is convince me that an NFZ will either prevent large scale murder by Quadiffi of his people, or aid the revolutionary process that is taking place across the region.

I recognise that 'we should butt out' is a tough minded position, but I'm more wary of soft thinking that assumes our efforts to help will actually be helpful.

DocRichard said...

Jim, if the AL is enemy of the revolutions, why are they backing the revolutionaries in Libya?

The NFZ is an attempt to create a more level playing field. Necessary but not sufficient.

However: since we are clearly not going to agree on this (at least, not until Gaddafi drops mustard gas on the revolutionaries) the main point is this: are you with me on the jamming of his broadcasts? Because if we can agree on this, maybe we could get the Green Party to major on it, and bring it about. Who knows, it might be sufficient to break Gaddafi's hold on his people, without any other foreign intervention?

Jim Jepps said...

They are the enemies of the revolutions in a very simple sense. They are suppressing the revolts in their own countries - it's not the product of convulted logic.

They understand that every domino that falls is a domino closer to them.

As I said at my place I'm not opposed to jamming broadcasts or similar but to overt military action whose political implications would be negative and whose practical implications would be very limited. I would like to see an argument for it first though, obviously.

DocRichard said...

Here's a link to the tv block argument
Let's at least get the GP campaigning on this.

Jim Jepps said...

That link doesn't work for me

DocRichard said...

Sorry. Using iPhone. Try this link for MG TV jamming:

I really do understand your doubts over nfz. For me, the clincher is the consequences if Gaddafi wins. This is a historic crisis, a clash between democracy and its opposite.

On the other hand, jamming MG broadcasts could be decisive, by reducing the psychic grip he has on his remaining supporters.

Anonymous said...


Just as with previous posts you have made, you show a balanced and lucid approach in your opinions and conscientiousness in you proposed 'interventionist' angles.

One problem I see from the interventionist proposals you state from a standpoint of 'democratic' principles (whatever they are!) is that by intervention through blockading transmissions is censorship. The best form of intervention would be the supply of shelter, aid and emergency medical supplies. These should be provided in nearby 'neutral' territories. Therefore, those that wish to leave the mad colonels grasp should be able to do so.

Where wars are fought, we would do well to step back and see things on a macro scale.

Just as when two males fight each other, intervention would merely involve us in that conflict. It is surely better to offer aid to the wounded and a route of escape. Fighting against one side should only be an option when aggression is made towards nearby or distant countries, races of peoples in the same lands etc. An internal political war is a civil war and foreign countries would do well but to steer clear, esp. with track records of arms sales.

DocRichard said...

Hi Truth Hurts

Thank you for your constructive comment.

Yes, we need to supply humanitarian aid. Everything needs doing far more quickly than is now the case, and we need to larn from this when it is all over, how to react far more quickly.

I remain an interventionist, base on the huge importance of Libya as a template for the many challenges to dictators that are waiting in the wings. If Ghaddafi wins, dictators everywhere will follow his example. Democracy was in retreat in the years before the Arab Spring. This is a critical turning point, opening a door on an upsurge of people power worldwide.

Gaddafi must not win.

I am fully aware of the doubts and perils of intervention.

It is a tragic irony that Bus/Blair's illegal intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan has poisoned a move to a legal intervention of any kind in Libya.

Though I think that there will be a strong shift to interventionism if Ghaddafi uses his mustard gas.

We should remember that we have already intervened in libya by selling arms to him. So an intervention in say giving Stinger missiles to the freedom fighters could be seen as a balancing intervention.

I do not have a problem with the kind of censorship we are proposing here. Try to see it in the same light as the censorship that we apply to speech advocating race hatred.



Anonymous said...

Supplying rebels with 'Self-defence' stingers would be appropriate - but only if we were to change the culture of arms sales from now on. I hope we see more questioning of this in the mainstream media. Prince Andrew has been (rightly) under fire in British press recently for leading a cartel that profits from manufacture and sales of weapons.

I have reconsidered this concept of 'censorship' in light of Gaddafi's rule in Libya. I think you are right in requesting to block his transmissions. Good call.

It's a pleasure sharing thoughts with you.

DocRichard said...

Hi Truth Hurts

Amenability to change is a sign of a sound mind.

When this is all over, I expect we will find that the main blocks to the INt'l community taking action on Ghaddafi were (a) OldLeft countries like Russia, China, and S American countries, and (b) Oil Corporations, wanting to continue business as usual with Ghaddafi.
Unholy alliance.

It's just a guess.