Confusion remains as Nato takes charge in Libya

Nato takes command of the no-fly zone but the US will remain in charge of air strikes.

Confusion and uncertainty continue to plague the mission in Libya. Nato has agreed to take command of the no-fly zone, but in order to placate Turkey, the US will remain in charge of air stikes on Colonel Gaddafi's ground forces. Ankara is understandably reluctant to play any part in a bombing campaign that could lead to heavy civilian casualties in a Muslim-majority country.

For now, the allies are urging greater patience. They argue, reasonably enough, that the mission has already succeeded on its own terms by preventing a slaughter of civilians in Benghazi. But it remains entirely unclear what will happen if the operation results not, as hoped, in the fall of Gaddafi, but in a military stalemate.

As Max Hastings writes in today's Financial Times, the armed forces fear that the coalition has failed to meet the key test before launching any intervention: "defining clear and attainable objectives". There is no appetite to deploy ground troops or to police an indefinite no-fly zone, akin to the one that held in Iraq for 12 years. With this in mind, American officials are still reportedly exploring the possibility of a negotiated settlement between Gaddafi and the rebels.

Elsewhere, in today's Daily Telegraph, Malcolm Rifkind, who remains one of the most influential voices on foreign affairs in the Commons, argues that the coalition must arm the rebels. He writes:

[T]here is a third arm of the strategy, without which the others will have only modest impact: the overt or covert supply of military equipment to the insurgents. Even without aircraft, Gaddafi has a massive advantage over the opposition with his tanks and heavy artillery. It is difficult to see how he can be overthrown in the short to medium term unless there is a massive popular rising in Tripoli or a mass defection of his army to the insurgents. Neither is impossible, but nor can either be assumed given the fear that Gaddafi still inspires.

But many fear this could trigger a protracted civil war. What we can say with certainty is that few believe the coalition's ad-hoc approach is sustainable.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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