Libya: could ground troops be deployed?

William Hague says UN resolution “doesn’t exclude every type of operation”.

The bizarrely named Operation Odyssey Dawn is now fully under way. US and British ships have fired 112 Tomahawk missiles on to more than 20 radar systems, communications centers and surface-to-air missile sites. Libyan state TV has reported 48 dead and 150 wounded but we've had no independent confirmation of those figures.

While David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy have been keen to emphasise the breadth of the international coalition against Gaddafi (Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have confirmed that they will be contributing forces), it's worth noting that we heard some dissenting voices overnight. China and Russia, which chose not to wield their veto power at the UN, have now explicitly condemned the attacks.

A spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry said the country "consistently disagrees with the use of force in international relations". Elsewhere, the African Union has called for an "immediate stop" to all attacks and Hugo Chávez has predictably denounced the US and the UK as "the masters of war".

He said:

More death, more war. They are the masters of war. What irresponsibility. And behind that is the hand of the United States and its European allies. They want to seize Libya's oil. The lives of Libya's people don't matter to them at all.

It is deplorable that once again the warmongering policy of the Yankee empire and its allies is being imposed, and it is deplorable that the United Nations lends itself to supporting war, infringing on its fundamental principles instead of urgently forming a commission to go to Libya.

One of the most important questions remains whether British ground troops could be deployed at any stage. UN Resolution 1973 rules out a "foreign occupation force" in any part of Libya, but this doesn't prohibit the limited use of troops.

When pressed on this point during an appearance on The Andrew Marr Show this morning, George Osborne offered little clarity. But later on Sky News, William Hague said: "It is true, there can't be an occupation force . . . it doesn't exclude every type of operation." He added that there would be no "invasion" by ground troops, but made it clear that the government has some room for manoeuvre.

Should air strikes fail to dislodge Gaddafi, ministers may be forced to make a decision earlier than many expect.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.