UN no-fly zone over Libya: what does it mean?

Security Council votes to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians. We look at the implica

 

The United Nations Security Council has voted in favour of a resolution to impose a no-fly zone on Libya. Here is a guide to exactly what this means.

What has been agreed?

The resolution (full text here) authorises member states to "take all necessary measures" to "protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack", in particular Benghazi, the rebel stronghold in the east of the country, which is mentioned by name.

It also calls for an immediate ceasefire, an end to the violence, measures to make it more difficult for foreign mercenaries to get into Libya and a tightening of sanctions.

What does this mean in practice?

The resolution would permit air strikes on Libyan ground troops or allow attacks on Libyan warships if they were attacking civilians.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said a no-fly zone would "require certain actions taken to protect the planes and the pilots, including bombing targets like the Libyan defence systems".

While three air strikes were reported on the outskirts of Benghazi on Thursday, including at the airport, as well as another air raid further south, the dictator's troops have largely been relying on tanks and other ground forces during assaults on the rebels. UN planes could also attempt to bomb tanks and artillery, but unless they have very specific information, this risks causing rather than preventing civilian casualties.

When will action be taken?

According to the French prime minister, François Fillon, military action could begin "within hours". Throughout the past few weeks, France has been an advocate of more aggressive action in Libya.

Despite Fillon's assertion that "time is of the essence", a US military official has said that no immediate US action is expected.

No 10 sources have refused to put a timetable on British military engagement. Reportedly, the British Ministry of Defence is still finalising contingency plans. RAF ground attack aircraft are ready to be mobilised, and should be in action within days. According to analysts at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Britain and France could operate a limited no-fly zone over Benghazi with little or no US support.

Ahmed el-Gallal, a Libyan opposition co-ordinator, said he hoped that the resolution would be enforced "immediately".

Which countries are involved?

The UN resolution was co-sponsored by Britain, France and Lebanon, with the US heavily involved in the drafting, and was passed by 10 votes to 0, with five countries abstaining, including Russia, China and Germany.

Calls for a no-fly zone have been led by Britain and France, and these two countries are likely to take the lead at least initially. As mentioned above, they could have sufficient military capability to mount a limited no-fly zone should the US choose not to get involved, though this may not have the desired impact on Muammar al-Gaddafi's crackdown.

Many western countries have significant military assets nearby, including aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean, a large US airbase in Italy and a large British airbase in Cyprus.

Arab League and Gulf states have warships and fighter plans, but the extent of their involvement is as yet unclear. Reportedly two Arab nations have promised to take part in intervention, though it is not clear which countries. This could take the form of opening airspace, intercepting Libyan shipping, or contributing their own strike aircraft.

Canada has said it will send warplanes to help enforce the resolution. Nato would have to meet before committing any forces.

Why has it been passed now?

Gaddafi's forces have recently retaken several towns seized by rebels during the uprising, and are advancing on the stronghold of Benghazi. Without foreign intervention, the rebels could be crushed by the weekend.

While David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy have been calling for a no-fly zone for days, the US getting behind the plan was key to it passing. After weeks of stalling, Washington backed the resolution, following calls for a no-fly zone by the Arab League at the weekend. This call for foreign intervention is unprecendented. It is a significant change in strategy for the US, which depends on any action being multilateral rather than US-led.

Another diplomatic shift that was key to the vote passing was the abstention of countries that do not favour military action. It was feared earlier that China and Russia would exercise their right of veto.

Will it stop Gaddafi?

The colonel's son Saif has been quoted this morning as saying that Libya is "not afraid" of UN-backed action. Saif called the vote a sign of "flagrant colonisation" and warned of dire consequences. "This is craziness, madness, arrogance," he told the Portuguese TV channel RTP. "If the world gets crazy with us, we will get crazy, too. We will respond."

Speaking on the Today programme, Libya's rebel deputy envoy to the UN, Ibrahim Dabashi, expressed doubt that the international intervention would change the situation on the ground.

As we have already seen, Gaddafi will not go down without a fight.

Is it likely to escalate into full-blown war?

It is entirely possible that Gaddafi will retaliate. In a statement broadcast on Libyan television, the defence ministry said: "Any foreign military act against Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea to danger and civilian and military [facilities] will become targets of Libya's counterattack." As mentioned above, several western countries have military assets nearby.

However, the UN resolution specifically rules out sending a foreign occupation force into any part of Libya. A ground intervention would require a second resolution to be passed.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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How the Democratic National Committee Chair contest became a proxy war

The two leading candidates represent the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders factions.

While in the UK this week attention has been fixed on the by-elections in Stoke-upon-Trent and Copeland, in the US political anoraks have turned their eyes to Atlanta, the capital city of the state of Georgia, and the culmination of the Democratic National Committee chairmanship election.

Democrats lost more than a President when Barack Obama left the White House - they lost a party leader. In the US system, the party out of power does not choose a solitary champion to shadow the Presidency in the way a leader of the opposition shadows the Prime Minister in the UK. Instead, leadership concentrates around multiple points at the federal, state and local level - the Senate Minority and House Minority Leaders’ offices, popular members of Congress, and high-profile governors and mayors.

Another focus is the chair of the national party committee. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is the formal governing body of the party and wields immense power over its organization, management, and messaging. Membership is exclusive to state party chairs, vice-chairs and over 200 state-elected representatives. The chair sits at the apex of the body and is charged with carrying out the programs and policies of the DNC. Put simply, they function as the party’s chief-of-staff, closer to the role of General Secretary of the Labour Party than leader of the opposition.

However, the office was supercharged with political salience last year when the then-chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was exposed following a Russian-sponsored leak of DNC emails that showed her leadership favoured Hillary Clinton as the party’s presidential nominee to Bernie Sanders. Schultz resigned and Donna Brazile, former campaign manager for Al Gore in 2000, took over as interim chair. The DNC huddled in December to thrash out procedure for the election of a permanent replacement – fixing the date of the ballot for the weekend of February 24.

The rancour of the Democratic primaries last year, and the circumstances of Schultz’s resignation, has transformed the race into a proxy war between the Clinton and Sanders factions within the party. Frontrunners Tom Perez and Keith Ellison respectively act as standard bearers for the respective camps.

Both are proven progressives with impeccable records in grassroots-based organizing. However Perez’s tenure as President Obama’s Labor Secretary and role as a Hillary booster has cast him as the establishment candidate in the race, whereas Ellison’s endorsement of the Sanders campaign in 2016 makes him the pick of the radical left.

The ideological differences between the two may be overblown, but cannot be overlooked in the current climate. The Democrats are a party seemingly at war with its base, and out of power nationwide.

Not only are they in the minority in Congress, but more than a third of the Democrats in the House of Representatives come from just three states: California, Massachusetts, and New York. As if that weren’t enough, Democrats control less than a third of state legislatures and hold the keys to just sixteen governors’ mansions.

Jacob Schwartz, president of the Manhattan Young Democrats, the official youth arm of the Democratic Party in New York County, says that the incoming chair should focus on returning the party to dominance at every tier of government:

“The priority of the Democratic leadership should be rebuilding the party first, and reaching out to new voters second," he told me. "Attacking Donald Trump is not something the leadership needs to be doing. He's sinking his own ship anyway and new voters are not going to be impressed by more negative campaigning. A focus on negative campaigning was a big part of why Hillary lost.”

The party is certainly in need of a shake-up, though not one that causes the internecine strife currently bedevilling the Labour Party. Hence why some commentators favour Ellison, whose election could be seen as a peace offering to aggrieved Sanderistas still fuming at the party for undermining their candidate.

“There's something to be said for the fact that Ellison is seen as from the Bernie wing of the party, even though I think policy shouldn't be part of the equation really, and the fact that Bernie voices are the voices we most need to be making efforts to remain connected to. Hillary people aren't going anywhere, so Ellison gives us a good jumping off point overall,” says Schwartz.

Ellison boasts over 120 endorsements from federal and state-level Democratic heavyweights, including Senator Sanders, and the support of 13 labor unions. Perez, meanwhile, can count only 30 politicians – though one is former Vice-President Joe Biden – and eight unions in his camp.

However the only constituency that matters this weekend is the DNC itself – the 447 committee members who can vote. A simple majority is needed to win, and if no candidate reaches this threshold at the first time of asking additional rounds of balloting take place until a winner emerges.

Here again, Ellison appears to hold the edge, leading Perez 105 to 57 according to a survey conducted by The Hill, with the remainder split among the other candidates.

Don’t write Perez off yet, though. Anything can happen if the ballot goes to multiple rounds and the former Secretary’s roots in the party run deep. He claimed 180 DNC supporters in an in-house survey, far more than suggested by The Hill.

We’ll find out this weekend which one was closer to the mark.

Louie Woodall is a member of Labour International, and a journalist based in New York.