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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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.