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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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.