Why we shouldn’t intervene in Libya

Views from the five countries that abstained on UN Resolution 1973.

When last week's UN Security Council Resolution 1973 was passed – enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya and authorising member states to "take all necessary measures" to "protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack" – only five countries chose to abstain, rather than support it.

Given the consensual nature of the exchanges in this afternoon's Commons debate, it's worth seeking out the views of Brazil, Russia, India, China and Germany, whose early reservations may soon become more commonplace. Whilst it could be argued (with the exception of Germany) that they have an anti-west foreign policy agenda, or corrupt regimes to protect, many of the points they make are being echoed throughout the general populace.

So, here is our rundown of who abstained, and why.

Brazil

Brazil's permanent representative to the UN, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, said:

We are not convinced that the use of force as provided for in operative paragraph 4 of the present resolution will lead to the realisation of our common objective – the immediate end of violence and the protection of civilians.

Russia

UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin stated:

We participated actively in the discussions on the draft resolution. Unfortunately, work on this document was not in keeping with the Security Council's standing practice . . . In essence, a whole range of questions raised by the Russian Federation and other Security Council members remained unanswered, questions which were both concrete and legitimate, questions regarding how the no-fly zone would be enforced, what the rules of engagement would be, and limits to the use of force would be. Furthermore, the draft was morphing before our very eyes, transcending the League of Arab States' initial stated concepts . . . Introduced into the text were provisions potentially opening the door to large-scale military intervention. Through the negotiations of the draft, statements claiming an absence of any such intention were heard. We take note of these.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has since said that he is "concerned about the ease with which it has been decided to use violence" and that the resolution reminded him of "medieval calls for crusades".

India

Deputy Ambassador to the UN Manjeev Singh Puri said:

We do not have clarity about details of enforcement measures, including who and with what asset will participate and how these measures will be exactly carried out . . . The financial measures that are proposed in the resolution could impact, directly or through indirect routes, ongoing trade and investment activities of a number of member states thereby adversely affecting the economic interests of the Libyan people and others dependent on these trade and economic ties . . . Moreover, we had to ensure that the measures will mitigate – and not exacerbate – an already difficult situation for the people of Libya. Clarity in the resolution on any spillover effects of these measures would have been very important.

Of the supposedly indiscriminate air attacks that have been taking place over the past few days, a New Delhi statement said:

India views with grave concern the continuing violence, strife and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Libya . . . It regrets the air strikes that are taking place. The measures adopted should mitigate and not exacerbate an already difficult situation for the people of Libya.

China

UN Ambassador Li Baodong stated:

In the Security Council's consultations on Resolution 1973, we and some other council members asked some specific questions. However, regrettably, many of those questions failed to be clarified or answered. China has serious difficulty with part of the resolution.

China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, could have blocked the resolution altogether, but because it attached "great importance to the relevant decision by the 22-member Arab League on the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya" (the League initially supported the motion), the Chinese chose merely to abstain instead.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Jiang Yu, explained:

We oppose the use of force in international relations and have serious reservations with part of the resolution.

However, now that the Arab League has criticised the air strikes, claiming they are beyond the remit of the resolution, China could step up the rhetoric. Jiang Yu has already said that "China has noted the latest developments in Libya and expresses regret over the military attacks on Libya".

Germany

This is the most interesting case, as Germany was the only EU member state to abstain. It would seem that memories of war and imperialism are still too contentious when handling a situation that actually or potentially involves both.

UN Ambassador Peter Wittig said:

We should not enter a military confrontation on the optimistic assumption that quick results with few casualties will be achieved.

Whilst Wittig stated that Germany recognised the plight of the Libyan people, he also argued that Berlin sees "the danger of being drawn into a protracted military conflict".

Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, defended his country's position:

The impression that Germany is isolated in Europe or the international community is completely wrong . . . Many other countries in the European Union not only understand our position, not only respect it, but also share it.

Liam McLaughlin is a freelance journalist who has also written for Prospect and the Huffington Post. He tweets irregularly @LiamMc108.

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In her first interview of 2017, I pressed the Prime Minister for Brexit clarity

My week, including running out of cat food, reading Madeleine Thien – oh, and interviewing Theresa May on my show.

As the countdown to going live begins in your ear, there’s always a little rush of adrenalin. Especially when you’re about to launch a new Sunday morning political programme. And especially when you’re about to conduct the Prime Minister’s first interview of 2017. When you hear the words, “Cue Sophy,” there’s a split-second intake of breath – a fleeting moment of anticipation – before you start speaking. Once the show is under way, there’s no time to step back and think; you’re focused on what’s happening right now. But for that brief flicker of time before the camera trained on you goes live, you feel the enormity of what’s happening. 

My new show, Sophy Ridge on Sunday, launched on Sky News this month. After five years as a political correspondent for the channel, I have made the leap into presenting. Having the opportunity to present my own political programme is the stuff that dreams are made of. It’s a bit like having your own train set – you can influence what stories you should be following and which people you should be talking to. As with everything in television, however, it’s all about the team, and with Toby Sculthorp, Tom Larkin and Matthew Lavender, I’m lucky enough to have a great one.

 

Mayday, mayday

The show gets off to a fantastic start with an opportunity to interview the Prime Minister. With Theresa May, there are no loose comments – she is a cautious premier who weighs up every word. She doesn’t have the breezy public school confidence of David Cameron and, unlike other politicians I’ve met, you don’t get the sense that she is looking over her shoulder to see if there is someone more important that she should be talking to.

In the interview, she spells out her vision for a “shared society” and talks about her desire to end the stigma around mental health. Despite repeated pressing, she refuses to confirm whether the UK will leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. However, when you consider her commitment to regaining control of immigration and UK borders, it’s very difficult – almost impossible – to see how Britain could remain a member. “Often people talk in terms as if somehow we are leaving the EU but we still want to kind of keep bits of membership of the EU,” she said. “We are leaving. We are coming out. We are not going to be a member of the EU any longer.” Draw your own conclusions.

 

Women on top

This is probably the kind of thing that I should remain demurely quiet about and allow other people to point out on my behalf. Well, screw that. I think it’s fantastic to see the second female prime minister deciding to give her first interview of the New Year to the first woman to front a Sunday morning political show on television. There, I said it.

 

Escaping the bubble

In my view, every journalist should make a New Year’s resolution to get out of London more. The powerful forces that led to the political earthquake of 2016 came from outside the M25. Every week, I’ll be travelling to a different part of the country to listen to people’s concerns so that I can directly put them to the politicians that I interview. This week, it was Boston in Lincolnshire, where the highest proportion of people voted to leave the European Union.

Initially, it was tricky to get people to speak on camera, but in a particularly friendly pub the Bostonians were suddenly much more forthcoming. Remain supporters (a minority, I know) who arrogantly dismiss Leave voters as a bunch of racists should listen to the concerns I heard about a race to the bottom in terms of workers’ rights. Politicians are often blamed for spending too much time in the “Westminster bubble”, but in my experience journalists are often even worse. Unless we escape the London echo chamber, we’ll have no chance of understanding what happened in 2016 – and what the consequences will be in 2017.

 

A room of one’s own

Last December, I signed a book deal to write the story of women in politics. It’s something I’m passionate about, but I’ll admit that when I pitched the idea to Hachette I had no idea that 2016 would turn out to be quite so busy. Fitting in interviews with leading female politicians and finding the time to write the damn thing hasn’t been easy. Panic-stricken after working flat out during the EU campaign and the historic weeks after, I booked myself into a cottage in Hythe, a lovely little market town on the Kent coast. Holed up for two weeks on my own, feeling a million miles away from the tumultuous Westminster, the words (finally) started pouring on to the page. Right now, I’m enjoying that blissful period between sending in the edited draft and waiting for the first proofs to arrive. It’s nice not to have that nagging guilty feeling that there’s something I ought to be doing . . .

 

It’s all over Mao

I read books to switch off and am no literary snob – I have a particular weakness for trashy crime fiction. This week, I’ve been reading a book that I’m not embarrassed to recommend. Do Not Say We Have Nothing, by the Canadian author Madeleine Thien, tells the haunting story of musicians who suffered during the Cultural Revolution in China. It’s also a chilling warning of what happens when anger towards the elite is pushed too far.

 

Political animals

However busy and exhilarating things are at work, my cat, Ned, will always give me a reality check. In the excitement of the first Sophy Ridge on Sunday, I forgot to get him any food. His disappointed look as he sits by his empty bowl brings me crashing back down to earth. A panicked dash to Sainsbury’s follows, the fuel warning light on all the way as I pray I don’t run out of petrol. Suddenly, everything is back to normal.

“Sophy Ridge on Sunday” is on Sky News on Sundays at 10am

Sophy Ridge is a political correspondent for Sky News.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge