The World from Berlin 'More Realism Would Do No Harm'

The European Union as well as NATO are meeting this week to discuss the notion of a no-fly zone in Libya. Offering protection from Gadhafi's jets for the rebels may sound noble, but German commentators on Thursday are skeptical. A no-fly zone, they argue, would mean nothing short of war.

Will the West intervene in Libya?
U.S. Navy

Will the West intervene in Libya?


The uprising in Libya against Moammar Gadhafi's faltering regime has stalled, and this week both the European Union and NATO will meet to discuss what the international community can do. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle recently warned that a much-discussed no-fly zone is feasible but might grow into "military deployment" -- which nevertheless marks a cautious shift in tone from the end of February, when he said Berlin had ruled out all support for any military adventure.

On Wednesday the EU's chief diplomat, Catherine Ashton, gave a speech in Brussels promising to "work to support the emergence of a new Libya." She announced new sanctions against the Gadhafi regime, including a freeze on Libyan state assets (as opposed just to the personal bank accounts of regime figures). But she stopped short of recognizing the rebels in Benghazi as legitimate representatives of the Libyan people, and she didn't use the phrase "no-fly zone" at all. Instead, she promised more humanitarian aid.

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Envoys from Libyan rebel groups as well as Gadhafi's government have meanwhile arrived in Paris, ahead of Friday's emergency EU summit on Libya. Mahmud Gebril, a former Gadhafi minister now helping to lead the resistance, has urged the EU to "paralyze" the Libyan air force and recognize the rebels diplomatically. But Gadhafi himself is still very much alive. He tried to warn off interlopers on Wednesday by saying on state TV, "The colonialist countries are hatching a plot to humiliate the Libyan people, reduce them to slavery and control the oil."

The West is obviously in a hurry to do something. It just isn't clear what. But as NATO holds a summit in Brussels on Thursday to discuss the no-fly zone, opinion has moved firmly against the idea in the German press.

The Financial Times Deutschland argues:

"The call for a no-fly zone derives from gut feeling. One wants to do something because of the horrible violence as well as the obvious divide between good (the opposition) and evil (Moammar Gadhafi)."

"This gut feeling is understandable … But the gut is a poor counsellor. A military intervention in Libya -- a no-fly zone can be called nothing else -- presents unforeseeable risks and would possibly harm the Libyan people more than help."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Some of the debate over a no-fly zone in Libya has been conducted with astonishing frivolity, especially in Germany. Following the statements of several German politicians, not least the foreign minister (Westerwelle), one might have the mistaken idea that it would involve a limited engagement just to protect everyday Libyans, requiring no more than a green light from the UN and the Arab League. It's a rich position for a political class that rarely trusts itself to call war by its true name."

"That a fresh attack by Western powers against a Muslim nation would not go down well on the Arab street has apparently, in the meantime, occurred to several people in the Chancellery."

"Further sanctions against Gadhafi now being prepared may not wholly miss their targets. (The West) should also make clear to the rebels that a peaceful resolution is preferable. That might sound unsatisfactory in light of all the bloodshed; but the many failed Western interventions over the last few years would suggest that invasions don't always ease the suffering of ordinary people."

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"The speech in Brussels (by Catherine Ashton) shows above all the EU's powerlessness in foreign affairs. Crises like the one in Libya overwhelm the EU structurally. The situation there changes every hour, but the EU needs days or weeks to develop a common position. Ten days passed before the first sanctions were set against the Gadhafi clan -- plenty of time to clear out European accounts. Tomorrow EU leaders will meet for an emergency summit and discuss the idea of a no-fly zone. Even if they arrive at a powerful 'maybe,' without American support and a minimum of tolerance by the Russians and Chinese (on the UN Security Council), nothing will happen. Gadhafi could go on bombing for weeks. The EU in 2011 would like to be big and strong. In fact its parochialism has only grown more prominent."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The Libyan rebels, supposedly, want a no-fly zone, but who exactly speaks for whom? The political situation is impossible to grasp; the military situation, too. American generals have warned about a 'complex' state of affairs which could make the imposition of a no-fly zone far more complicated than it was in Iraq. In any case (the no-fly zone) would be the first step toward outright intervention. But such an intervention must follow a long chain of efforts to de-escalate."

"Hard sanctions have just been imposed on the regime, and they need time to work before any further steps can be taken. More realism in this debate would do no harm."

-- SPIEGEL ONLINE Staff

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