The West's Nightmare: Europe's Leaders Fear Libya Could Become Next Afghanistan

Part 2: 'Anybody Who Proposes a No-Fly Zone Should Say Who Will Enforce It'

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That step, however, is highly controversial in Washington. The US military, which has already been stretched thin by its deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, has remained rather reticent in its comments. Establishing a no-fly zone would be a "challenge," says General James Mattis, the commander of US Central Command. The US military would first have to destroy Libya's air defenses, he says.

Until now, the US military has limited its engagement to bolstering its fleet in the Mediterranean and sending ships to the waters off the Libyan coast.

For the EU it will be even more difficult to come to a joint position on Libya, although that didn't stop French President Nicolas Sarkozy from unilaterally taking action. Last Thursday, France recognized the Libyan National Transitional Council in Benghazi as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people. Sarkozy says that he intends to dispatch an ambassador there. Furthermore, government officials in Paris say that the French president wants to use targeted air strikes to weaken the Gadhafi regime.

The German government was not informed of Sarkozy's plans. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was talking with his new French counterpart, Alain Juppé, when he heard about the French proposal. Westerwelle had the impression that Juppé was also unaware of his country's new position.

'We Have to Think This Through'

In Berlin, the Chancellery was indignant over the French initiative. At the summit in Brussels, Merkel voiced her clear opposition: "We cannot recognize the transitional council," she told the assembled heads of state and government. "The former justice minister is a member of this body and look at the role he played in the case of the Bulgarian nurses."

Indeed, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has claimed that representatives of the transitional council are linked to the mistreatment of a Palestinian doctor and five Bularian nurses held for nearly eight years under what is widely believed to have been a false conviction on charges of infecting children with HIV at a hospital in Benghazi. In 2007, after long negotiations with the EU, the medical workers were pardoned and returned to Bulgaria.

On Friday, Merkel repeated her position in English: "On transitional council, don't recognize."

Merkel also clearly expressed her reservations with regard to a no-fly zone: "What is our plan if we create a no-fly zone and it doesn't work? Do we send in ground troops?" she asked before adding: "We have to think this through. Why should we intervene in Libya when we don't intervene elsewhere?"

It was a sharp rebuff for Sarkozy. European leaders have little doubt about his motives. French foreign policy in Northern Africa has relied far too long on despots like Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Sarkozy now intends to rectify the situation. He fears that France could lose its traditional leadership role in the region.

Until recently, France and Germany have had their separate areas of responsibility: While Paris looked after the Mediterranean area, Berlin was more oriented toward Eastern Europe. But in internal discussions, Westerwelle has already made it clear that this will no longer be the case. Much to the annoyance of the French, Berlin now also wants to have a greater say in the Mediterranean region.

Fears Germany Could Be Drawn In

Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Westerwelle agree that nothing good will come from a no-fly zone over Libya. They both fear that Germany could be be drawn into the civil war in this way. The government also knows, though, that economic sanctions are only effective over the long term, so Berlin doesn't want to entirely rule out the option of military intervention. The obstacles are significant, however, since China and Russia are showing little inclination to approve such a mission in the UN Security Council.

The German government's hesitant stance also arises from the fact that Germany recently won a non-permanent seat on the Security Council. Although this presents an excellent opportunity for Westerwelle to play a more prominent international role as foreign minister, it also means that Germany will probably have to participate in the mission if the Security Council approves a no-fly zone. Anyone who claims a leading role in New York must be prepared to assume certain responsibilities.

The opposition also supports the German government's position. No one in Berlin is calling for a no-fly zone without a mandate from the Security Council. But there are members of parliament who refuse to simply stand by and watch as Gadhafi massacres his own people.

A no-fly zone would entail enormous technical and political problems, argues Kerstin Müller, the foreign policy expert in parliament for Germany's traditionally dovish Green Party. "But if the situation worsens and Gadhafi hunts down people from the air and kills them," she adds, "then the international community will have to seriously consider a no-fly zone area."

Before that happens, however, all non-military options must first be exhausted and the risks of escalation carefully weighed up, Müller says. She points out that an increasing number of Libyan opposition figures are calling for the West to intervene. Müller says that there is also an international responsibility to protect people.

Philipp Missfelder, the foreign policy expert in parliament for Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), also refuses to rule out a no-fly zone. "If you want to show the regime that you mean business," he argues, "then you have to put a few options on the table." He says that using fighter jets to shoot at demonstrators could definitely be classified as a crime against humanity. Missfelder emphasizes that any intervention would first have to be approved by the Security Council.

The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the German parliament, Ruprecht Polenz (CDU), is also calling for restraint. "What happens if the no-fly zone doesn't work?" he asks. "Then this will immediately be followed by the demand: You have taken the first step, now you have to take the second one."

The clearest arguments against a military intervention by the West are presented by Rainer Stinner, the foreign policy expert in parliament for the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), which is Merkel's government coalition partner. "Anyone who proposes a no-fly zone should (also) say who will enforce it," he contends. Such a decision could lead to aerial combat and other fighting, he says. "Should we then send in the German Luftwaffe?"

Limited Success of No-Fly Zones

The experience of the West with no-fly zones has shown that such measures can quickly lead to combat situations. For instance, without a prior mandate from the Security Council, between 1991 and 2003 the Americans imposed a ban on flying over the Kurdish areas in northern Iraq and the Shiite regions in the south of the country. There were numerous clashes. US fighter jets shelled Iraqi anti-aircraft positions and shot down Iraqi fighters.

The no-fly zones enjoyed only limited success. Under the protection of coalition forces, the Kurds in northern Iraq were able to establish an autonomous zone. Since helicopter gunships were excluded at first from the flight ban, however, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was able to quash Shiite rebellions in the south of the country.

There were also military clashes in the no-fly zone that NATO established between 1993 to 1995 during the war in Bosnia. NATO aircraft shot down a number of Serbian fighter jets. Nonetheless, this did not allow NATO to prevent the Srebrenica massacre, where 8,000 Bosnians were killed.

Another problem has to do with the issue of who benefits from what type of intervention by the West. Too little is known about the rebels and their objectives. Even diplomats in Tripoli know little about most of the men on the opposition's interim governing council. The only exceptions are Ali Al-Issawi, until recently the Libyan ambassador to India and currently the insurgents' "foreign minister," and Mahmoud Jibril, the former Iraqi planning minister. Last week in Paris and Brussels, both men called for international support.

Another Unpopular War?

The chairman of the National Transitional Council, former Libyan Justice Minister Mustafa Abdul Jalil, is not a charismatic figure, but on a number of occasions he has publicly interceded on behalf of political prisoners held by Gadhafi's regime. His National Council is hopelessly divided and could only agree on three points: Gadhafi must go, the West should impose a no-fly zone, but Western troops should not fight on the ground.

Nobody knows what kind of state these men want to build, or what freedoms it would guarantee. President Hamid Karzai -- intensely pandered to by the West -- has turned out to be a corrupt ruler in Afghanistan.

In Libya there is also no solution that would genuinely satisfy the West. There is no clear, promising vision of the future of this country without Gadhafi -- but there is no doubt that it will be disastrous with Gadhafi.

Is military deployment the answer? Germany could easily be drawn into another war at a time when the majority of Germans already oppose their country's military presence in Afghanistan. Sometimes politicians have little choice but to grin and bear the burden of their own decisions.

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