Once again, the West failed to reach a deal on Tuesday: At a meeting in London of G-8 foreign minister, opponents led by Germany rebuffed France and Britain. Both countries have been calling for the imposition of a no-fly zone or other military measures in Libya in order to stop the advance of dictator Moammar Gadhafi's troops. But they have been repeatedly stalled by their allies, led by Germany.
Positions have changed little since the NATO defense minister meeting and at the European Union summit last week. In their closing statement, the club of industrial nations merely warned the Libyan leader of "dire consequences," with no mention of a no-fly zone.
Despite ongoing opposition to such a measure, Lebanon on Tuesday evening submitted a first draft resolution for a no-fly zone to the United Nations Security Council, which meets on Wednesday in New York. The resolution would "take all necessary measures to enforce compliance" of a "ban on all flights in the airspace of (Libya) in order to help protect civilians." It would also include flights from abroad suspected of carrying mercenaries from other countries to back Gadhafi's effort to stamp down the revolt.
But the success of the draft, which Britain and France helped to formulate, is anything but certain. Skeptics are well represented on the Security Council. China, Russia and Germany have all expressed their reservations.
Frustration-Inspired Attacks and Accusations
The diplomatic differences have already triggered the first round of frustration-inspired accusations. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said the West shared responsibility for the success of Gadhafi's troops in winning back terrain lost to rebels in recent days. "If we had used military force last week to neutralize some runways and several dozen airports at Gadhafi's disposal, maybe the reversal that is happening now to the opposition's disadvantage would not have taken place," Juppé told France's Europe 1 radio station on Tuesday.
In New York, French Ambassador to the United Nations Gerard Araud, said the administration of French President Nicolas Sarkozy was "deeply distressed by the UN Security Council's failure to act." In Britain's House of Commons, Prime Minister David Cameron warned "the clock is ticking."
No one named Germany or the United States by name, but it was clear where the criticism had been directed. In every international body, the German government has opposed British and French proposals for military action. Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle have personally taken steps to ensure that the words "no-fly zone" did not become part of any closing statements. After the G-8 meeting, Westerwelle reiterated the German position yet again. He said a military intervention is no solution. He described a no-fly zone as a slippery slope, saying that no country wanted to be drug into a war.
So far, the US has largely kept its distance from the internal European Union dispute. But officials in Washington seem pleased that Germany's position has allowed the administration of President Barack Obama to stay out of the debate. Obama's statements on the issue have been reserved. On Tuesday, he said merely that he had asked his "team to continue to fully engage in the discussions at the United Nations, NATO and with partners and organizations in the region."
Many in Washington consider a protracted deployment in a third Muslim country, in addition to Afghanistan and Iraq, to be too risky. As an alternative suggestion, the White House has proposed transferring money from Gadhafi's frozen accounts to the rebels. That, too, has raised questions, however. Using the money to buy weapons would violate the current UN embargo.
Praised by the Dictator, Secretly Cursed by Partners
The passive stance of the US and the disunity of the EU amount to yet another unimpressive Western response to the crisis. "Europe fiddles as Libya burns," Britain's Guardian newspaper commented on Tuesday.
A former British foreign minister, Malcolm Rifkind, called for an "open and urgent" supply of weapons to the rebels, to avoid repeating the "mistake" of the Bosnian war in the 1990s. If Gadhafi ended up remaining in office, it would send a signal to despots that opposing reforms and resorting to violence can in the end enable them to hold on to power, the Conservative parliamentarian wrote in the Times newspaper.
Robert Danin of the Council on Foreign Relations accused the White House and the UN of having hesitated too long. A no-fly zone now may be "too little, too late," he told US broadcaster Fox News. "Obama should not have called for Gadhafi to step down if the US was not willing to back up that call with a real sense of an 'or else'," said Danin.
Gadhafi swiftly seized on the dispute to try to drive a wedge into the Western alliance. Germany, China and Russia could continue to count on Libyan oil, while the rest of the West could forget it, he declared.
This transparent attempt to sow further discord won't work but it could embarrass Berlin. To be praised by the dictator and secretly cursed by one's closest EU allies -- that can scarcely be deemed a diplomatic success.
And Berlin will have to reiterate its position this week in the face of Lebanon's resolution now before the Security Council. It is unclear what action Germany's ambassador to the UN, Peter Wittig, will take this week. On Tuesday evening, he repeated Germany's objections to a no-fly zone. But he has one less argument following the Arab League's call at the weekend for the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone. Before that, Merkel had been able to cite Arab disunity as a reason for not intervening. But now the Libyan rebels, the Council of Gulf States and the Arab League are unanimously calling on the West to intervene. The regional support that Germany had demanded now exists.
But the German government has its doubts about the sincerity of the Arab League. In the statement calling for a UN resolution, the League also opposes any foreign intervention in Libya. Wittig pointed out this contradiction at the Security Council meeting. Lebanon's UN ambassador, Nawaf Salam, insisted that a no-fly zone would not be regarded as foreign intervention.
The draft resolution will now be scrutinized in the capitals of the 15 council member states before Wednesday's meeting, which will focus on the text of the resolution. "We would like the council to act as quickly as possible and hope there is a consensus," said. Salam said. "It is a necessary measure to put an end to violence, to protect civilians there."
In the end, any such resolution could ultimately become superfluous. Gadhafi's forces have continued their advances on rebel-held cities on Wednesday and have reportedly retaken Ajdabiya, just south of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. Jalal al-Gallal of the National Libyan Transitional Council told the BBC on Wednesday that there would be a "massacre" should the international community refrain from intervening.
"Gadhafi will kill civilians," Gallal said. "He will kill dreams. He will destroy us."