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Libya: the view from where you are

The international war over Libya began on the late evening of 19 March 2011. Its meaning depends on the angle of vision - and what happens next.

The Libya war has started with full sanction from the United Nations Security Council. This makes it very different from the Iraq war that was launched exactly eight years before in 2003. This time, the coalition that has been put together involves Arab League participants; it expects that the sudden and extensive military action it is undertaking will protect civilians, and might even bring an early end to the Muammar Gaddafi regime.

There may be some unease in the United States at the risk of being drawn into another conflict in the middle east. Britain’s David Cameron and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy are, however, quite convinced of the need to press ahead. Indeed the French appear to have escalated the operation from the start; even before United States and British forces began to attack Gaddafi’s air-defence facilities, the targets of French attacks included Gaddafi's ground forces close to the rebel-held city of Benghazi.

The UN authorisation means that the European forces appear to be on firm ground. The anti-regime forces in Benghazi actions have greatly welcomed their actions, and there is a fair measure of domestic support in the two countries. If the Gaddafi regime were to fall in a matter of days, there will be confidence too in the enhanced influence of the UN.

The perspective from well beyond Europe is rather different (including from a conference on regional security in Dubai, where this column is being written). The overall sense can be summarised as: "there they go again".

If there is a degree of cynicism here, it has much evidence to draw on. The French may be bombing Libya, but in late February 2011 their technicians were still upgrading the Libyan air-force’s Mirage F1 fighters. Italy may provide bases for the air assault, yet one of its leading defence companies has been under recent contract to the Libyan army.

More generally, France’s colonial control is recalled with something short of affection in north Africa and the middle east, while Britain still suffers from its association with George W Bush and the Iraq war. And while both countries may see Libya as a morally appropriate case for intervention, they seem strangely silent over the violent repression in Bahrain (backed by their other regional allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates); just as they said so little about Gaza during Israel’s assault of 2008-09.

In this respect, the news that the head of the Arab League is expressing concern at the suddenness and intensity of the air-strikes – though hardly a surprise, given how the west fights its wars - may be a signal of what is to come.

In short, if this UN-mandated action does succeed, civilians are protected and the Gaddafi regime is made impotent or even falls, then the cynicism and critical thoughts will be forgotten. If not, and Libya turns into yet another lengthy and difficult war, then they - and the bitter memories, of historical and more recent events - will return to the fore.

 

About the author

Paul Rogers is professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He is openDemocracy's international security adviser, and has been writing a weekly column on global security since 28 September 2001; he also writes a monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group. His latest book is Irregular War: ISIS and the New Threat from the Margins (IB Tauris, 2016), which follows Why We’re Losing the War on Terror (Polity, 2007), and Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto Press, 3rd edition, 2010). He is on Twitter at: @ProfPRogers

A lecture by Paul Rogers, delivered to the Food Systems Academy in late 2014, provides an overview of the analysis that underpins his openDemocracy column. The lecture - "The crucial century, 1945-2045: transforming food systems in a global context" - focuses on the central place of food systems in human security worldwide. Paul argues that food is the pivot of humanity's next great transition. It can be accessed here

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Paul Rogers is professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He is openDemocracy's international-security editor, and has been writing a weekly column on global security since 26 September 2001; he also writes a monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group. His books include Why We’re Losing the War on Terror (Polity, 2007), and Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto Press, 3rd edition, 2010)

His books include Why We’re Losing the War on Terror (Polity, 2007), and Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto Press, 3rd edition, 2010)


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