Arab League’s shifting stance on Libya’s no-fly zone

Dealing with the Arab League is akin to dealing with a ‘backseat driver.’

In the span of a week, the Arab League has oscillated from beseeching the UN to impose a no-fly zone in Libya to strongly condemning the implementation of sanctioned no-fly zone by international forces.

The Arab League saw a worsening conflict that threatened to destabilize the region but didn’t want to get its hands dirty by directly intervening. So the Arab League invited the United Nations to help solve the Libya/Gaddafi problem. After much debates amid the escalating conflict, the U.N. eventually acquiesced to the Arab League’s request to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. Two days later, countries like France, United Kingdom, and the United States contributed military forces to enforce the no-fly zone. It took the Arab League less than 24 hours to publicly denounce the enforcement of Libya’s no-fly zone! WTF?!

If the Arab League really wanted to do things their way, then they should have (and could have) contributed their own military forces and resources to address the conflict in Libya. Instead, the Arab League called on the international community for assistance and then promptly criticized the ‘outsiders’ for intervening.

Why should anyone to help the Arab League next time?

Timeline of Arab League’s Fluctuating Position on Libya’s No-Fly Zone

On March 12, the 22-member Arab League approved a resolution requesting the United Nations impose a no-fly zone to prevent pro-Gaddafi forces from inflicting further civilian casualties in Libya. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa issued this statement: “The Arab League has officially requested the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone against any military action against the Libyan people.” In an interview with Der Spiegel right before the Arab League resolution was approved, Moussa acknowledged “ I’m no military expert. How this zone is implemented, and by whom, remains to be seen…The goal of implementing a no-fly zone is to support the Libya people in their struggle for freedom against an increasingly inhuman regime.”

On March, 17, the U.N. Security Council passed resolution 1973 to authorize a no-fly zone over Libya with 10 votes in favor and 5 abstentions (Brazil, China, Germany, India, and Russian Federation). UN Resolution 1973 included language that would allow member states to”to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”

On March 19, the no-fly zone was implemented. France, United Kingdom, United States, and Canada all contributed military personnel and resources to enforce the no-fly zone and UN resolution 1973. (The initial cost of enforcing the no-fly zone exceeds $168 million for the United States.)  The international forces bombed Libyan ground troops and select military installations to hinder pro-Gaddafi forces from causing further civilian casualties in the rebel-held city of Benghazi.

On March 20, Moussa condemned the implementation of the no-fly zone. “What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone,” Moussa said according to the Middle East News Agency.

On March 22, Moussa backtracked from his earlier statements after meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-noon. Moussa clarified, “We are committed to UN security council resolution 1973. We have no objection to this decision, particularly as it does not call for an invasion of Libyan territory.”


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