A No Fly Zone?


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As Moammar Gadhafi’s forces fail to retake key cities surrounding Tripoli and more and more countries explicitly denounce him and his government, there seems to be growing pressure on the Obama administration to do something. Senior American officials–including the President and the Secretary of State–have ratcheted up the rhetoric against the Libyan leader in recent days, but the potential for massive and widespread violence has directed pressure on Obama to act, not just talk. However, a situation this delicate requires a deliberate, planned response. Reacting to the situation without considering the consequences can quickly become very dangerous.
Many commentators have insisted that the United States should impose a no-fly zone at the very least, and potentially something more than that. They point to the results of similar actions in Bosnia and Iraq in the 1990s. However, basing current policies on historical examples requires a bit of context. The Washington Institute on Near East Policy has put out an excellent piece in the past few days that clarifies the situation:

The success of the no-fly zone over northern Iraq would seem to recommend the same course of action in current cases such as Libya, where a tottering regime might still be able to lash out at rebel enclaves and cause significant humanitarian suffering. The differences between Iraqi in 1991 and Libya today are obvious, however.
First, Saddam’s regime had just fought a major war with U.S.-led forces, while rapprochement has been the focus of recent U.S.-Libyan relations. Within the context of antigovernment uprisings, no-fly zones effectively transform the foreign power into a combatant — presenting them as purely humanitarian in nature stretches credibility. Accordingly, such zones are best used as a means of curtailing the sovereignty of a regime with which the United States already has quasi-warlike relations.
Furthermore, U.S. military forces in the south were still occupying approximately one-eighth of Iraqi territory when the northern no-fly zone was established, and the establishment of Kurdish safe havens required further deployment of significant U.S. and coalition ground forces to deter regime incursions. Such ground deployments in Libya are probably not on the table. Most important, the United States could draw on strongly worded UN resolutions to underwrite its actions in 1991, whereas no such body of documents is available for use today.
In addition to being highly context-specific, no-fly and no-drive zones are notoriously difficult to implement. The rules of engagement (ROE) governing the mission must be exceptionally well conceived, and the military commanders must receive strong political support when they act within the rules. Any set of ROE must include a list of offending actions (known as the “ROE trip,” short for “tripwire”) plus “response options” (a set of pre-agreed retaliatory targets) and a “response ratio” (which establishes how vigorously the offender will be punished for transgressing the zone). U.S. forces needed twelve years of no-fly zone patrolling in Iraq to perfect the system, and even then the zones generated controversy because they often required relatively junior officers to use their initiative in interpreting the ROE.
In general, an aggressive opponent — such as Saddam and, perhaps, the Qadhafi regime — will regularly test the ROE, and the patrolling power may need to retaliate disproportionately to deter proscribed actions, including attacks on civilians and rebel forces. Any ROE, particularly those governing no-drive zones, may be prone to uncontrolled escalation, drawing the patrolling power into more significant military operations than initially intended. Collateral damage among civilian and friendly forces is always a risk, as occurred on April 14, 1994, when two U.S. helicopters were destroyed by other U.S. aircraft in the northern no-fly zone, killing twenty-six coalition and Iraqi personnel.

Military action should remain a last resort when all other options have failed. Increasing pressure on Gadhafi and his subordinates may cause some of his support to fragment, or even turn on the embattled colonel. An ill-conceived intervention can end up being far worse than taking no action at all. Any attempt by the United States to try to resolve the situation in Libya must be driven by a clearly thought-out strategy, not a response to political pressure.
Of course the Obama Administration wants to prevent bloodshed in Libya, but while a no-fly zone may seem to be a good way to do that, the devil is in the details.
— Jordan D’Amato


14 comments on “A No Fly Zone?

  1. rc says:

    Actually I found a copy of what looks like the original version I read in the NYT before it was sanitized for ‘civilized’ consumption.
    Just another rabbit shoot eh?
    Gathering Firewood, 9 Afghan Boys Killed by NATO Helicopters
    KABUL, Afghanistan


  2. rc says:

    There aught to be a no fly zone in Washington DC — unfortunately there seems to just be too much dead meat and blood on the hands to not attract such insects.
    Nine young Afghan kids collecting fire wood shot up by a helicopter gunship!!!
    And the sleazy media try to smooth it by a headline that refers to ‘citizens’!
    “NATO Apologizes for Killing 9 Afghan Civilians”
    FFS!!! — what is going on with this madness?
    They were kids!
    And one finds various edited versions of AP’s story — some with more details than others.
    KABUL, Afghanistan


  3. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Any procrastination of action and political and diplomatic quibbling on the part of the Obama administration as a substitute of providing an expeditious and strategically prudent resolution by U.S. military action in favour of the revolt of the Libyan people against the brutal and nepotistic regime of Gaddafi, will be deemed by history as a dereliction of duty by the United States as the pivotal power of rational world order”
    I’m sorry you’re not feeling well, Kotz. Ask your doctor about “Nexium”. Great for alleviating gas and acid reflux.


  4. drew says:

    This is like a State Department communique via The Onion,
    which confused me until I googled the author, and the guy is like
    23. If he wants to comment on the military at age 23, go to OCS
    and get a real job. Somebody with his profile should stick to
    nuanced analyses of the importance of western government
    support for third-world kindergarten, or perhaps the relevance
    of ‘meat-free mondays’ in the Sudan.
    My other suggestion is that people who wish to comment on the
    efficacy of military actions not post pictures of a B-1B at 50,000
    AGL to demonstrate their understanding of the subtleties of
    enforcing ‘no-fly zones’.
    There are no subtleties. You run buzz jobs all day long with F-
    18s and shoot the shit out of anything Gaddafi throws into the
    air. The Libyan people will take care of the rest. Somebody
    might get hurt. Western Europe will chew their fingernails. The
    democrats on the ground will cheer. Libya will complete its
    transition to a freer society. Our guys will get some combat
    hours, and the rest of the world will stop saying that Obama is a
    colossal, astonishing, hypocritical pussy.


  5. Carroll says:

    The Libyan rebels appear divided on whether or not they want outside help. News sources quote some who do and some who don’t. It appears the leaders of the revolt who are coming to the fore now and were quoted by the AP, ALJ and BBC agree they would like to see a no fly zone and that they would like help with arms and weapons.
    There is some talk, but only talk, of the Arab League putting up a No Fly zone with US or UN assistance…that would be the best course…but do the Saudis and others really want to see these peoples revolts in the ME succeed? And could the US or UN prod the Arab League to do it? There are some people and countries who would be happy to see the Mubaraks and Gadhafis keep their perches.
    The risk and considerations..the rebels might lose. The risk of a genocide like retalition by Gadhafi on half his population if the rebels do fail. The risk of encouraging other Gadhafis to war on their own populations by not intervening.
    The risk that if a large Gadhafi massace begins the US and/or UN would eventually have to interfer anyway….a day late and dollar short.
    The US might rack up some collateral damage ‘helping’ the rebels. Further stressing
    Egypt and Tunisia with even more refugees piling in.
    At some point it might come down to whether the end justifies the means for the Libyan rebels and
    the democracy talking US. The US is going to be dammed if it does and dammed if it doesn’t anyway….I say interfer now with UN blessings and if possible Arab League cover for the greater good of all things considered and take the criticism later.


  6. Cee says:

    I agree Mr. Murder. Good to see you post again.
    Let’s revisit Milosevic.
    Thug Life
    Think Mubarak was bad? Kosovo’s leaders are accused of being organ-smuggling, drug-dealing goons — and the United States is looking the other way.
    Amid fireworks and celebratory gunfire, Kosovo — Europe’s newest country — turned three years old on Thursday, Feb. 17. But behind the scenes of revelry in the capital, Pristina, it’s clear that it will take a lot more than flag-waving for the fledgling country to grow out of its terrible twos. For all the hope that was once showered upon this young democracy, it still faces an enormous uphill battle: the country has no international postal or telephone code; it cannot establish its own IP address; its athletes cannot partake in many international sporting events; thousands of NATO troops still remain as peacekeepers; and Kosovars can only travel visa-free to five countries — one of which is Haiti. With only 75 out of 192 nations having recognized the new state, it remains in a purgatory of semi-sovereignty.
    Meanwhile, it’s been a big start to the year for new states and new orders. The regimes in Tunisia and Egypt have fallen. Southern Sudan claimed its independence with a near unanimous result. A wave of reform protests continues across the Middle East. After a bit of diplomatic wavering, the United States reaffirmed its commitment to self-determination and human rights, promising to support “principles, processes and institutions — not personalities” in its engagement with the new governments taking root in North Africa.
    Trouble is, a sobering assessment of the successes and failures of state-building since the end of the Cold War demonstrates that governance and development work best when a population rallies behind an enlightened leader — and suffer when one does not emerge. Principles of democracy and human rights have to abide in a leadership and must be bought into by a population.
    And here’s the rub: While the United States grappled with its inability (whether for lack of a fulcrum or fear of meddling) to use leverage to remove the regimes in Tunis and Cairo, it actually does have the power to affect change and promote transparent and accountable governance in Pristina — where a coterie of thuggish leaders, holdovers from a Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) unit accused of war crimes and weapons dealing, now run the country. But, thus far, Washington has been unwilling to exert the necessary pressure on Kosovo’s leaders — and in its impotence pours billions of dollars down the drain and risks condemning the state to thugocracy.
    While much has been made of America’s financial support of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and other autocratic dictatorships in recent weeks, Kosovo’s democracy has received far more direct American aid in recent years — in 2010, Kosovo received more than twice the American bilateral foreign assistance per capita than Egypt. Yet, after more than a decade of immense international investment and the best-resourced humanitarian mission the world has ever seen, Kosovo enters its fourth year of independence amid its own internal turmoil.


  7. dirk says:

    Libya is in Europe’s back yard, let them do something about it.
    I am so, so, so tired of the US spending $ trying to fix (f-up) other countries’ problems when a large percentage of our inept politicians claim that we don’t have enough money to provide for the health and educational needs of our own citizenry. — Of course, given our history of tacitly endorsing Gadhafi, one could argue that we own the Libyan people some support.
    Wars and rumors of wars — these will never end until the human race disappears.
    BTW, Juan Cole (juancole.com) is reporting that the Saudis are all of a sudden feeling magnanimous toward their own people, handing out $37B for housing and unemployment relief. Amusing . . .


  8. JohnH says:

    How David Cameron does “double standards.”
    Somewhere there must be a school for shameless hypocrisy. And people wonder why the Arab world distrusts the US and the UK?


  9. anon says:

    The photo is puzzling — it would be tough to enforce a no-fly zone with a B-1 bomber.


  10. Cee says:

    Enforcing that would mean bombing. Hell no. The Libyans don’t want outside military force.
    Didn’t anyone pay attention to Robert Gates the other day?
    Speaking of flying, I’m watching MSNBC and see that Hillary Clinton wants another investigation regarding Pan Am 103. Apparently a few folks are now singing (like Curveball) for their supper.
    They should ask Juval Aviv for information in the next investigation.


  11. Mr.Murder says:

    This is criminal, and not far removed from the regime change schemers of the prior administration.
    The people who inserted forgeries into the discussion. Remember those uranium shipments through Libya from Niger, anybody?
    Military action? Really? You know the rhetoric and policy will drive oil prices through the roof. You are melting our economy down as a side effect of playing Po-lice to the world.
    Not to mention the gutting of state budgets for deficit trimming to continue funding contra style puppets in every place that doesn’t suit corporate governance at this time.


  12. Don Bacon says:

    Why is the US default position always to use the military? How about considering what the locals want?
    news report:
    “A spokesman for the new National Libyan Council, which formed in the eastern city of Benghazi after it was taken by anti-Gaddafi forces, said his group did not want any foreign intervention.”
    The reasons the Libya rebels don


  13. Kotzabasis says:

    In the critical situation that besets Libya to indulge in


  14. questions says:

    Thanks for the statement. It clarifies the profound difficulty of having to witness history (even if the US has had something of a quiet hand in encouraging this history to happen). There are numerous calls for us to DO SOMETHING and yet there’s just not a lot we can do aside from more, or sometimes less, quietly calling for no bloodshed, and hoping that the good guys win, even when we can’t necessarily determine who the good guys will be when the dust settles.
    The very people who often want the US disengaged simultaneously want the US to DO THINGS. Neither position can hold for all cases, and the admin is walking a fine line towards an uncertain future. A misstep could really cause problems for insurgents/protesters or for future relations with whoever comes out on top.
    The one certainty is that we will share the planet still with anyone who isn’t killed in the struggles.
    And one near certainty is that the contagion effects are vast and will take quite some time to work their way through space and time. The admin needs to pace its responses as we have no idea how many groups and countries and regions are going to feel the ripple effects.
    Whodathunk Wisconsin would be one of the results?


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