Nato intervention in Libya: costs and prospects for the future – By Edward Kannyo
Seven months into the Libyan Civil War, the NATO-Rebel Alliance is on the way to the successful overthrow of the Gaddafi regime. Continued bombardment of Gaddafi forces, tactical advice and coordination, seizure of government assets abroad and the military blockade of Tripoli have increasingly made it impossible for the regime to deal with its domestic enemies and defend territory. In retrospect, without air cover, the Gaddafi forces have been sitting ducks in the gun sights of the rebels’ NATO allies who are now directly intervening in ground fighting. The key question to consider now is the costs and implications of this foreign intervention for the re-establishment of peace in Libya and the impact on international relations.
By Edward Kannyo – Rochester Institute of Technology, College of Liberal Arts
The conflict has created a massive humanitarian disaster for millions of Libyans and foreigners who had lived in the country as guest workers. It has been estimated that of the 1.2 million people who have fled Libya since the rebellion, more than 600,000 were resident migrant workers. Nationals of more prosperous countries were evacuated relatively quickly and in tolerable conditions. African migrants from neighboring countries such as Chad, Mali, Niger, Sudan and, further away, Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea, have had the most difficult time getting out. It is significant to note that NATO ignored the call for a pause in hostilities issued in May by the head of the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Baroness Valerie Amos, for the purpose of easing the humanitarian crisis. The response was more bombardment of Tripoli.
According to a report issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at the end of May, there were about 4,000 migrant workers and refugees stranded on the Tunisian-Libyan border and some 36,000 people from Misrata and the Nafusa Mountains were internally displaced. An estimated 50,000 refugees whose countries were affected by internal conflict remained in Libya; just over 1,000 were stranded on the Egyptian border. Of the refugees who have fled by boat towards the Italian island of Lampedusa, up to 1, 2000 were “unaccounted for”. 
In June, the International Organization for Migration reported that thousands of stranded migrants, including large numbers of women and children, were in desperate need of food, water, shelter and medical assistance after having spent many weeks living in the open in the southern Libyan Desert. They were mainly Chadians and Nigeriens seeking to return home. More than 75,000 Nigeriens and others had managed to enter Niger since the outbreak of the civil war. The combined number of returnees in both countries is estimated to be 160,000. The economic and social burden on these very poor states is not hard to imagine.
At the end of June, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) reported that up to 4,000 migrant refugees, the majority from Sub-Saharan Africa were stranded in Tunisia; some 18,000 had landed onto Italian shores by boat. However, more than 1,800 men, women and children never made it and were presumed drowned on the perilous crossing. In Italy and Tunisia, refugees and asylum seekers were confined in camps and transit centers and limited in terms of freedom of movement. These conditions of confinement were producing negative impacts on mental and physical health of the most vulnerable, especially unaccompanied minors, children, pregnant women and victims of torture, violence or human trafficking.
Like other aspects of the civil war, civilian and military casualties have been subject to propaganda and manipulation by the belligerents. Some estimates range between 2,000 and 13,000. By June, over 200,000 Libyans had become internally displaced. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there were 94,000 such people in the East; 49,000 in Tripoli and Zlitan and 100,000 in the Nafusa region. In July, the country’s Prosecutor General stated that NATO bombing had killed over 1,000 and wounded up to 4,000. According to the Tripoli Government, up to 85 civilians, including 33 children, were killed by NATO bombardments on the outskirts of the capital on August 9, 2011.
In a report issued at the end of July, UN humanitarian agencies stated that they had identified areas of the Tripoli where residents urgently needed humanitarian assistance, including medical treatment for injuries caused by the war. The health sector was under strain due to the flight of thousands of foreign workers and medical supplies were running low. Other medical issues included the severe psychological impact of the violence, particularly on children and women. Major concerns included increasing fuel shortage and reduced availability of cash.
Perhaps even more serious has been the damage to the fragile structures of international law and global peace. Using the fig leaf of a Security Council resolution ostensibly authorizing the protection of Libyan civilians against a putative impending massacre by regime forces, US, British, French and allied forces have carried out a deadly campaign to overthrow the Gaddafi regime in clear violation of the UN Charter. This action continues the post-Cold War history of disdain for international law highlighted by the illegal US-led war against Iraq.
One of the ugliest aspects of the NATO intervention has been the flagrant violation of the rules of war, particularly attacks on civilians and civilian installations. Homes of Gaddafi relatives and senior officials have been bombed. Other targets have included installations such as the television centre and the airport in Tripoli. The grim irony is that these atrocities are justified in the name of “defending civilians against attacks by Gaddafi forces”.
A related issue is the violation of the (at least) tacit prohibition of the assassination of foreign leaders and government of officials. NATO forces continue to seek ways to kill Gaddafi and have already slain one of his sons and a couple of grandchildren. More recently other individuals associated with the regime have been killed in targeted assaults.
Another casualty of the Libyan Civil War is the International Criminal Court (ICC) that has sadly shown itself to be a pliable instrument of Western states– including the United States which, ironically, refuses to ratify the Rome Statute. While the ICC has indicted Gaddafi and some of his close associates on charges of “crimes against humanity”, there is no indication that it has extended its focus to the peoples of Yemen, Bahrain, or Syria. One could add a few other candidates for ICC indictment such as the leaders of Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma) and even Thailand whose governments have engaged in bloody repression of their political opponents. Can anyone doubt that the indictment is part of the NATO campaign against Gaddafi?
African leaders and commentators have not been oblivious to the selective conduct of the ICC. The most recent Summit Meeting of the African Union that assembled in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea in May criticized the Tribunal’s decisions regarding President Bashir of Sudan and Muammar Gaddafi on the grounds that they obstructed the organization’s efforts to find political solutions in both countries. The organization has effectively rejected the legitimacy of the ICC arrest warrants.
The emerging role of the African Union (AU) as a mediator in the region’s conflicts has also suffered a setback. NATO leaders and their allies have brushed aside the organization’s efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution of the Libyan conflict. The “Road Map” that was adopted by its Peace and Security Council on March 10, 2011 called for negotiations towards a ceasefire, a transitional period during which reforms would be undertaken and democratic elections held “to enable the Libyan people to freely choose their leaders”. It is worth noting that Security Council Resolution 1973 that is the ostensible basis for the NATO intervention actually endorsed the efforts of the AU when it “noted” the decision of its Peace and Security Council to send its Ad Hoc High Level Committee to Libya “with the aim of facilitating dialogue to lead to the political reforms necessary to find a peaceful and sustainable solution” (Operative Paragraph 2).
The AU reiterated its political approach to the resolution of the conflict during its Summit Meeting. The resolution on Libya affirmed the organization’s conviction that “only a political solution will make it possible to fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people and preserve the unity and territorial integrity of the country”.
NATO, Turkey, Arab and European states organized in the “Libya Contact Group” have rebuffed the AU’s peacemaking efforts. Nevertheless, they continue to pay lip service to the relevance of the organization. In a communiqué issued following the Group’s July meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, they stated that they “welcomed the involvement of the African Union as a regional organization in international efforts towards ending the crisis in Libya through a political solution” and “encouraged” it to pursue its “constructive efforts.” It would not be unreasonable to interpret these remarks as nothing more than a bone thrown to the African organization to keep it from protesting too much against the casual rejection of its peace proposals.
It is evident that both the insurgents and the Gaddafi regime have substantial support in the country. Most of the media reports on the war have concentrated on the coastal and northwestern region where most of the Libyans live. Very little has come out of the vast southern Fezzan region that borders Southern Algeria, Niger, Chad and Sudan. Since there is no obvious way to tell which side the majority of the people support, a national referendum on the regime jointly supervised by the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union and, possibly, the Arab League would have been a logical necessary step to take after a ceasefire. Whatever the outcome, there would have been an urgent need for political and legal institutional reform to provide for peaceful and inclusive social, economic and political processes that reflect the country’s culture and historical experience.
The anti-Gaddafi rebel’s human rights record raises serious questions about the prospects for the security of those they regard as enemies if and when NATO eases them into power. Since the uprising in Benghazi, there have been widespread reports of rebel lynchings, including beheadings of African immigrant workers accused of being “mercenaries, the ethnic cleansing of Black Libyans in Misrata and attacks on people and property belong to people believed to be Gaddafi loyalists in the Western Nafusa Mountains. The recent assassination of Abdul Fatah Younes at the end of July by what appears to be an Islamist faction of the rebel confederacy points to the likelihood of violent conflict among the insurgents once they seize power.
The aphorism “You break it, you own it” has been attributed to former US Secretary of State Colin Powell and is increasingly becoming relevant to the NATO military involvement in the Libyan civil war. Have the US, British, French and allied leaders considered the logistics and costs of economic and political reconstruction in the wake of the destructive war? How will they prevent the likely revenge killings and ethnic or even racial cleansing? Given the economic investment in the conflict, one would expect that they would want to have a big say in the post-war political and economic order in Libya. Will they achieve it without “boots on the ground” or will they drag in the UN to clean up after them while pulling the political strings behind a screen of Security Council resolutions and mainstream media public relations?
 “Humanitarian Situation in Libya and the Neighbouring Countries,” (Update No. 26), May 27, 2011.
 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “Humanitarian Situation in Libya and the Neighbouring Countries”, Update No. 29, (15 June 2011).
 UN News Centre, “Libya: UN Mission to Tripoli Finds “Areas in Urgent Need of Humanitarian Aid”, 25 July 2011.
 Assembly/AU/Dec. 365 (XVII).
 African Union, “Decision on the Situation in Libya,” Assembly/AU/Dec. 369 (XVII), Paragraph 27 and Assembly/AU/Dec.385(XVII) Paragraph 3.
 Chair’s Statement, Fourth Meeting of the Libya Contact Group, Istanbul 15 July 2011, Paragraph 9.