US President Barack Obama agreed with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy that NATO would play a key role in further enforcement of the no-fly zone in Libya.
NATO has so far been viewed as a military commander-in-chief only, as several alliance members like Turkey or the Arab League will scarcely acknowledge the organization as a political leader in Libya’s operation, France pointed out.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the foreign ministers of all the countries taking part in military action in Libya will hold a meeting in next few days to create an effective political structure for operations.
“Once we have this political structure… we will naturally use the planning and intervention capacities of NATO,” he said as cited by Reuters.
The UK is volunteering to take the interim role of political leader to steer the coalition’s steps in Libya before the designated structure comes into being.
NATO conceded its session on Tuesday to enforce an arms embargo on Libya. NATO warships will start patrolling the Libyan coast on Wednesday with this mission.
The organization has also finalized plans to enforce UN-sanctioned no-fly zone, if required. However, the plan did not “take into account the political reality of having to reach agreement on whether to execute it,” said a NATO official.
The UN Security Council will discuss the latest developments in Libya in its Thursday session.
There can be no talk about any humanitarian mission in Libya, says Barah Mikail, an expert on Middle East, the coalition just uses it as a pretext to interfere in the Libyan crisis. But the confusion inside the coalition itself is so great that it is yet too early to estimate the operation as successful. Much depends on who will gain control over the events.
“Even though we talk more and more about NATO, we should not forget that the essential struggle from the diplomatic and military point of view is whether the United States or France will be able to take the lead. The essential point of what is going on is the struggle between the US on the one hand and Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy much specifically, on the other”, says Mikail.
Despite Washington’s rhetoric of reducing the US presence in the Middle East country, Mikail does not believe that the US’s role in the operation will diminish.
“The US won’t allow any other country and especially France to take the lead”, says Mikail. “The US would prefer NATO to take the lead of this operation – because by connecting NATO to Libya they will be the first ones to tell NATO how to do things and how to work on the ground.”
NATO has found itself in a tight place over the Libyan crisis, says Russia’s Permanent Representative to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, as nobody wished to accept the responsibility of continuing the military operation in the Middle East country. “Everyone realizes that it will be quite impossible to bring Gaddafi down without a mission on the ground,” Rogozin was cited as saying by RIA Novosti news agency. Attacking Gaddafi’s forces with air-strikes “will not help to achieve the goal, as all these forces have long ago relocated to towns and cities, so civilian casualties will be inevitable.”
“This is a stalemate situation, from NATO’s point of view” Rogozin says. “Yesterday a decision was taken for the bloc to enforce at least one point of the UN Security Council’s resolution – imposing arm supplies embargo on Libya, which rather resembles a naval blockade.”
Coalition under fire for civilian deaths
The international community is quickly growing diverse in the estimates of the “Odyssey Dawn” operation results. In contrast to US and France’s positive comments, Turkey has said the air strikes in Libya have already gone beyond what had been sanctioned by the UN Security Council. Russia and China are calling for an immediate ceasefire in the country by all the forces involved into the conflict.
“We are against excessive use of military force, and we are against the exacerbation of the humanitarian crisis, and we are against even greater casualties among civilians,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman was cited as saying by the Associated Press.
Washington sought to untangle itself from the Libyan crisis cobweb, with President Barack Obama announcing on Tuesday that the US has significantly reduced the number of military flights over Libya. He also added that the control of all the military operations in Libya will be transferred to the international coalition within a few days.
US intentions were confirmed by the US Defense Secretary Robert Gates during his visit to Moscow. Gates had to back up Washington’s continuous assaults on Libya, which resulted in civilian casualties, in response to sharp criticism from his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov. Serdyukov called for an immediate cease-fire by both Libya and coalition forces in order to prevent any further civilian deaths.
“We urge all belligerent parties to do their best to stop the violence,” Serdyukov said. “We believe that only a ceasefire and a dialogue between the belligerent parties would be the surest way to” ensure the security of civilians.
The Libyan crisis will also be included on the agenda of the Russia-NATO session in late March, where it will be discussed at the ambassador level.
Former British intelligence officer Annie Machon believes that the roots of the differences within the coalition lie in the long-standing inconsistency of Western policy towards Libya.
“With Colonel Gaddafi being a historical enemy of the west for many, many decades, suddenly he has been brought back into the international fold. There were lots of oil contracts and business contracts flowing out of Libya towards places like the US, the UK and France and Italy,” she said.
“So, I think, they [the west] were torn for a long time and it is only really over the last weekend that they did a bit of a rush job to take the violence to the next stage and protect the rebels that they have been backing secretly for a couple of decades in the east of Libya,” she added. “Different aims from different countries; different vested interests within Libya of the different countries, and also different histories are all playing a part in this model.”