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Unclear goals

March 25, 2011

NATO has agreed to take over command of Libyan operations. But Deutsche Welle's Daniel Scheschkewitz says it is increasingly unclear what the mission wants to achieve.


It's NATO after all: the North Atlantic military alliance is taking control of the international military operations aimed at enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya as authorized by UN Security Council last week. In the interim, lengthy internal debate had brought the alliance close to a split - which shows how divided the international community is over the purpose of this mission.

Originally, the Security Council's mandate derived from the declared intention to protect the civilian population in eastern Libya from the deadly attacks by Gadhafi's fighter airplanes. Meanwhile, the military intervention threatens to escalate into a long, dirty war that could again discredit the west in the Arab world.

American, British and French troops have by now destroyed Gadhafi's airforce - it is no longer a threat to the rebels in the east of the country. But the tyrant is still safely holed up in some bunker, giving orders to his well-paid ground forces in the secure knowledge that time is his most important ally. The longer the allied troops bomb the capital Tripoli, the bigger the danger of them killing men, women and children -- Libyan civilians, the very people the mission aims to protect. The mission's morally desirable humanitarian aim threatens to fade into the background.

Daniel Scheschkewitz
What are the long-term political consequences, Daniel Scheschkewitz asks.Image: DW

Now, the mission's actual goal seems to be Gadhafi's political disempowerment. But the UN Security Council has not issued a mandate for such an intrusion into the political sovereignty of an independent state. For good reason. Wouldn't Syria or Yemen be next on the list of countries to bomb then? There, faltering regimes also opened fire on dissident demonstrators. The limits of military missions with a humanitarian definition have so far not been clearly specified nor can the long-term political repercussions be gauged. How much longer will the Arab League support the international mission if NATO makes it an anti-Gadhafi war?

Politically speaking, it makes sense for the US and Britain to pass on command to the transatlantic alliance. But the fact that commanders now wear a different hat changes little in the military mission.

The revolution in Libya has been stagnating and the limited military mission has taken sides in a civil war. As much as people may desire the rebels' success, it is becoming more and more evident that the country's division is more likely than a total victory. Ultimately, NATO would also have to protect a rebel protectorate in eastern Libya - with all the military consequences.

You're always wiser with hindsight - but Germany's doubts about this mission didn't come out of thin air und could, in the long term, prove to be justified.

Author: Daniel Scheschkewitz / db
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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