1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Too much of a gamble

March 19, 2011

The international community has launched military action against Gadhafi at the special summit in Paris. But Bernd Riegert, head of Deutsche Welle's Europe desk, says the decision is based on too many unknowns.


By beginning to attack targets in Libya, the international coalition, led by France, is embarking on a dangerous adventure.

The troops of the Libyan dictator will not be defeated by a few occasional air strikes. They could simply withdraw and, if necessary, wait for weeks, besieging Benghazi or turning off the water supply.

Moammar Gadhafi controls 80 percent of Libya, and has all the necessary resources. If the coalition is not prepared to destroy Gadhafi's entire air defense and air force with massive air strikes, they won't be able to do much to actually enforce a no-fly zone.

But in the US, the inclination to get involved on a large scale isn't very great. Obama has explicitly ruled out the use of ground troops and a longer commitment.

It's not clear what they hope to achieve with the military action. If it's about protecting civilians from Gadhafi, the coalition would have to engage in a month-long attack. For Gaddafi has time, he can wait.

Bernd Riegert
Bernd Riegert, head of the Europe deskImage: DW

Intervention from the outside only makes sense if it aims to remove Gadhafi's regime. To that end, it would be necessary to carry out deliberate and massive strikes against the government facilities in Tripoli and the suspected whereabouts of Gadhafi.

Without a regime change, there will be no lasting and stable solution in Libya. The summit participants in Paris have, at least in public, ruled out the goal of regime change, which is not covered by the UN resolution.

What also applies to this war is: If you go into it, you need to know how and when you can end the fight. I fear that the coalition has become involved in this civil war, despite the lessons of the Balkan wars, the Iraq wars and the Somalia fiasco, but perhaps with pure intentions. It's not clear how it's going to end.

Therefore, the German Government has made the right decision not to participate in the military conflict - even if European unity had to be sacrificed for this. Giving the French President, who is under domestic pressure, the lead role is also not the best solution. Sarkozy is prone to impulsive decisions.

If the coalition is very lucky, then the unpredictable Libyan ruler Gadhafi will agree to a cease-fire and comply with the United Nations.

If they are unlucky, the incalculable, psychopathic Gadhafi will threaten with weapons of mass destruction.

Are France and Italy prepared for a Gadhafi, who has been backed into a corner, to send his bombers to attack Naples or Marseilles? He has already made these kinds of threats.

If the actions of the coalition require many civilian casualties in Libya, the favorable public opinion in the coalition and in the Arab world will rapidly tip - against the coalition.

A dangerous adventure with an uncertain outcome has begun.

Author: Bernd Riegert (nd)
Editor: Andreas Illmer