Apparently, NATO is stepping up pressure on the Libyan government’s strongholds with aerial attacks and psychological warfare operations, dropping leaflets and broadcasting messages to troops loyal to Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi asking them “to return to their barracks and homes.” And Col. Gadhafi now stands accused of “crimes against humanity,” after the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo asked judges on Monday to issue indictments.
Canada, whose warplanes along with those of other NATO allies are bombing targets in Libya, welcomed the call for arrest warrants against Col. Gadhafi. “Canada continues to support the ICC in its efforts to ensure that justice is served,” the Harper government said in a Foreign Affairs statement.
The question, therefore, must be asked: how far should NATO and Canada go in order to oust Col. Gadhafi? As a member of NATO and the UN, Canada perhaps has an obligation to stand with its allies and support the rebels. Should we, though, support what appears to be an escalation in the NATO mission without fully understanding the nature of the rebels?
Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Sunday Canadian Forces are focused on protecting civilians as part of the UN Security Council resolution guiding the Libyan mission. And, apparently, Canada has no intention of sending more planes or expanding its role in Libya, despite calls from Britain’s top military official, Gen. Sir David Richards, for an increase in military action to end the conflict—Gen. Richards told Britain’s Sunday Telegraph that NATO needs to broaden its targets to include Libyan infrastructure to force Gadhafi from power.
As I see it, Canada has very little in the way of vital national interest in Libya. There is, however, the principle of promoting democracy that could be said to justify our actions there. And, of course, the UN resolution lends legitimacy to us inserting our military in Libya’s civil war. But when we look back at past involvements in civil wars by outsiders, there is much cause for caution.
For one thing, just who is it that we are helping, and what do we expect will be the resolution to the conflict? So what if we force Col. Gadhafi from power, who will replace him? Will it be the rebel leaders who we believe have been oppressed and victimized by Col. Gadhafi’s regime? What evidence do we have that they’ll be any less oppressive to their opposition once we pave the way for them to take power? Who’s to say we will not be opening the door to the same sort of human rights violations we have seen before? And as important, are we setting the stage for a situation whereby we must commit to several years of military involvement in Libya to guarantee the rebels hold on power?
Other NATO members, like Britain and France, are frightened of the repercussions of unrest in Libya, and they see justification in sending their sons and daughters to a foreign country to protect their oil interests. They seem to believe that if they help the rebels to win, oil from Libya will flow to them.
But how justified is this belief? Civil wars are tricky propositions at the best of times—their outcomes uncertain. Readers may recall that when Western nations sent troops to Kosovo to protect people from the genocidal Serbs, they discovered that victory only paved the way for corrupt leaders to make that country a hub for the international drug trade. Once the conflict there was over, the very people the West protected committed atrocities similar to that of their former oppressors.
Moreover, I have growing concerns about the commitment to the Libyan campaign of other Arab countries, which have not taken much of a part in military strikes against Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s forces. Although Arab leaders back the operation publicly, most have yet to commit their extensive military assets, many appearing more concerned with suppressing unrest in their own countries—in some cases acting much as Col. Gadhafi has. Without their active engagement in the campaign, it looks like yet another attack by the West on an Arab nation.
Even if we get a satisfactory military outcome from the Libyan campaign, will we lose the public relations war and have one more perceived wrong to be exploited by militant Islamists here at home? Without the appearance of active involvement by Arab states, I see this as an unfortunate, even if unintended, consequence of the conflict.
I do hope our leaders know where to draw the line regarding our commitment, and that they have the courage to do so, regardless of pressure from our European allies, who at times seemed hard-pressed to help us in Afghanistan.