Let’s be honest; this is an incredibly sensitive subject. Protestors rebelling against the repressive Gaddafi regime are dying every day in Libya, and at first glance it appears that anything which might prevent bloodshed would be welcome.
Bitter experience, however, suggests that there is a tremendous risk that international intervention will sour the situation even further, preventing self-determination and creating as many problems as it resolves. In the wake of disastrous invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the prospect of a UK/US/France-led coalition maintaining a focus on the well-being of the Libyan populace rather than on the country’s wealth of natural resources seems slim.
Of course, Nato has now taken over control of enforcing the no-fly zone. At the time of writing, however, air strikes and ground attacks against Gaddafi still appear to be a free-for-all. Despite efforts to prevent civilian deaths as a result of such offensives, it is inevitable that they occur. It’s debatable, then, whether coalition-led military intervention is having any positive impact, or whether it’s merely contributing to the chaos and horror of the situation.
Defence secretary Liam Fox has commented that an assassination of Gaddafi is “potentially a possibility”. Doubtless it would be a relief to millions to see him removed from power. An assassination undertaken by foreign powers, however, risks creating a power vacuum and disempowering the people of Libya precisely when they need to be finding their own way. It seems incredible that those in government have such short memories that they have apparently forgotten the disastrous consequences of simply excising a corrupt and dictatorial leader from his throne without addressing the deeper issues within a country.
All of which leads to another concern: the simple arrogance of western governments in assuming the authority to intervene unilaterally in the struggles of another nation. Imagine for a moment that England found itself in the throes of a violent revolution. Would we welcome troops and airstrikes from Libya (assuming that they were available, of course)?
The challenges in Libya are huge, and there is every possibility that many more people will lose their lives before those challenges can be resolved. If our assistance can be of genuine value, let it be given freely. If, on the other hand, we seek to prevent disorder by military means, we deprive the Libyan people of the dignity of their struggle, and of the hope that they will reach a genuine freely-wrought resolution.