The patiently secured UN and Arab League approval for action is only the first stage of this affair. No-one can be sure where this will all end. However, it is worrying that the Arab League now seems to be at odds with NATO over the military operations.
I believe it is of critical importance as this campaign progresses that we do not alienate Arab League opinion as there is already profound distrust of the West (and in particular the US and UK) within this region. Many of these sovereign Arab states may trade openly with us, but they only do so out of necessity. We have an incredibly long and tough path ahead at restoring credibility and trust amongst these alienated states especially after our interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past decade.
There is also a compelling argument that we would perhaps be wisest to leave it to the Arab League to enforce the No-Fly Zone – the fact is that they have the military hardware and know-how, which nations from the West have sold them in the past.
The glaring difficulty is that it is nigh-on impossible to see how the UN’s stated objectives under Resolution 1973 can be achieved without the brutal dictator Gaddafi being ousted. Yet ‘regime change’ per se would be illegal under international law and Gaddafi has over these past 42 years proved himself a great survivor. More worryingly still, many of the most likely successors to this regime have either been murdered or forced into exile. The terrible, if unpalatable, truth is that Gaddafi still enjoys substantial popular support in Libya.
If he remains as leader of Libya for many years to come the international community risks being sucked into a bloody, prolonged civil war. So the key question that we need to ask is this: what exactly constitutes success for the Allied Forces in this latest military adventure?
We should also recognise the humanitarian crisis that is already in the making. The unrest in Libya over recent weeks has already led hundreds, maybe thousands, to flee across the Mediterranean and seek refuge in Italy and Malta, for example. I fear a prolonged conflict in which the UN and NATO play their part will turn this trickle into a flood. We must be aware of our continuing obligations insofar as our military action results in a humanitarian catastrophe. This sobering thought should temper the enthusiasm with which many politicians and commentators have heralded the commencement of military action this weekend.