"Military options" against Libya: gunboat diplomacy or real possibility?



Various declarations and statement in the last days highlighted the increased chances of a Western military intervention in Libya. Thus, three questions need to be carefully examined:



-          Is the military intervention threat a part of a “Psy-war ops”, in other terms, a kind of modern gunboat diplomacy or a real option?



-          If this is a real option, what form is the most likely it would take?



-          Which nation will participate in a possible action?




A)    “Military means” were already used in the Libyan crisis



First of all it must be underlined that “military means” were already utilised by Western countries in the current crisis: British and German military planes grounded in the Libyan desert to evacuate expatriates working on the oil fields and the personal of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli as well as one hundreds other foreigners were evacuated by a U.S. military plane during the last week-end. In those operations, limited units of Special Forces were deployed on the ground to protect the planes, the crews and the civilians.



A British newspaper revealed that U.K. Special Forces were “assisting” the evacuation of oil workers and were ready to conduct ground operations to drive them out of the country[1]. It was also revealed that at least one British aircraft  has been shot and suffered minor damage during one of those evacuations.



But the use of military force on a larger scale is now openly discussed.


Officials from the U.S. Pentagon and army said on February 28 that President Barack Obama was willing to “have all the options on the table”, including the military ones. And a spokesman for the U.S. Marines Corps, Col. Dave Lapan said the U.S. military “is in the planning and preparing mode” on Libya[2].



On the same Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Common that the U.K. needed” to plan for every eventuality”.



Last but not least, The European Council President, Mr Herman Van Rompuy and the E.U. foreign policy chief, Mrs catherine Ashton announced the European Union would hold a summit to draw a “common answer” to the Libyan political and humanitarian crisis.







B)    Gunboat Policy



Those rumours and statements already provoked strong reactions. U.S. Defence secretary Robert Gates told an audience in West Point U.S. Military Academy, last Friday that “any future Defence Secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle east or Africa should have his head examined[3]. Robert Gates was quoting general McArthur and he didn’t directly evoke the case of Libya but it sounded as a warning against any adventure there.



It must also be said that Turkish PM Recep Erdogan firmly rejected a NATO intervention in Libya[4]. This will obviously complicate everything inside the North Atlantic Alliance.



On March 1st, after having repeated for several days that a “no fly zone” was not discussed between the members of Security Council, Russian Foreign Minister, Mr Sergei Lavrov, said this idea was “superfluous”. This could make difficult to reach a common position in the Security Council and obtain the “legal cover” for a military action. Especially if China joins the opposition and use its veto against a possible intervention resolution.



It is clear also that, for the moment, most opposition leaders and probably most Libyan citizen are strongly opposed to any western military intervention. All the statements and all the Twitter and other information fluxes ESISC analyzed those last days are extremely clear on this point.



So, it is clear that all this noise participates mainly – at the current step – in a kind of Psychological warfare, a declination of the old gunboat diplomacy. To speak about a possible military intervention send a clear signal to both the Gaddafi regime - “you time is over” - and to the opposition: “we support you”.





C)    If it goes military: what?



But if the crisis increases, if the humanitarian situation dramatically degrades and/or if colonel Gaddafi decides to use WMD (as the gas mustard[5]), the military option could be the only one the international community is left with.



So, if a military operation is needed, what form will it take?



The first level would be the use of limited military means avoiding any confrontation with local forces and direct involvement in the crisis.



-          In this case, the first and more likely option would be a military support for humanitarian operations at the borders of Libya, in Tunisia and Egypt, with the possible use of military teams, planes and helicopter to enter Libya and evacuate wounded civilians.



-          A second possibility would be the targeted use of highly trained Special Forces teams to “search and rescue” pilots of military aircraft or helicopters gunned down and/or to extract expatriates blocked in the middle of gunfire.



At a superior level, a direct involvement of military forces against Libyan loyal forces could be envisaged.



-          This would probably result in the imposition of a no-fly zone and/or destruction of Libyan airplanes on the grounds



-          Other option: the use of radio-electric and intelligent tools to disrupt Gaddafi’s communications systems and capacity and break the command chain.



The last option, which is clearly the less likely would be a massive involvement of ground troops on the Libyan soil. This would clearly be the last and most dangerous choice and we don’t see any possibility for that choice in the foreseeable future.





D)    If it goes military: Who?



If a military operation is needed, whatever its level would be, it will very likely be under a United Nations mandate, with limited forces and time.



President Barack Obama was seeking an international consensus on the military options but the U.S. officials say now that “only the U.S. could lead” such an option[6].



Since days, now, U.S. forces were redeployed around Libya and Washington has an aircraft carrier strike group, an amphibious landing vessel, Marines and helicopters in the Red Sea.



Canada is said to have already deployed a reconnaissance team in Malta and Canadian Special Forces are said to be “ready for deployment”.



A participation of the U.K. is possible as the Royal Air Force has a military base in Malta.


France could participate in an action but will only do it under the cover of the U.N., the new Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said.



[1] The Daily Telegraph, February 25, 2011.


[2] American Forces Press Service, February 28, 2011.


[3] The New York Times, February 25, 2011.

[4] Zaman, February 28, 2011.

[5] The regime is said to detain at least 14 tons of chemical products needed to  create mustard gas.

[6] The New York Times, March 1st, 2011.


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