Big Decision Day for Libya No Fly Zone in the Security Council

If I were a betting man, I would wager that the Security Council passes a resolution authorizing a no-fly zone for Libya. Probably today.  Among the permanent five, the French are particularly adamant that the Council adopt a no-fly zone resolution. Nicolas Sarkozy even penned a missive to the Security Council’s other heads of state, saying:

It is high time for the international community, through the Security Council, to pull together in order to draw the logical conclusions from this situation and respond without delay to the urgent appeal of the League of Arab States. For this purpose, Lebanon has circulated a draft resolution.

France solemnly calls on all the members of the Security Council to fully shoulder their responsibilities and give support to this initiative.

Together, we can save the martyred people of Libya. It is now a matter of days, if not hours. The worst would be that the appeal of the League of the Arab States and the Security Council decisions be overruled by the force of arms.

The Americans seem supportive, though not quite as enthusiastic as France or the UK. But perhaps the most important fact is that there is strong support for such a resolution among the Arab League, with Council member Lebanon championing the cause.   This makes it very hard for Russia or China to block the resolution.  At this point, I see them abstaining or voting for it.

But passing a resolution authorizing a no-fly zone resolution is not the same thing as implementing the resolution.  The big question I have is: who will do it?  Will the French? Will France turn to NATO?  NATO, keep in mind, operates by consensus and at least one NATO member (Germany) has expressed strong reservations for the idea.  If NATO can’t do it as NATO, what about its member states? Does France have the capacity to lead this?  And how would other countries, particularly from the Arab world, participate? Their participation is a political sin qua non. But which countries?  Egypt? Saudi Arabia? (Or are they too busy suppressing revolt in Bahrain?)

And what about the United States? Presumably, the USA would have to play some sort of logistical role, at the very least.  But the Americans are not quite as gung-ho for a no-fly zone as France. In fact, speaking to reporters outside the Security Council chambers yesterday, Ambassador Rice acknowledged one big flaw in the No-Fly Zone proposal: that it may not actually protect civilians.

We are discussing very seriously and leading efforts in the Council around a range of actions that we believe could be effective in protecting civilians.  Those include discussion of a no-fly zone. But the U.S. view is that we need to be prepared to contemplate steps that include, but perhaps go beyond, a no-fly zone at this point, as the situation on the ground has evolved, and as a no-fly zone has inherent limitations in terms of protection of civilians at immediate risk. [emphasis mine]

Incidentally, this jives with the theme of this New York Times piece, which includes several blind quotes from administration officials who worry that a no-fly zone may be too little, too late.  But, on the other hand, don’t really want to get too involved in military intervention in Libya.

Still, if the USA votes for the Security Council resolution, presumably they would have some responsibility to see it enforced.

Also, it is still worth examining the logic of the no-fly zone which is 1) that the show of force alone will either be enough to convince Qaddafi to sue for peace;  or 2) that it would level the playing field giving the anti-Qaddafi forces a fighting chance.

If I were making the decisions at the White House, I would be willing to test these premises only in so far as the United States does not have to take lead the lead.  Because if these premises turn out to be false, the next logical step is to intervene more forcefully on behalf of one side of a civil war. I cannot imagine that is something for which there is much appetite in Washington.