The Illogic of a No-Fly Zone for Libya

One thing to watch in the evolving no-fly zone debate is how the Arab League and African Union approach the question.  That’s because unless a no-fly zone receives their backing, it would be next to impossible to expect the Security Council to support it.

In the meantime, no one seems to be questioning the logic of a no-fly zone for Libya. It is pretty much assumed the a no-fly zone would help.

I don’t quite see how.

Even if effectively enforced, all a no-fly zone could do is prevent Libyan jet fighters from strafing rebel positions. It would not stop tanks from firing on city squares, or mercenaries from opening fire on demonstrators with their Kalashnikovs. Apparently, it could not even prevent helicopters from launching attacks.

No-fly zones don’t have great track records as a form of humanitarian intervention. A no-fly zone over Bosnia did not stop the Serbs from shelling Sarejevo. It did not stop Srebrenica from happening.  The expulsion of Kosovar Albanians actually accelerated while there was an effective no-fly zone over Kosovo.

What proponents of a no-fly zone think will be different this time around?

The point is, as I have been saying over and over again, if stopping Qaddafi from massacring his people is your primary objective, a no-fly zone is a fig leaf of a response.  So far, most of the human rights abuses have occurred on the ground. Not by air. A no fly zone will do little to stop Qaddafi loyalists from attacking their opponents using the other means and it is not strong enough to actually dislodge Qaddafi from power.

If the point of a no-fly zone is to level the playing field so that the rebels can more easily defeat Qaddafi loyalists, a no fly zone still makes little sense.  Wouldn’t a lower cost way of going about that simply be launching missile attacks on loyalist military targets? Or, as John Kerry put it “crater” their airfields?

I understand the allure of a no-fly zone. It has the appearance of decisive military intervention with out the apparent costs. But if military intervention is what is called for (and I am still unconvinced) it would make more sense to do so in a way that would be decisive.

A no fly zone carries all the political risks of military intervention, but without the intended benefits.

Can someone convince me otherwise?