What Are The Coalition’s Goals In Libya?

With the Coalition’s air attacks against Gaddafi’s forces well into their second day, experts, pundits, and policymakers around the world are debating what is the eventual goal of the operation in Libya: regime change or protecting civilians.

Bryan McGrath argues that the operation is a “’No Fly Zone’ in Name Only”. Instead of simply trying to enforce a no-fly zone, argues McGrath, the air strikes are an attempt to achieve air superiority — eliminating Gaddafi’s air force in preparation for possibly providing the rebels with air support on the battlefield. Patterson School professor Robert Farley agrees and points out “the establishment of air supremacy requires attacks against Libyan air defenses and against Libyan airbases, which are not necessarily part of a no fly zone”. If this is the case, it is a sign that the goal of the operation is the eventual toppling of the Gaddafi regime.

Others disagree, claiming that the goal of the mission is about protecting civilians, not regime change. Rodger A. Payne posits that rhetoric from policymakers, who in statements to press often merge the two, has not helped the confusion about the operation’s purpose. Payne argues that a better way of framing the operation would be in terms of responsible to protect (R2P), the concept in international relationships stating that the global community has an obligation to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. Writing on TheAtlantic.com, Johns Hopkins lecturer Daniel Serwer takes the more pragmatic position, arguing debate between regime change and protecting civilians is, in his words “a distinction without a difference”. Serwer points out that even if the goal of the mission is only to protect civilians; Gaddafi’s behavior has made removing him from power likely the only method of doing so.