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Thursday
Jun302011

Giving Weapons to the Libyan Rebels

Yesterday France confirmed that it supplied the Libyan weapons with arms.  So much we already new through numerous witness reports on the ground in Nafusa, many of which noted that the newly-built runway near Jadu had been used.  Rumours in Benghazi have long held that Italy has supplied arms.  Here are my reflections on the situation:

  • What exactly constitutes application of humanitarian principles is contentious.  The reality remains that this war is absurdly one-sided in that Qaddafi's chief tactic is violating humanitarian principles or using them against the international community.  I got to eavesdrop on a UN meeting where humanitarian concerns were completely divorced from there political reality.  Let's say we're dealing with food instead of weapons:  The more food given to non-combatants is more that's available to feed régime armed forces.  The worthy humanitarian principle of feeding people is at odds with the anti-humanitarian principles of the régime.  Luckily there's no dilemma because starving people are easier to cow and therefore in no one's interest but Qaddafi's.
  • Once again, "boots on the ground" doesn't matter in the way most people think it does.  Soldiers and trainers can do the same work not as part of national institutions such as armies, but as paid contractors for private security companies.  This is a problem of widening accountability gaps for state actors, but to the extent that it allows us to work around inefficiencies in the state system, such as awarding sovereignty to one régime over another, I'll accept it as doing something rather than nothing.
  • The confirmation of support could be a figment of convenience, since the rebels are now calling on NATO to do more.  In some ways NATO has, it's just been impolitic to say it.  The rebels kept insisting they can do it themselves and there's a real benefit to everyone, Libyans included, with the sense of empowerment that comes from winning one's own victory.
  • Again, I don't support any of the state actors doing this, nor do I think their intentions are genuine or that they even know what they're doing for that matter.  Hopefully by keeping up the technical fiction that boots are not on the ground we'll also pre-empt the need for Libyan issues to enter into the domestic politics of NATO members after the war is over.  What these air drops do support is the intent of UNSCR 1973, to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, and again the only way of doing that has become the removal of a certain dictator.