hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 16 May 2011

The General, the Baroness and the Colonel

Deepest, darkest Yorkshire. I should have been giving an interview this morning to the BBC’s flagship radio news programme on whither Libya. Sadly, the nearest thing to a signal in these here hills is metal, clunks up and down and occasionally stops trains. Well, it would if there were any trains left running to stop. Still, found some coal ‘out back’ and fired up the interweb locomotive (I freely admit to being a not so closet steam railway ‘anorak’). So, this is what I would have told the BBC; both the baroness and the general are right in principle about the colonel, but the general is more right in fact than the baroness.  Here is why. 

General Sir David Richards, Chief of the British Defence Staff, has suggested that pressure must be increased on the regime of Colonal Ghadaffi by expanding the targeting of allied air strikes to include infrastructure – bridges, roads, power-plants and stuff. Richards went as far as to suggest that if “NATO did not up the ante” then Gadhaffi could remain in power. Baroness Amos, the UN’s Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Relief has at the same time called for a 'temporary' cease-fire. She is correct in principle under the strict and narrow interpretation of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 which only authorizes action to protect civilians. There is no question that large numbers of people are suffering.

Well, here’s the thing. Today, the International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor waded in and indicted Gadhaffi and two of his mob seeking their arrest for crimes against humanity. Does that not change the terms of reference of 1973? Now, I am no international lawyer but it strikes me that be it under the UN’s own Responsibility to Protect or indeed not, the issuing of such a warrant is a game-changer.  In principle (a lot of 'principles' being uttered at present) such an indictment also places an additional requirement on those acting under UN mandate to ensure such a warrant is served.  The legal goalposts may have moved today which could, in principle, provide a basis for expanded coalition action.  For all the principle 'thing' these campaigns always come down to politics - new openings and new chances to save face.  The General and the Baroness need to talk.  

But will she? To ease pressure on the Gadhaffi regime as the Baroness suggests would spell be disaster for both the Libyan people and international law. Why?  It is because Gadhaffi and his regime are a princples-free zone.  Remember, Saddam? After one bout of UN-sanctioned action he simple said, “I survive, I win”. Gadhaffi has clearly made similar calculations hoping the coalition will simply run out of steam.

There is I suspect more at work here. General Richards is no bomb-happy martial. Far from it. He is one of the most thinking, considered and humanitarian of military chiefs I have ever met. When a man committed to the minimum use of force commensurate with mission success makes such statements it is for a reason. I do not know Baroness Amos and in her interviews she strikes me as both principled and sincere. That said, I must admit to being a little jaundiced as she was also part of that New Labour Islington champagne socialist elite who were so full of principles that they invited everybody else to live with the consequences. It will take Britain decades to recover, if it ever does. Nor do I like the way failed British politicians somehow end up with plum jobs with plum salaries in plum apartments on the plummy shores of Lake Geneva.  You can read into that what you may.

However, from reading over, under and between her lines I suspect she has a principled objection to the use of force period. If that is the case her calls for a ceasefire must be resisted because the only winner will be Gadhaffi. Rather, she would be better advised telling her UN boss to authorize the on hold EU Operation to provide humanitarian assistance to Misrata and to urge him to seek to expand that mandate. This would enable both the campaign to continue and humanitarian assistance to be provided where it is needed on the ground through military support. Momentum is everything in this business, as is principle.

A couple of weeks ago I was concerned that an ICC indictment of Gadhaffi would make it harder to break his resistance. Those concerns remain. Now that it has been issued it may provide the very basis for the expanded operation that this campaign so desperately needs. The alternative is quagmire.

Where are Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin when you need them?

Julian Lindley-French

No comments:

Post a Comment