WILLIAM Hague's warning that Britain and its allies must prepare for the long haul in Libya is laden with foreboding.
UN Resolution 1973 was an emergency measure to avoid a bloodbath of Libyan civilians in Benghazi. Thirty-eight days after Britain and France led the international military action to establish a no-fly zone over Libya, its limitations are cruelly apparent.
Air strikes cannot protect the civilian population as Gaddafi’s forces increasingly mingle with rebel fighters and local people in towns such as Misrata, where the death toll is mounting.
With a clear geographical division between the rebel-held areas and the rest of the country, partition must be considered a possibility for ending the stalemate. The history of such divisions is that they tend to become a focus for dispute and in this case it is difficult to see it producing stability, when the resources of water and oil are vital for all parts of the country.
If that is not the route to successfully ending the bloodshed, how is it to be brought about? Stalemate was a fear from the beginning but the plea for intervention from the Arab League led to hope that its members and those of the African Union would both put diplomatic pressure on Gaddafi and contribute to the international protection force. Many now have their own problems to deal with but as it becomes clear that progress can only be made through international agreement, Britain must consider its own role both in Libya and internationally. We do not have the resources to be a global policeman, although the Libyan experience should result in a reappraisal of the defence review.
There is general relief that the UN mandate expressly prohibits “boots on the ground” but with the rebel forces untrained, under-equipped and suffering casualties, the prospect of Gaddafi simply wearing them down is a real one.
This must focus concentration on what the coalition role ought to be. The belief that Gaddafi should go has been clearly stated by the Foreign Secretary but without a means to achieve that, the haul could be very long indeed.
Nevertheless, the purpose of the UN mandate was a humanitarian one and that must remain the prime focus of international effort.
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