Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 12:59 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 12:59 | SYDNEY

Libya: Should we go around the UN?

18 April 2011 13:55

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq.

The view of Anthony Cordesman on the predicament of NATO and the no-fly zone over Libya, raises important questions for the world and for Australia.

The no-fly zone as a tactical technique has predictably failed: but our involvement in Libya for the Libyan people, if that is our aim, can still be successful but requires the alignment of strategy and tactics.

This is at least the third war in the last ten years whose implementation has been mismanaged. The basic problem is that of aligning strategy and tactics.

To look at this, it is necessary to put aside the morality of our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, because although it is an important argument, it continually derails discussion of the implementation of strategy in those two wars.

In both, we saw strategies that were easily dislocated because the resources at the tactical level were insufficient to achieve the strategic objective. Popularly, this is referred to as boots on the ground.

In both cases we saw a period of years where insufficient resources were applied and failure was imminent. This imminent failure was finally recognized by political leaders and in both cases more resources were applied.

In Iraq, the security objectives have been achieved. In Afghanistan, the extra resources have only been in place for months, and there are signs of security success.

It makes me think that perhaps we are seeing a new concept of military strategy: go to war, then think it through. Provide insufficient resources to begin with, wait until defeat stares you in the face, then surge.

Libya is looking similar, except that the strategy is so obtuse and the resources are so inappropriate, that perhaps Libya may set a new low standard in statesmanship.

At the start, everyone spoke of regime change but the implementation was a no-fly zone that needed enormous luck to achieve much. As anyone with any experience predicted, the easy targets went first, Gaddafi changes his tactics (smaller units indistinguishable from the rebels, hiding his larger assets among the people), NATO causes civilian or friendly casualties, Gaddafi rebuilds his military faster than the rebels.

At best a stalemate occurs, at worst Gaddafi wins. It is possible that Gaddafi will collapse tomorrow, but unlikely. Even in the Ivory Coast, direct action was needed to effect regime change.

NATO is now scrambling for more sophisticated resources to attack targets amongst the people. The allies, except for France and the UK, are reluctant to provide. The obvious solution (boots on the ground) does not look like occurring at the moment, or at least overtly.

The most interesting question for me is if Libya is worth doing, and worth doing well for R2P reasons, yet the UN restricts the obvious solution of attacking Gaddafi in order to achieve regime change or putting boots on the ground, is it then not our moral duty to ignore the UN'

This would be especially the case if the objections to logical and effective military action came from China and Russia.

The question for Australia is: given that our Foreign Minister advocated so hard for a no-fly zone, was he aware of the limitations of this tactical technique and the probability of failure and if not, why not'

The no-fly zone technique, as an example of the use of 'force short of war', has been used several times in the last twenty years and its severe limitations are known. If Minister Rudd can claim some responsibility for getting the West into this situation, should he not now accept some blame for its likely current failure.

Photo courtesy of the US Marine Corps.