The last 24 hours have been remarkable in international diplomacy. As the forces of “mad dog” Colonel Gaddafi advanced towards rebel held Benghazi, Britain and France (backed by Lebanon) moved a motion in the Security Council of the United Nations to impose a “no-fly zone” over Libya. This is a proposal which has been backed by David Cameron for some weeks now in the face of considerable scepticism (by the fool Peter Hitchins) and outright opposition (from the likes of Labour’s Baroness Ashton). Cameron has sometimes sounded a lonely voice in recent weeks in support of a “no fly zone” but he has continued to press for what he knew to be right.
The decision of the Arab League (represented by Lebanon) to back a “no fly zone” was a significant fillip to Cameron’s argument and seems to have carried considerable weight with the USA and other UN member states. Last night the Security Council passed resolution 1973 which authorised the imposition of a “no-fly zone” to protect civilians but it also went further to reinforce the existing arms embargo and freeze assets of the Libyan regime. Of the five permanent (veto-holding) members of the Security Council, the UK, France and USA voted in favour and China and Russia abstained. Germany also abstained and was joined by Brazil and India. Lebanon, Bosnia, Colombia, Portugal, Nigeria and South Africa voted in favour.
Cameron has undoubtedly shown some steel and gained significant credbility on the world stage by his actions. Even the Labour party have been praising his leadership on the issue. The significant loser in all this has been the reputation of the Obama led USA, which has prevaricated and dithered, even at times attacking Cameron for his suggestion of the “no fly zone”. Very late in the day the USA swung behind Britain and France’s resolution and now looks set to play a part in enforcing it. However, it is likely that the USA will play a small part, with Britain, France and the Arab League providing the bulk of the aircraft, with support frpm other European, NATO nations.
David Cameron has already indicated that the RAF is to play a major role with Tornados, Typhoons, refuelling and surveillance aircraft all involved. Planning for a possible “no fly zone” has been underway for some time and the RAF will be able to respond quickly. We have a significant air base in Cyprus, facilities in Malta, and possible use of Italian airfields.
While the Labour leadership has quickly rowed in behind the Prime Minister’s position, the usual eccentric voices of the left have begun to spring up in opposition to any military action. “The Stop the War” coalition and George Galloway are already opposing the “no fly zone”. However, the situation is markedly different from the Iraq war and Cameron has learned the lessons from Tony Blair by achieveing a UN Resolution in support.
The Gaddafi regime’s initial response is to publicly declare a ceasefire while at the same time reportedly continuing the ground offensive. If that ceasefire proves to be a reality then David Cameron will have achieved an extraordinary result and saved thousands of lives in Libya. If Gaddafi’s promises prove hollow then the international coalition will have to act to prevent a massacre of rebels and civilians in the east of Libya. Either way David Cameron has shown real leadership and comes out of this situation with his stature enhanced.
The prize has to be the eventua fall of Gaddafi from power and the continued ripple of democracy across the Arab world and wider Middle East.