Foreign and Defense Policy

Despite Good Intentions, the UN Is Late and May Be Wrong

According to the fact sheet posted at the website of the U.S. Mission to the UN (curiously, the actual text is not yet available at either the websites of the UN, the State Department, or USUN), Security Council Resolution 1970, among other provisions, imposes:

– An arms embargo and other arms restrictions.

– All states are prohibited to provide any kind of arms to Libya.

– All states are prohibited from allowing the transit to Libya of mercenaries.

– Libya is prohibited from exporting any arms to any other state.

– States are called upon to inspect suspicious cargo that may contain arms. When such arms are found, states are required to seize and dispose of them.

From this summary it would seem that the resolution makes no distinction between the Qaddafi regime and its opponents, including the newly declared Provisional Government. That would make illegal under international law precisely the kind of assistance that the anti-Qaddafi forces most need at this moment.

No one who is thinking of supplying Qaddafi with arms at this point is going to care about what a UN resolution says. So this provision has no effect on Qaddafi now, though it might have sent a useful signal a week earlier.

However, the United States and other countries who might supply the rebels may not be able to legally do so until the resolution is changed. This will cause further delay and put weight on the side of those who are probably arguing that supplying arms to anyone would represent too much U.S. involvement.

If that sounds absurd, it is exactly what the United States and the “international community” did at the outset of the war in Bosnia 19 years ago. The embargo on the Bosnians remained in effect for years, depriving them of the means to defend themselves, with the argument advanced that supplying arms to either side would simply prolong the war. In fact, what prolonged the war was the weakness of the Bosnians. By depriving them of the means to defend themselves, the arms embargo caused tens of thousands of deaths and eventually required the United States to intervene militarily, deploying tens of thousands of American troops over the course of a decade. It left the government of Bosnia permanently shattered and strengthened radical influences, including foreign Islamist extremists, in Bosnian politics.

Let’s hope the text is different than the summary. If not, an urgent effort needs to be made to revise the provision.

Image by Javier Carbajal.

Comments are closed.