Conflict & Justice

The G8 threatens Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, vaguely


Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi gestures as he arrives at the Rixos hotel in the capital Tripoli on March 8, 2011. Earlier in the day Gaddafi warned of dire consequences for North Africa and Europe if there was any Western interference in his country's affairs.


Mahmud Turkia

BRUSSELS, Belgium — G8 leaders meeting in Paris today warned Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi that he will face unspecified "dire consequences" if he continues to ignore the rights of Libya's citizens.

And if that sounds familiar, well, it's because the G8 is just one of several institutions to verbally threaten Gaddafi in recent days.

Today's G8 warning follows similar statements by officials from NATO, the European Union and the White House that Gaddafi can no longer be considered a legitimate leader and that he “must go.”

But the leaders did not announce a no-fly zone, or a naval blockade, or any other plan to aid the rebels who are on the defensive as Gaddafi forces press toward Benghazi the country's second-largest city and base of the opposition.

More than a week ago, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen declared that he couldn’t "imagine the international community and UN standing idly by" if Gaddafi continued his campaign against civilians. He also, however, made clear the alliance would not intervene without a direct mandate from the United Nations Security Council, a “demonstrable need” and regional support.

But without agreement from Security Council permanent members Russia and China, there won’t be authorization coming from New York, analysts said. Last weekend, the Arab League called for a no-fly zone, but that has not changed the collective will of the Security Council. The United States has not pushed for it either. And within NATO, Germany said it is "skeptical" of such a move. Turkey says it would block it.

In the meantime, as part of what officials call “prudent planning," the alliance has authorized its Airborne Warning and Control System planes to observe Libya on a 24-hour basis and guided some warships closer to the shore.

France has pushed for the EU and now the G8 to move further and faster even without UN backing, but despite support from the United Kingdom, the effort has fallen flat. Pronouncements from the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court that Gaddafi has likely commited crimes against humanity has not spurred any action either.

Last week French President Nicolas Sarkozy stepped out front — and out of line, some counterparts complained — in calling for air strikes on the Libyan regime. A day before an EU summit, he declared opposition leaders from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi as the sole legitimate political force in the country, hoping the EU as a whole would follow.

Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt was among those annoyed by the move.

“Sweden recognizes states — not regimes,” Bildt tweeted. “And most other EU countries are the same. Somewhat unclear on what France does.” The EU summit conclusions reiterated the bloc’s rejection of any status for Gaddafi and called the Benghazi group "an" interlocutor between the EU and Libya. Sarkozy, meanwhile, has referred to the opposition as “the” interlocutor.

By making ill-defined threats to Gaddafi, some analysts say the West has created a threat for itself. Daniel Korski of the European Council on Foreign Relations says reluctance to act against Gaddafi hasn’t saved the international community from getting into another war — it’s simply changed the kind of war Korski believes is now inevitable.

“Britain and France either have to intervene decisively against Col. Gaddafi today with the UN, preferably along with NATO, but possibly just in a coalition with key Arabs,” he said, “or get ready for a post-revolutionary Libya.” That will be a country “where the dictator and his family continue their murderous rule, seek to throttle the region's pro-democracy movements and possibly seek revenge on the West,” he warned.

Korski also said he believes Gaddafi’s potential for terrorist acts, fueled by the motive to punish those who dismissed him, could eventually rival Al Qaeda’s.

He’s not the only critic of what some are calling the international community's “dithering."

Steve Clemons, who writes the influential bog, “The Washington Note,” takes the Obama Adminstration to task for not moving forward on “real, doable measures that could immediately help those opposing Gaddafi without the downside risks of a population angry at the large scale Western military footprint or the potential for a Somalia-like ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident.”

Clemons recommends fulfilling what he says are the Libyan opposition’s most fervent wishes: official recognition (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held her first meeting with a representative Monday night in Paris); adjustment of the current UN arms embargo on Libya so that the rebels could get weapons; blocking of Gaddafi’s communications system so that he is less able to disrupt theirs; and the sharing of intelligence on the regime’s military movements.

“All of these measures would have a lighter footprint than ships, planes, bombs and other weapons systems that would remind and brand this revolution as delivered by Western forces,” Clemons wrote on his website.

As G8 governments in Paris agreed only that the UN should continue discussing the situation, Gaddafi’s forces continued to advance toward Benghazi, targeting the eastern city of Ajdabiya with airstrikes. The UN Security Council is expected to convene again in a few days.

“In a matter of days it may not be relevant anymore,” Korski said.

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct an editing error.