The United Nations Security Council mandated the implementation of a no-fly zone over Libya on Thursday. Five members, including China and Russia, which wield veto power, as well as Germany and India, abstained from voting.
Ahead of the vote, France’s newly appointed foreign minister, Alain Juppé, called for an “immediate end” to the violence in Libya. “We have very little time left,” he said: “a matter of days, perhaps a matter of hours.”
The North African country has seen violent civil war in recent weeks with armed forces loyal to the country’s longtime ruler Colonel Muammar Gaddafi marching on rebel strongholds in the east.
While the United States appeared reluctant to endorse military intervention, Britain and France drafted a resolution that legitimized “all necessary measures” to protect the civilian population of Libya.
France has been the only nation to recognize the rebels’ transitional council in Benghazi as Libya’s only legitimate government.
China and Russia were opposed to international intervention but the Russians shifted their position after the Arab League called upon the United Nations to stop the bloodshed in Libya last week.
Several of the nonpermanent members, including Brazil, Germany, India and South Africa, were skeptical while Lebanon expressed strong support for the resolution. “This resolution will not have as its consequence the occupation of even an inch of Libya,” Lebanon’s ambassador to the UN declared after the vote.
Earlier NATO and G8 summits failed to reach consensus on an intervention with Germany and Russia most forcefully blocking military action.
Anti-government demonstrations began in Libya in February and soon escalated into civil war. Whereas the Gaddafi regime managed to remain in power in the capital of Tripoli, rebel forces took control of major cities along the Mediterranean coast.
This week, the regime’s military pushed eastward, driving the ill equipped anti-government militias back to Benghazi. Air forces were deployed against demonstrators in the early weeks of the revolt while oil refineries and roads were bombed by aircraft as rebels advanced on Tripoli.
To shelter rebels from attacks from the air, several countries as well as a number of prominent American senators called upon the international community to enforce a no-fly zone. Opposition members in the United States also suggested to arm Libyans fighting their government.
The United States defense department has urged caution, warning that if a no-fly zone were to be enforced for a prolonged period of time, it could require more resources than are currently available.
Several US Navy warships are deployed in the Mediterranean while an aircraft carrier is on standby in the Red Sea.
A no-fly zone might not prevent conflagration on the ground nor necessarily stop the regime from deploying helicopter gunships against its antagonists. Germany’s ambassador to the UN warned on Thursday that the West risks being dragged into a protracted conflict in Libya and that it should not expect “quick results with few casualties.”