Four Conditions for a Libyan Intervention

What would it take for Western powers to intervene in Libya’s civil war?

“The tide of Libya’s revolt-turned-civil-war has turned against the rebels,” writes Una Moore at UN Dispatch. Gaddafi loyalists backed up by tanks, aircraft and rocket artillery captured the central Libyan oil port of Ra’s Lanuf on Friday then moved a further 77 miles east, taking the oil terminal of Brega.

In western Libya, loyalists devastated the city of Zawiyah. If the loyalists can maintain their momentum, they will be poised to attack the strategic city of Ajdabiya and then be on to Benghazi. That’s a big if, however, on a battlefield with intense logistics pressures and a historical record of rapid advances and retreats.

Still, Gaddafi has tanks and airpower. And the rebels? Not so much.

Abu Ray at The Arabist blog — expanding on a Spanish journalist’s comparison of the Libyan war with Spain’s own civil war — wrote: “Benghazi in this scenario becomes civil war Barcelona, with an exuberant explosion of revolutionary thinking and fervor that is eventually crushed under the boot of the fascist armies after it turns out enthusiasm doesn’t beat out lots of equipment on the front.”

And although Gaddafi would be easily beaten by an American or NATO opponent, the alliance has been reluctant to intervene. Now there is indication rebels are angry at the lack of action.

Moore asks:

At what point might the United States or NATO decide to carry out a military intervention in Libya? My guess is, when we see a combination of at least two of the following conditions:

  • Gaddafi’s forces carry out a massacre large enough to shock the global conscience — something akin to a Libyan Srebrenica, or a reenactment of the fall of Mazar Sharif to the Taliban in 1998.
  • The Arab League endorses outside military intervention.
  • The UN Security Council authorizes an intervention.
  • The Europeans agree to participate in a multilateral effort against the Libyan regime.

Libya’s rebels want Western airpower on their side, but the United States and its allies, bruised by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, are in no hurry to join another war.

This story first appeared on War is Boring, March 14, 2011.