Since ‘Will We Ever Learn? Kicking the Intervention Habit‘ was posted, several responses and developments led me to think further about the essential issues, but not to change course.

It has been suggested that, perhaps, a no fly zone would enable the rebel forces to deal more effectively with the foreign militias being relied upon by the Qaddafi regime to do much of its dirty work. It is difficult to know how a particular version of the no fly zone would impact on the battlefield. We are speculating on the basis of radical uncertainty, and in such circumstances, it is almost always better to refrain from coercive action than to engage in it. Furthermore, there is a wide spectra of no fly zone scenarios depending on the governments who are taking such an initiative, its degree of dependence on correlated air strikes, and the options available to the rebels and Qaddafi to either take advantage of its effect or to circumvent them. For instance, it is politically more palatable to have a no fly zone established and administered under the auspices of the Arab League or as has been proposed, a joint Egypt/Turkey undertaking than to have it done by NATO or a United States-led ‘coalition of the willing.’ The UN as sponsor is out of the question given Russian opposition, and Chinese reluctance. At the same time, given the logistical and technological demands, it is more likely that the effectiveness of a no fly zone would be greater under NATO/U.S control. A failed no fly zone would embolden Libya, and likely improve his prospects to prevail in the internal struggle.

Furthermore, the tactics and character of the rebel movement seems dramatically different than the uprisings elsewhere in the region, particularly in Egypt and Tunisia. In Libya, the movement lacks the inspiring quality of nonviolence, human solidarity, and social/political demands for justice. It was violent from the outset, tribalist in spirit, recipient of weaponry from external actors, preoccupied with control over the oil-producing areas, indistinct in political outlook (a rebel segment flying the pre-Qaddafi flag of the Libyan monarchy), and uncertainly linked to private sector international oil interests. This looks more like a struggle for control of the state or possibly an effort to establish a secessionist second state if a stalemate emerges. Under this mix of circumstances one must be suspicious about the focus on Libya and the call for full consideration of military options. It would seem to be the case that if feasibility hurdles could be overcome, the political climate in the United States and Britain would support a large-scale intervention, possibly with Arab regional acquiescence. (See illuminating analysis by Michel Chossudovsky, “Insurrection and Military Intervention: The US-NATO Attempted Coup d’Etat in Libya?” March 8, 2011.)

With these considerations in mind, I think the case for nonintervention remains overwhelmingly persuasive from moral, legal, and political perspectives. Perhaps, the most compelling rationale for reaching such a conclusion was well stated by Roger Cohen: “But the deepest reason is the moral bankruptcy of the West with respect to the Arab world. Arabs have no need of U.S. or European soldiers as they seek the freedom that America and the European Union were content to deny them.” (NY Times, March 7, 2011) It is not often that I have the opportunity to quote approvingly from the New York Times when the subject-matter involves the Middle East, and so I want to make the most of it.

Perhaps, there is another way to exhibit the shabbiness of the argument being made on behalf of a protective no fly zone. Why no comparable proposal on behalf of the civilian population of Gaza trapped behind a merciless blockade for more than three years?

Aside from issues of nonintervention, always important, there is here the paramount relevance of support for dynamics of self-determination. This does not assure the triumph of justice in conflict situations. Qaddafi may win or the rebels may prevail, and prove as distastefully oppressive as the Qaddafi regime. On balance, what means most in the 21st century is to allow the peoples of the world make their own history. Western military paternalism and economic exploitation have been deservedly discredited.

As suggested, there is no way to seal the borders of territorial states. Neither pure noninterventionism nor insulated self-determination are ever possible given the porousness of borders and the interventionary incentives of a range of outsiders. There are various low profile ‘interventions’ taking place. Weapons are being supplied, perhaps, special forces are covertly present as advisors or even fighters. In this respect, the most that can be done is to oppose gross forms of overt governmental intervention, as well as limit assistance to governments, including the Tripoli regime, that violate the fundamental human rights of their own people. In this respect, sanctions are appropriate if authorized by the UN so long as not coupled with intervention, and take responsible account of competing moral, legal, and political claims.

Keep in mind that Libya has over 3.5% of the world’s oil reserves, which is twice the amount present in the United States. Without being an economic determinist, oil certainly helps explain the preferential treatment being given to insurrection in Libya!