In Libya, the people are calling for protection. They want Muammar Gaddafi’s planes to be grounded, to prevent air attacks. They are urging the UN to lay down the legal framework for a no-fly zone.
On Wednesday, at the European Parliament, a delegation from Libya’s fledgling opposition voiced the same request, but with one condition.
“For the ‘no-fly zone’ if that is the way we have to stop or paralyse this power-to-kill machine, then so be it, but with one condition: no physical presence of any foreign soldier on Libyan soil, that is totally rejected,” Mohammed Jebril told the chamber.
NATO says the plan must have UN backing, along with support from the region, this to be followed ideally by some kind of trigger necessitating a global response.
“Any NATO operation would be pursuant to a UN mandate and finally also support from the region,” said Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
However it is at the UN where the impetus could be derailed. China and Russia have made clear their opposition to plans for a no-fly zone. The two countries are among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and have the power of veto.
The Council, which also encompasses 10 non-permanent members, is the only UN organ reinforced by international law. To pass, a resolution must get nine votes and not be vetoed at all.
After only four days of deliberations, the Security Council voted for sanctions to be imposed on Libya on 26 February. They included an arms embargo and travel bans. The assets of the Gaddafi family were also frozen.
But fundamental questions remain over the risks associated with military involvement in Libya, however indirect. For many, Iraq is still a vivid and unhappy memory.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates thinks even a no-fly zone constitutes military involvement: “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya, to destroy the air defences. That is the way you do a no-fly zone.”
The extent of the zone is another thorny issue; Gaddafi’s aircraft could be banned only from the zones of rebel activity, or refused permission to overfly Libya in its entirety.
With so many different factors to consider, the only certainty is that finding a solution to suit everyone will not be easy.