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Escalation and Uncertainty in Libya

Author: Jayshree Bajoria
April 21, 2011


The decision by France, Britain, and Italy to send small teams of military advisers to Libya (NYT) to help the rebels fighting Muammar al-Qaddafi's army has raised questions about whether this is the start of foreign ground troops ( The UN Security Council Resolution that forms the basis for intervention rules out "foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory." All three countries have assured that advisers will supply only logistical help. Russia's foreign minister has warned that the UN Security Council provided no authorization for regime change (Bloomberg) and Libya's foreign minister warned the plan would prolong fighting (BBC).

The White House has also ruled out sending ground troops to Libya. However, CIA operatives have been on the ground to gather intelligence and the Obama administration plans to send $25 million in non-lethal aid (AP) to rebels. And a prolonged stalemate in Libya could prompt Washington and other NATO countries to consider sending in ground forces, former U.S. ambassador to NATO Robert Hunter tells

For now, as Washington takes a backseat, some analysts question NATO's capability to lead the military campaign in Libya. As fighting intensifies in Libya's third-largest city of Misurata and conditions there worsen, there have been calls from Britain and France for NATO to do more, which most analysts say is clearly aimed at the United States (FT). But U.S. Vice President Joe Biden this week asserted that NATO could fulfill its mission in Libya (FT) without U.S. help, suggesting the problem was not with the capacity of other NATO countries, but their political will. Not everyone agrees. David Bosco expresses skepticism over NATO's ability (ForeignPolicy) to conduct a successful operation given the deep divisions among its members over the mission and lack of clear objectives. Slate's Fred Kaplan goes further to question the rationale for NATO's existence and raises the possibility that the Libyan mission may hasten its rupture.

Calls for a political solution (FT) grow louder, with chances of a rebel military victory absent foreign troops on the ground seemingly very difficult. Earlier this month, the African Union proposed a cease-fire deal (NPR); Turkey, too, proposed a roadmap (Today's Zaman) for peace. More recently, the Qaddafi regime said it is prepared to hold free elections (WashPost) under international supervision after a transitional period of around six months.

CFR's Leslie Gelb argues that a cease-fire alternative does not offer much hope (DailyBeast) because it might fail to remove Qaddafi, an objective several Western leaders have stressed. Rebels too, remain skeptical of all proposed plans and demand Qaddafi's removal. Gelb favors a toughened cease-fire that would include a pullback of Qaddafi forces to bases, the transit of humanitarian aid, and the organizing and arming of rebels.

This CNN blog looks at three future scenarios for Libya; a prolonged stalemate, a negotiated settlement, or total victory for one side. No matter what the endgame, the question of what will follow continues to cause much concern among Western policymakers given the nation-building experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan after tyrannical governments were ousted in each. "Part of the problem is we're talking about what happens on day one," CFR's James Lindsay tells CNN. "The crucial question is what will be happening in the fall and next year. The same is true if the rebels take it all. That is only the first chapter of the book."

Additional Analysis:

In the Financial Times, CFR's Ray Takeyh discusses the likelihood of Libya's partition and the realities of the country's putative tribal discord.

CFR President Richard N. Haass argues for limiting the intervention in Libya (HuffingtonPost) both in what it seeks to accomplish and what it requires of the United States.


In Foreign Affairs, Michael Scott Doran writes that not since the Suez crisis and the Nasser-fueled uprisings of the 1950s has the Middle East seen so much unrest. Understanding those earlier events can help the United States navigate the crisis today.

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