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Author: Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow
March 4, 2011
Foreign Policy


In recent days, policymakers around the world have condemned Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi's human rights violations, the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a resolution imposing a travel ban and asset freeze on his family, and Barack Obama's administration froze any assets held by Libyan officials in the United States.

But nothing has made a difference. Libya stands on the brink of a protracted civil war. And the latest popular solution, a U.S.-led no-fly zone (NFZ), will not make a difference either. In the debate over possible U.S. military operations in Libya, two objectives have been proposed: protecting civilians and precipitating regime change. An NFZ would accomplish neither.

In addressing the goal of protection, it is worth noting that there is little evidence Libya has used air power against civilians. On Wednesday, March 2, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs, acknowledged: "We've not been able to confirm that any of the Libyan aircraft have fired on their own people." Most air attacks appear to be directed against armed rebels. Bombs have reportedly been dropped against rebel positions in Brega and Ajdabiya. In addition, Human Rights Watch reported a fighter jet firing one missile near a mixed crowd of rebels and civilians in Brega.

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