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Intervention, Please: The 'No-Fly Zone' Requests You Don't Hear About

Author: Micah Zenko, Senior Fellow
January 10, 2012


Last spring, the Arab League convened an emergency meeting at its headquarters in Cairo to discuss a certain government's air strikes against a certain Arab population. They called the strikes, which had reportedly killed at least a dozen civilians and suspected militants, "plotted barbaric aggression." At the conclusion of their meeting, the Arab League issued a statement demanding that UN Security Council convene "on an urgent basis" and impose a no-fly zone (NFZ) to protect those Arab civilians from future attacks. They asked for outside military force, but they were ignored.

The Arab League was advocating to protect not anti-Qaddafi fighters in Libya but Arabs in the Gaza Strip, which the Israeli Air Force was bombing in retaliation for rocket and mortar attacks on southern Israel. Less than one month earlier, the Arab League had asked for a NFZ in Libya, a request that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton an event "of historic importance" that "would be quite unfortunate if the international community were to have ignored." But when the pan-Arab institution sought the same sort of international military support for the Gaza Strip, they were ignored by the U.S. and the entire international community -- or, at least, the countries with deployable air forces.

The distinction in how the world treated the force requests for the Gaza Strip and Libya are worth keeping in mind as the demands from Syrian civilians and armed opponents of the Bashar al-Assad regime for intervention escalate. From Gaza to Somalia, governments and groups make far more requests for humanitarian intervention than you'll hear about in the press. Nearly all of them are summarily rejected as impractical or an inappropriate use of force. Here are just eight of the most recent examples of à la carte requests for military force with humanitarian aims, not one of which was honored or even seriously entertained:

1. In May 2010 (and again in October 2011), the East Africa security bloc Inter Governmental Authority for Development requested that the UN institute a NFZ and naval blockade in Somalia.

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