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Professor addresses turmoil in Libya

Nicole Toczauer | Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Working with a speed that defied its traditional “approach with caution” method, the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions against Libya’s Gadhafi regimen Feb. 26.

David Cortright, director of policy studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, said the rapid action was necessary to protect unarmed civilians from being attacked. The Security Council, he said, referred to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The ICC called for a report in preparation of legal action, established an arms embargo, banned travel, froze financial assets and created an immediate list of sanctions targets, he said. These, along with other features, will facilitate future decisions on the occurrence of events rather than the passage of time.

“The Criminal Court is now gathering evidence against Gadhafi for perpetrating mass murder,” Cortright said. “The ruling elite has attacked defenseless civilians, though we now see the situation descending into what may possibly be the beginning of a civil war.”

Col. Moammar Gadhafi seized control of Libya in September of 1969 in a bloodless coup, according to The New York Times. Since then, he has built his regime through family and tribal alliances with the support of oil revenues.

According to The New York Times, since then, tension grew until it violently erupted in several Libyan cities in February’s “Day of Rage.”

“What’s happened is not directly connected to what’s happened in Egypt, except that initially the people who protested against Gadhafi were inspired by the resistors in Egypt,” Cortright said. “A broad wave of nonviolent democratic movement across the region has deteriorated to violence.”

Though rebel movements initially formed together as an antigovernment opponent in Benghazi, The New York Times said, unrest has spread uncontrollably and unpredictably. As of now, several rebel groups have taken the eastern half of Libya, leaving refugees to survive or escape to Tunisia.

“More recently we’ve seen it turn into a civil war. The rebels resisting are arming themselves and the regime is intervening with massive military force and air strikes,” Cortright said. “There are reports of many being killed as the Gadhafi forces have retaken one or two towns from the rebels.”

The U.S. now faces a difficult choice, he said. U.S. has to decide whether to intervene on its own account or continue to act with the U.N.

“It’s one thing to protect civilians from massacres and another to intervene in a civil war,” Cortright said. “We should only act if we have the support of the U.N.”

The next step, Cortright said, is to maintain the political legitimacy of the operation.

“We should only move forward with U.N. Security Council approval and if we can, the support of the Arab League. Look at the international security implications,” he said. “Whatever happens in Libya will influence how the other democratic rebellions unfold.”

The U.S. should not intervene on the ground with troops, he said. Imposing a no-fly zone and aiding refugees with humanitarian efforts are of primary importance.

Cortright said a no-fly zone would communicate to other nations the isolation of the Gadhafi regime.

These sanctions increase motivation for senior commanders and military to join forces with the people of Libya. Ultimately, this would destroy the regime.

Beyond U.N.-supported actions, what happens in Libya will depend on the nature of rebel forces.

“We don’t know yet who these rebels are. They need to make clear their intentions,” he said. “We need to know if they’re fighting for human rights and democracy.”