Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Allies Pound Libya: War and Objective - Who's in Control?

In over 6 years of talking of current affairs and in discussing matters that matter in India and, occasionally, around the world, this is the 150th Blog Post at Clearway. From its first post in October 2005, Clearway has travelled a while, and there is a possibility that it might have evolved over the years as well! Over time, with 150 discussions and commentaries, this blog has increasingly embraced an international tone, while the focus remained on India. And that, I believe, would be the way Clearway would continue to express itself, appreciating the good, reprimanding the bad, and cruising along at its own leisurely pace. 

Incidentally, this blog post does have an international flavour to it, where the world is watching Libya unfold, with Muammar Gaddafi in spotlight. It is international, given the host of nations that have been firing cruise missiles into locations that are considered strategic in Libya. And it is international, because this "war", unlike the War on Iraq, has its official stamp of recognition from the United Nations with the UN Resolution 1973. However, being international has its own problems, especially given the broad scope of the UN Resolution in this case.

The allies are free to take all necessary measures to protect civilians in Libya from the grotesque forces and measures taken by the Libyan Leader, Muammar Gaddafi, to bomb and massacre his own people. The problem in this case, has to do with the objective. What do the measures encompass? What is the ultimate motive? Going to war with the idea of protecting civilians looks noble, but how is the motive to be achieved? Is Gaddafi himself a legitimate target? How would the allies know that the war has ended? Would it be brought to end with the overthrowing of Gaddafi, or does he have to be prosecuted or plain eliminated? Obama has stated that ground troops would not be deployed, and all attacks would be coordinated from the air and sea. So, how accurate are the targets that are being fired upon? There are reports that people out there in Libya themselves are not clear as to who the Loyalists are and who the Rebels are! How would the coalition know who is to be targeted? Reports show a clear division among Libyan people as pro-Gaddadfi supporters and the opponents. With a cohort of allies firing from the air and from sub-marines at targets that may not be clear-cut in the first place, is Libya heading towards a perennial Civil War, in yet another long drawn campaign by the West in Middle East Asia? How many civilian casualties are to be expected out of the attacks, and how many would be within "tolerable limits"? And who is to blame for collateral damage? 

The Wikileaks video "Collateral Murder" was a graphic portrayal of how civilians could fall prey, caught in the cross-fire and being wrongly identified as terrorists by impatient snipers on the prowl. Where does the accountability in an attack by a coalition lie? Who is in control, when the US says it would transfer authority to NATO after an initial phase of attacks? And how would the allies know that the mission has been accomplished, when there is confusion with regard to the very mission that has been under way rather swiftly, immediately after the UN Resolution was passed?

There may not be much room for illegitimacy in the allies' decision to act, given the gravity of the situation that has been depicted of in Libya. But the issue lies with the execution of a rather hazy objective that even people in responsible positions involved in the execution do not seem to be very clear about. Firing thousands of missiles from hundreds of miles away with no back-up on the ground to do reconnaissance activities and guide them on to the right targets doesn't sound like sound strategy from the outset. And given the state of the economy that the West find themselves in now, winding up in Iraq, re-building Afghanistan and starting afresh in Libya is bound to be a strain, even if the nations involved are among the most affluent in the world. The BBC report, titled "Each Missile Costs a Million" may not be happy reading for the Exchequer, when the missiles keep cruising without knowing whom they're going to kiss! 

The questions are definitely not exhaustive. And clearly, given the ambiguous scope of the exercise, the wider repercussions for the entire region, the uncertainty and the risks involved in the operations, and given the budget commitments for the Western economies that are still limping back from recession, there are enormous  costs involved, both in terms of finances and collateral damage. Still, action had to be taken - and it's war again!

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