It is good to see hope at last for Libya, after two weeks of generally depressing news. Muammar Gaddafi’s advance against those who have overthrown him has not been as quick as John Richardson feared nearly two weeks ago. But the advance was beginning to look unstoppable, at least by the people of Libya. It was worrying to see how a probably tiny number of genuine Gaddafi loyalist troops, heavily armed and supported by mercenaries, could drive back even the majority of the country’s army which had turned against their self-appointed leader. And it was horrific to see how Gaddafi didn’t seem to care about bombarding civilian targets.
So I am pleased to see that the United Nations has agreed on definite measures, and how quickly they have had positive results. Especially in the Arab world a show of strength is often what is needed. While the world dithered in its response, Gaddafi felt he could wage his civil war with impunity. Now that action against him has been agreed, he must have realised that the game is up for that approach. So he has quickly agreed to a ceasefire.
Of course we have yet to see if the ceasefire will hold. But we may yet see Gaddafi shifting to quite different tactics. Perhaps he will try to negotiate a settlement with those who oppose him, one which leaves him as leader of a reformed Libya. He will no doubt be desperate to avoid being sent to the International Criminal Court. But he has few options left. Perhaps he will after all fly off to Venezuela, one of the few places he might find safety.
Now some of you reading this may think that I am being inconsistent in supporting this UN action in Libya, because I have opposed similar action in Iraq and come close to a pacifist position. But I have never been a complete pacifist, and have never said I have been. I would not support an invasion of Libya with ground forces – nor does the UN. I do accept that in some cases, in the political arena rather than in the church, evil does need to be resisted.
But this resistance needs to be as non-violent as reasonably possible. It also needs to be well thought out, to ensure that the consequences are not worse than they would have been without resistance. The western intervention in Iraq failed on both those counts. The intervention in Libya envisaged by the UN would appear to pass these tests. It is of course even better if the intervention is not needed because the threat of it solves the problem – although that would not justify making threats of unjustifiable force, such as the mutual nuclear threats during the Cold War.
Sadly Libya is not the only country where this kind of intervention might be necessary. I am not thinking of Bahrain, where diplomatic action is likely to be more appropriate. Rather, I am thinking of the Ivory Coast. Eddie Arthur, who used to work there, has chronicled the crimes against humanity perpetrated by Laurent Gbagbo, the man who was defeated in the presidential election last year but refused to resign. Since Eddie wrote, Gbagbo’s forces have shelled a market in the capital Abidjan, and the UN mission has used the same words about this: “a crime against humanity”. Eddie quotes a Human Rights Watch director:
The time is long overdue for the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Gbagbo and his allies …
Indeed. But unfortunately there is probably little effective action that the UN could take in the Ivory Coast, other than a full scale invasion which would probably turn into a bloodbath. Gbagbo is no more likely than Gaddafi to surrender himself to the International Criminal Court. So in response to the crimes against humanity in the Ivory Coast I can only recommend prayer.