I can understand the decision of India, Russia and China to abstain in the voting in the UN Security Council (UNSC) on March 18, 2011, on the resolution authorising the enforcement of a No Fly Zone over Libya to prevent Libyan air strikes against anti-Muammar Gaddafi rebels and civilians and a humanitarian intervention not involving the use of ground troops.
Explaining the likely implications of the resolution for Libya to the White House media, President Barack Obama said:
"Now, once more, Muammar Gaddafi has a choice. The resolution that passed lays out very clear conditions that must be met. The United States, the United Kingdom, France and Arab states agree that a cease-fire must be implemented immediately. That means all attacks against civilians must stop. Gaddafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi; pull them back from Adjadbiya, Misrata and Zawiya; and establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas. Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya. Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable. These terms are not subject to negotiation. If Gaddafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences, and the resolution will be enforced through military action."
The Gaddafi government has announced an immediate cease-fire in response to the resolution, but rebel sources have doubted its sincerity. They see it more as a tactical move to buy time and to create divisions among those who supported the resolution. They would, therefore, like the enforcement of the No Fly Zone and the humanitarian intervention to be accompanied by a joint action by the West and the Arab States to bring about a regime change.
Obama has ruled out--at least for the present-- any military action to bring about a regime change. He seems to believe that the regime change must be brought about through international psychological pressure and not through military action. Obama said during his interaction with the media:
"I also want to be clear about what we will not be doing. The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya, and we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal, specifically the protection of civilians in Libya. In the coming weeks, we will continue to help the Libyan people with humanitarian and economic assistance so that they can fulfil their aspirations peacefully."
This is meant to reassure abstaining countries like India, Russia and China who fear that the world might be witnessing a re-enactment of Iraq in Libya. In Iraq, the West exploited a vague UNSC resolution on a No Fly Zone to mount a military operation for a regime change. The resolution on the No Fly Zone on Libya is as vague as the resolution on Iraq was. It is silent on the command and control of the operation. Commenting on this, the BBC said: "Those countries taking part in the coalition still need to decide who leads this mission, and what action they will take if the ceasefire breaks down. It is not yet clear who the commander of the operation will be, where it will be headquartered and what Nato assets might be used."
While India and China refrained from spelling out in detail their concerns and reservations about the way the resolution was drafted, Russia did. It made it clear during its interventions in the UNSC debate that while it had no objection in principle to a No Fly Zone, it cannot support it unless the command and control was decided beforehand.
The US and other NATO countries have seen to it that all decisions regarding command and control will not be taken in the UNSC, but outside. The Foreign Ministers of France and Britain and the US Secretary of State are scheduled to meet in Paris later today to discuss, inter alia, about the command and control. In Iraq, the US and the UK manipulated the denouement in such a manner as to keep all major decisions in their hands. Even France was unhappy over this.
In Libya, a triumvirate consisting of the US, France and the UK is trying to retain in its hands the responsibility for all major decisions. Hence, my understanding and support for the decision of India to abstain along with Russia and China.
But, India's abstention should not mean that it abandons the interests of the anti-Gaddafi forces and the civilians supporting them. We are entering an uneasy period similar to what happened in Iraq--with the Kurds in the North retaining de facto autonomy with the help of US forces based in Turkey and Saddam Hussein's control restricted to non-Kurdish areas. In Libya, the anti-Gaddafi tribals will be helped by US-led forces based in Egypt and Tunisia to retain their de facto autonomy in their areas, with Gaddafi's control restricted to areas, including Tripoli, the capital, where tribals still loyal to him are strong.
In this uncomfortable situation, India and Russia should mount a humanitarian mission of their own which would not come into conflict with the UNSC-authorised mission. It should have as its objective assisting all civilians in equal measure--whether they are in govt-controlled areas or in areas under rebel control. India and Russia should enter into immediate consultations to discuss whether this is feasible and, if so, how to do it. They should keep the US, the UK, France and the Arab League informed of their moves.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.