International response to Libya breaks records for speed

2011-03-29 07:24

Washington – The international response to the Libyan crisis has come at warp-like speed compared with past conflicts when military action was bogged down for months, even years, amid endless diplomatic drives.

This time it took just 32 days from the start of the uprising against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on February 15 to March 19 when the United Nations passed a resolution allowing for air strikes against regime forces to protect civilians.

A week later and the 28 members of Nato had agreed to take over command of a no-fly zone over Libya, and are readying this week to take full command of the military operation.

“When you think about it, for an organisation of 28 states, getting to consensus given where we were just a few days and weeks ago, we moved with extraordinary speed,” a senior US official said.

During the first Gulf War, some 20 years ago, it took five and a half months between Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait on August 2 1990 to the launch of Operation Desert Storm under UN auspices.

And there were years of foot-dragging and hesitant, hand-wringing debate about what international action was appropriate in the face of the massacres in Sierra Leone or the former Yugoslavia.

Not to mention the blind eye turned by the world to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, in which an estimated 800 000 people died, or the unbridled killings in Darfur, Sudan.

In those tragedies, an acute lack of political will was blamed for allowing those responsible to continue unchecked.

This time round in Libya several nations came together to push for an international action, experts said.

Western powers had powerful motivation for moving quickly to aid rebels in Libya, said Stephen Flanagan, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Britain and France were compelled by “a sense that you could have a rather horrendous situation unfolding right on Europe’s doorstep”, he argued.

France was also fearful of seeing a wave of immigrants land on its doorstep.

“It’s not just access to Libyan oil, there is also a tangible security threat to French interests at home and abroad. France does not want to face another wave of North African refugees,” said Bilal Saab of the Brookings Institution.

World powers were also spurred into quick action by the fear that Gaddafi would make good on his threat to exact a bloody revenge on the insurgents in the rebel stronghold town of Benghazi.

Yet another prod came came from three major players in the United States: Washington’s UN ambassador Susan Rice, White House Adviser Samantha Power and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

All three US officials are united by their regret that the United States did not do more to prevent the Rwandan genocide.

They played a major role in urging President Barack Obama to set aside his reservations and take military action in Libya.

Obama yesterday hailed the speed of the international community’s response, highlighting that a broad coalition had been built, strong sanctions had been put in place and a no-fly zone established “in just one month”.

“To lend some perspective on how rapidly this military and diplomatic response came together, when people were being brutalised in Bosnia in the 1990s, it took the international community more than a year to intervene with air power to protect civilians,” the US leader said.

The response to the recent upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East have also been made possible by Twitter and other new forms of fast-paced forms of communication, analysts said.

“It’s fuelled by the news cycle, the constant barrage of information,” said Romesh Ratnesar, a journalist and fellow with the New America Foundation in Washington.

“The speed at which these movements have spread has been accelerated because of the access the people have to information, because of the internet, Twitter, Facebook and other things,” Ratnesar said.

“In previous situations, you’ve got a couple of reports a day. Now it’s a constant stream – reliable or not – coming out of the conflict zone.”

Flanagan agreed the “Twitterverse” has affected not only the speed with which diplomatic policy is being made, but the decisions about how and where interventions occur.

“People have argued, why this and not Sierra Leone?” he said.

“I think that’s because there has been a good deal more reporting on this.”

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