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Opinion

West's goal must be Qaddafi's removal

If Qaddafi remains in power, that would guarantee a continuing disaster for the Libyan people. And the consequences would extend far beyond Libya.

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The sooner the West adopts a clear position that the UN’s humanitarian goals can only be achieved by Qaddafi’s removal from power, the sooner the crisis can begin to come to an end.

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Removing Qaddafi will not easy. A no-fly zone implemented a few weeks ago could have saved more lives and kept the momentum with the opposition. Today, momentum needs to be regained. Those senior officers and officials who might have been convinced to abandon Qaddafi have now been forced to defend him. Qaddafi has consolidated the forces at his disposal, and weakened the rebel opposition.

West must support rebels, not intervene directly

Direct intervention by Western troops on the ground in Libya should be avoided. It was Libyans who rose up to take back their country and they must remain in the lead. The West’s role is to support them, not intervene on its own.

Yet within this framework, the West should immediately take several additional steps to support the rebels: Provide intelligence and secure communications equipment; jam Qaddafi’s own communications; implement the “no-drive” zone to blunt Qaddafi’s ground attacks; give non-lethal supplies and logistical support; and, if requested, provide military equipment, ammunition, training, and advisers.

NATO will not take on these missions. Despite the ambitious rhetoric of NATO’s new Strategic Concept, the reality is that NATO acts only by consensus, and no consensus exists for such measures in Libya. For example, Germany abstained from the UNSC Resolution, and Turkey has opposed the no-fly zone.

Moreover, there is no reason why we could not continue as a coalition operation run out of a headquarters in Italy or France. Afterall, “handing off” to NATO really only means handing off to ourselves. At best, NATO may be able to agree on non-lethal measures to support the coalition effort (though even such a limited role could set a valuable baseline for further NATO engagement down the road).

IN PICTURES: Libya no-fly zone

Italy has now offered to have operations run out of Naples, and is contributing eight fighter aircraft. Although it was initially reluctant to oppose Qaddafi, with a UN resolution and its implementation underway, Italy clearly understands the stakes and wants to side with its Western allies. This stands in contrast to Germany, which remains stuck in passivity – making it impossible for the EU to have a common position, and undermining Germany’s own bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat.

With the decision to implement the UN’s call for a no-fly zone, Western engagement to support the Libyan opposition is just beginning. Now the challenge is to set a clear objective to support the removal of Qaddafi, and take decisive steps to help those who will bring that about.

Kurt Volker is a former US ambassador to NATO. He is now senior fellow and managing director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, and a senior adviser at McLarty Associates. A version of this essay originally appeared in Italy’s La Stampa newspaper.

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