IN voting to impose mandatory sanctions on Libya as punishment for its refusal to surrender two Libyans wanted in the bombing of an American jetliner, the United Nations Security Council has displayed a continuing will to use punitive powers for the sake of world order.
The question remains whether the disciplinary measures will be effective against the government of Col. Muammar Qaddafi.
"These are not as dramatic as they could have been," a Western diplomat admitted about the sanctions, "but they certainly should prove their point and drive it home to Qaddafi that he has to release these guys, or else."
The action taken Tuesday carries implications that reach beyond Libya. There is a new confidence within the Council, a sense of relevancy that members like the United States, Britain, and France find empowering. It seems to promise a greater UN role in what once was considered a country's internal affairs.
"The UN is moving into new territory, tattering the edges of national sovereignty," an American diplomat says.
This change in attitude is visible particularly with regard to Libya, Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Cambodia - even if not always unanimous.
"This is a Council that is working very much on consensus," says a diplomatic observer, who noted that public dissent among members is frowned upon because it can make a resolution appear less forceful. "They want to give the impression that the Council is harmonious."
In fact, some members like China and India feel unsettled and alienated by growing Western influence over the Security Council, a byproduct of the cold war's end, the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the outcome of the Gulf war. Some diplomats charge the West is tailoring Council affairs to its own agenda. "They can pretty much do what they want at this point," one diplomat says.
Libya's case has provided a forum for this dissatisfaction. Several Council members had pleaded for more time before resorting to sanctions. Their protest was reflected in Tuesday's vote. Five of the Council's 15 members abstained from the resolution, which was drafted by the US, Britain, and France. Countries favoring sanctions were the US, Russia, Britain, France, Ecuador, Austria, Belgium, Venezuela, Japan, and Hungary.
China, Morocco, Cape Verde, India, and Zimbabwe abstained.
"We felt we should get more time to try to convince Libya," a Moroccan diplomat said. "This is a common position shared by all the countries that abstained."
Libya now has until April 15 to hand over the two suspects to Britain or the US as part of compliance with the UN resolution. The two allied nations want them extradited on charges they participated in the downing of Pan American Flight 103, which blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 with 270 people aboard.
In addition, Libya must cooperate with France's inquiry into the bombing of a French aircraft in 1989 over North Africa, with 170 deaths. It must also renounce support for terrorism.
Exactly what this last provision would entail is vague, but it could include dismantling training camps under international supervision, ending financial assistance to terrorist organizations, and naming individuals in these groups whom Libya has trained or armed.
In a meeting with nonaligned Council members following the vote, representatives for the US, Britain, and France outlined what is expected of Libya. If Tripoli follows the resolution's demands by April 15, they said, the Council would meet again to rescind the sanctions. Once sanctions begin, however, the UN Charter makes them difficult to remove.
The Charter permits the Council to raise the stakes on Libya at any time, even authorizing military force if necessary. While no one is yet contemplating such action, a US diplomat said additional means could be used, but would not elaborate.
"If sanctions don't produce the results you want," he explained, "then I could conceive of an argument being made that you have to do something else."
If Libya ignores the deadline, all air links with the North African nation would be suspended, except for humanitarian purposes.
Sales of planes and spare parts would be prohibited, along with arms shipments. Governments would also reduce the size of their diplomatic missions in Tripoli and withdraw any military or technical advisers. The movements of Libyan diplomats abroad would be restricted.
As diplomatic tools, sanctions historically do not occupy a prominent place in UN affairs. Animosity between the US and the former Soviet Union resulted in frequent vetoes of resolutions that threatened their respective political interests. Between 1945 and 1990, sanctions were approved on only two occasions, first against Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and later on South Africa.
Now the UN appears to have warmed to sanctions, due in part to the absence of a determined veto. The move against Libya is the fourth use of sanctions in the past 18 months alone, including two aimed at Iraq in August 1990 and then a year later.
One glaring omission from the sanctions vote against Libya was an oil embargo, which would have greatly damaged Libya's economy. Western diplomats say the issue came up early in their discussions, but was quickly dropped. Both Europe and Japan buy significant amounts of Libyan oil.
The Arab League, which last week failed to convince Libya that it should give up the two suspects, vowed to keep trying.
For its part, Libya will continue to argue before the World Court in The Hague,Netherlands, seeking a ruling against Britain and the US that would undermine the Council decision. A judgment conceivably could be rendered before April 15, but it is unlikely that the Security Council would abide by the international court if the judges went against it.
Many diplomats are not optimistic that Libya will respond in time to prevent the sanctions from occurring. "Two months was not enough," said an Arab envoy about his delegation's numerous unsuccessful efforts. "In 15 days you really have to work some miracles."
Another Arab diplomat claims that the Qaddafi government is rocked with infighting. "The colonel is not fully in power," he says. "There is a split within the leadership of Libya. It's causing all the confusion that we've been seeing these past few weeks. They are not speaking with the same voice. It's different people who are saying different things."