Libya to NATO: Stay until the end of the year

Although NATO seems poised to bring its Libya mission to an end, the transitional government has asked it to remain through the end of 2011 to help ensure security.

Virginia Mayo/AP
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Friday. Rasmussen said that NATO would cease its operations in Libya on Oct. 31, but Libya's interim leader has urged the military alliance to remain in the country through the end of the year.

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Two days before NATO makes a decision on whether to wrap up its Libya mission, interim leader Mustapha Abdul Jalil has urged NATO to stay through the end of the year to help ensure to help ensure that Qaddafi supporters do not leave Libya to stir up trouble from nearby countries.

With Qaddafi dead, and Libya's liberation confirmed as of this past weekend, the informal benchmarks for ending NATO's mission have been reached. Last Friday, NATO members made a preliminary decision to end the Libya mission on Oct. 31, and on Tuesday, the NATO commander said that he believed the National Transitional Council (NTC) could handle any security threats, Reuters reports.

However, the NTC seems keen to have the military alliance stay on, Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports.

"We hope (NATO) will continue its campaign until at least the end of this year to serve us and neighbouring countries," Mr. Jalil, head of Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC), told the conference.

This request is aimed at "ensuring that no arms are infiltrated into those countries and to ensure the security of Libyans from some remnants of (slain despot Moamar) Gaddafi's forces who have fled to nearby countries," he added.

The NTC is also seeking help from NATO in "developing Libya's defence and security systems," Mr. Jalil told the Conference of Friends Committee.

Whether or not NATO chooses to stay, Libya is likely to be watched closely by the international community. The NTC is under scrutiny, particularly by human rights groups, who are alarmed by Qaddafi's death and signs of a strong desire for revenge among anti-Qaddafi fighters, The Christian Science Monitor reported yesterday. The NTC has promised to carry out an investigation into Qaddafi's death, but whether the fledgling government has the strength to do so is unclear.

And as NATO's mission draws closer to its end, questions about whether its Libya operation is a new model for foreign intervention are being more seriously considered. In an article for Foreign Policy, Eric Posner writes that the much-touted Libya operation violated international law on multiple grounds.

No legal justification for the intervention was ever established, NATO flouted the restrictions of the UN resolution that authorized the mission, and US President Barack Obama never received congressional authorization for joining the mission, Mr. Posner writes.

Both domestically and internationally, then, the dogs of war have escaped the well-meaning efforts to subject them to legal frameworks. When unpopular wars fall afoul of the law, policymakers and advocates believe themselves justified in redoubling their efforts to build up the law, so as to prevent a recurrence. A "good war" that runs afoul of the law, however, presents more significant obstacles, for it suggests that lawmakers are incapable of setting out rules that sensibly authorize the use of military force when it is warranted and restrain its use when it is not.

It is possible, indeed likely, that if countries had complied with international law, and the U.S. government had complied with domestic law, Qaddafi would still be in power, while thousands of Libyan civilians would be in torture chambers or graves. A similar conundrum confronted governments in the 1999 Serbia war, leading an international commission to declare that the war was "illegal but legitimate" -- a near contradiction which comes close to saying that governments should disregard law when they have, or think they have, legitimate moral or political aims. But given that governments always believe that their aims are legitimate, what force can law possibly have when it comes to arms?

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