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The United Nations Security Council has voted unanimously to conclude NATO's Libya operation at 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 31, despite a request from Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) that it stand through the end of 2011.
UNSC Resolution 2016 will put the NTC fully at the helm of the country and free the NTC of military and financial restrictions so that it can begin rebuilding the country's military and economy. NATO is expected to formally announce an end to its Libya mission at a meeting on Friday.
Officially, the resolution ends UN authorization for a no-fly zone and air attacks deemed key to protecting civilians and loosens an arms embargo on the country so that the NTC can begin acquiring weapons, Agence France-Presse reports. It also eases up financial restrictions, such as a freeze on assets of the Libyan National Oil Corporation and restrictions on the central bank and other economic institutions.
Without the UN authorization, NATO will be hard-pressed to justify a continuation of its military operation – and has not indicated an interest in doing so.
However, it may still have a role assisting the NTC as it consolidates power. The NTC "may foresee a future role for NATO," said US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, according to AFP. For now, it is still conducting air patrols.
On Wednesday, Libyan Deputy UN Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi asked the Security Council to postpone terminating its authorization until after the NTC had time to assess Libya's security situation and the "ability to monitor its borders," Reuters reports.
Western diplomats said that the things that NATO could potentially help with now that the war is over are beyond the parameters of the UN mandate for NATO. A NATO official said alliance members are permitted to give security assistance to Libya on an individual country basis, according to Reuters.
Tony Karon writes in a column for Time Magazine that the NTC's request for a NATO to stay until the end of the year shows it is concerned about losing its tentative control over the country to an insurgency when NATO air cover stops.
The TNC is clearly aware that while the regime may have been decapitated, there were many thousands of Libyans willing to fight for it – and even more civilians supporting them. Even though most of the dictator's inner circle have been killed or captured, there have been a number of signs of continuing resistance. And Iraq proved that if those who benefited from the old regime are not given a stake in the new order, many of them fight on even if their erstwhile leaders are dead. The not insubstantial number of Libyan civilians that supported the regime or remained ambivalent towards the rebellion remain in play, and the conduct of some rebel formations – like the brigade from Misrata that played a key role in capturing Sirte and killing Gaddafi, but who have also been accused in massacres, wanton destruction and pillage in the city – could potentially further alienate them from the new order.
Russia, perhaps the most outspoken critic of NATO's tactics among council members and one of the sponsors of the resolution 2016, welcomed the unanimous vote and said an extension beyond Oct. 31 was "unrealistic," according to AFP.
Russia, China, South Africa, Brazil, and India – the so-called BRICS countries – all insisted throughout the NATO operation that it was exceeding the UN mandate, while NATO allies insisted all their actions were justified under the civilian protection provision of the UN authorization.
France, perhaps the strongest crusader for intervention in Libya when it was first discussed, does not support an extension of NATO's military mission, although Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said Thursday there is potential for NATO to provide political support, the Washington Post reports.