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Global News
Friday, March 18, 2011

The no-fly zone in Libya is a hot topic of discussion among Canadians, who are sending fighter jets to North Africa.


Global News has solicited the opinions of two experts on foreign relations – John Thompson, head of the Mackenzie Institute, a Toronto-based think tank, and Paul Heinbecker, who is the former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, director of the Laurier Centre for Global Relations and a distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation.


Six Canadian fighter jets are expected to leave Quebec today to help enforce a no-fly zone over Libya. In your opinion, has Ottawa made the right decision?


PH: Moammar Gadhafi is a monster. The UN has reacted to his behavior and authorized member states to act, so any country that has the capability and a sense of civic responsibility should respond. Canada has responded the way it should.


Ottawa’s decision might have something to do with a pending election. But it doesn’t bother me if one of the residual effects of Stephen Harper’s [positioning for an election] turns out to be doing the right thing.


If you had the authority to determine Canadian involvement in Libya, what would you decide?


PH: The Canadian government is doing what it should be doing. Of course, a few other things could be done, too.


More help could be given to refugees. The situation on the front looks quite bad but it’s hard to know how desperate it really is. There are people who desperately need help.


In terms of long-term help, we could give the anti-Gadhafi forces technical assistance in building state institutions –and Canada certainly has expertise in judicial areas and health management.


We shouldn’t look at assistance to Libya as aid because, unless something really bad happens there, Libya will be able to pay for assistance.


However, I wouldn’t consider military assistance to anti-Gadhafi forces. After all, we have called for a ceasefire – and that means no more firing from either side.


It would be good to stop arms trafficking similar to the way we have our ships patrol the Red Sea to discourage pirates.


One thing that people haven’t really seemed to notice is that the UN resolution is a far-reaching one; it authorizes air war and doesn’t rule out putting combat troops on the ground.


If fighting continues, NATO forces have the clear advantage. Pitting NATO forces against a Libya forces would be like having an NHL team face off against a beer league team.


JT: Intervening in a civil war can always have uncertain results. In this case, even just passing the authorization for the no-fly zone through the UN Security Council seems to have provoked Gaddafi into declaring a unilateral cease-fire.


It seems hard to argue with results like that, except to quibble that Gaddafi might -- as dictators so often do -- be looking for wriggle room in the resolve of the interested nations and to see if anyone actually sends anything now.


Another declaration of intent is the dispatch of the HMCS Charlottetown to Libyan waters. Warships, like aircraft assigned to no-fly-zones, are a way of being committed without risking getting too involved.


There is some risk to our fighters and our frigate, and both are expensive to deploy; but the chance of getting really involved in combat with somebody is remote. Ottawa has put its chips on the Libyan table, but is playing a cautious hand -- as it should.


Lieutenant-Gen. Andre Deschamps says this mission parallels the 1999 mission to the former Yugoslavia, when Canadian jets helped protect citizens being mistreated by their governments. Do you agree or disagree with that assessment? Please explain.


PH: Yes, it does in many ways. In terms of positioning, Libya is as easily accessible to NATO troops geographically as the former Yugoslavia was. Neither of these countries was as challenging as Afghanistan in that regard.


Of course, there are some obvious differences. Yugoslavia was landlocked while Libya is not. Also, the Yugoslavian military was more powerful than Libyan forces are now. Libya is a third-world country militarily.


JT: The comparison to Kosovo is unfortunate. Washington and NATO were played for fools by the Kosovar Albanians, and in retrospect we really should not have been there.


Issues in the Balkans in the 1990s weren’t black and white. Everything was shades of gray. Trying to treat a complex issue like a morality play was never appropriate, although our servicemen did all that was asked of them and more in trying circumstances.


Thinking of Gaddafi as a 'bad guy' is easy enough. He is a nasty character with a long history of stark human rights abuses behind him. [Readers might recall he sent troops to support Idi Amin in 1978, occupied northern Chad in the 1980s, backed Charles Taylor in Liberia and armed the rebels who made so much misery in Sierra Leone 00 all in addition to the enthusiastic support he gave to international terrorism for decades.


However, the rebels have much of a flavouring of Islamic fundamentalism in their ranks, and might not be any better should they be running the country.


Still, the intervention may allow a peaceful turnover of power, might curtail a civil war that could still go on for months, and could save tens of thousands of lives and -- a consideration which is not to be ignored -- perhaps will roll back oil prices for a bit which itself could yield a stabilizing influence elsewhere in this troubled year.


No one knows how the situation will unfold in Libya, but if you were to make an educated guess what would you say?


PH: After the dust is settled, it’s not clear what will happen. It’s true there is no history of democracy in Libya but you have to start somewhere. Keep in mind, good governance is possible without democracy. Having institutions can carry out the functions of a state, that is a basis on which to build.


JT: The conditions that sparked the revolt in Libya continue, just as Egypt and Tunisia are still bubbling along. Between soaring energy and food prices around the world, this may be a year of revolutions -- and not just in the Middle East either.


The opposition in Libya will be determined to see Gadhafi go; and he migth be as resolute and manipulative as Saddam Hussein was under similar circumstances. The ceasefire may be a test to see if nations will now actually go through the effort of deploying resources for the no-fly zone,, and no doubt there will be numerous regrettable and unfortunate 'incidents' as Gadhafi's forces press for advantage.


As the rebels continue to organize, they might want to test emerging capabilities too. Libya will probably stay in the headlines for quite some time, unless eclipsed by one of the emerging civil wars elsewhere.