No action in Libya would have been disastrous. Hundreds died in the weeks where the international community dithered. The UK is quite rightly backing a NATO led force in Libya to protect civilians. The UK has been central to the delivery of humanitarian aid. There are whisperings however of arming the rebels. I cannot see how this would be conducive to the UK’s aim of protecting civilians. This smacks of an entirely different agenda – regime change.
Let’s start with the positive. The UK Government is funding the ICRC which is providing support for 100,000 people’s basic needs and 3,000 medical needs for those affected by the fighting. They have sent blankets and supplies to the approximate 38,000 people stuck at the border of Libya. They will soon be flying out supplies for 10,000 IDP’s. Equally, the UK has been instrumental in evacuating 12,500 migrant workers who are fleeing the country. All of this is highly commendable.
I fully support the current British military involvement, it holds the backing the whole cabinet, the UN and a strong proportion of parliament and the international community. The crux of the operation is to protect civilians. In this case, military intervention is necessary, legal and right. This is stark contrast to previous UK military commitments such as Iraq. The no-fly zone is helping to reduce the risk faced by ordinary civilians. It has to be supported.
There are however, three very good, practical reasons why we should not be arming the rebels.
1) Differing views within the impressively diverse coalition that supports the current intervention will almost certainly be split if we tried to arm the rebels. Equally, I do not swallow the argument that if an Arab state provided the arms then it would reduce the controversial nature of it. Regardless of where the arms come from, the very action of them arriving in the country will divide the coalition. This would destroy the international support for the action and undermine the basis of the mission to protect civilians.
2) The allies would have no control of how or who would use these weapons. I have no doubt that by further arming one side; you would undermine our own ability to protect civilians. Even at the height of civil war, we need to be looking to reduce the conflict not escalate it.
3) There is no way of controlling and influencing where else in the world these weapons would head off to. We should be under no illusion; these “freedom fighters” are made up of a mix of groups and individuals – some of which are rather unsavoury. We have an obligation to ensure weapons we supply do not end up in other wars. I do not believe we can guarantee that this would not happen.
The rebels are clearly militarily underdogs to the regimes army. The UK however has to keep its cool and not look to finish this conflict with a silver bullet. The best military assistance the UK can now give (along side policing the no fly zone, enforcing an arms embargo and welcoming defectors) is to offer training and support to the ground troops. The last thing the revolution wants now is a wasteful surge to only be beaten back with heavy losses.
I cannot see how arming the rebels will help protect civilians and no one yet has managed to provide an answer to that. Yet, our PM has said he is not willing to rule out military intervention.