Libya, the regime change dilemma, and the Parliamentary Debate

There was all-party agreement in March on the House of Commons motion[i] in support of Canadian participation, for three months, in the UN-mandated protection mission in Libya, and while there are not sufficient grounds for withdrawing that support now, there is an urgent need to shift from bombing to talking.

Back in March supporters of multilateral intervention in Libya might have dared to hope that in three months, with a no-fly zone in force and the most egregious of attacks on civilians in Benghazi averted, the regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi would either fold or be
sufficiently chastened and respectful of basic human rights and international humanitarian law to allow international forces to draw back while Libyans focused on planning a new future. Hope was possible, but there were few grounds for anyone to genuinely expect such an early and benign outcome.

Now, as Canadian Parliamentarians prepare to debate and then vote to extend Canadian participation in the Libyan protection mission, there is even less reason to expect that another three months of NATO-coordinated aerial attacks will produce conditions conducive to the safety of Libyan civilians.[ii]

The question of regime change and how to achieve it is central and should figure prominently in Tuesday’s debate. There is little doubt that government in Libya must and will change, but as UN Security Council Resolution 1973[iii] makes abundantly clear, that is not the business nor prerogative of the international forces carrying out the mandated protection mission. It is obviously Libyans who must be in charge of choosing their government.

But if the Libyan people are to truly be in a position to make real choices it cannot be acceptable for the regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi to remain in place to continue denying Libyans the genuine opportunity to choose an alternative to it. For the people of Libya to be safe in the long run, they obviously need to have the opportunity to choose and
challenge their governments without suffering reprisals and attacks – attacks that have led not only to African Union and Arab League support for the Security Council’s historic decision to mandate a protection mission, but also to International Criminal Court charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The International Commission of Inquiry (ICI) has independently also concluded that the Libyan regime has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity,[iv] and the Court may soon add the charge that Col. Gadhafi ordered the systematic rape of Libyan women by his troops and mercenaries.[v]

There is therefore a compelling logic to the conclusion, shared by President Barack Obama,[vi] that ultimately the only way to protect vulnerable civilians in Libya is to dismantle or defeat the regime that now attacks and threatens the vulnerable – but that still is not the task of Canadians or any of the international forces. Not only is regime
change outside the UN mandate, but the US/NATO record of following up regime destruction, at which they are quite proficient, with regime replacement that is trusted by the local population is way less than stellar.

The regime now is one that must be dealt with. That means the focus must obviously shift from the search for more targets for bombers to energetic diplomacy in search of a credible compromise that can yield a cease-fire and then a legitimate process toward a Government
chosen by Libyans and accountable to them.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) offers, as it often does, some constructive ideas. It sets out a two-stage process — one that involves Col. Gadhafi in the first stage of negotiating a cease-fire. Indeed, the ICG sees Gadhafi’s participation as essential to achieving an orderly ceasefire — having already made ceasefire offers — and for launching a transition to a post-Jamahiriya State from which he would be excluded – a prospect he may be rather more reticent to contemplate.[vii]

The ICG does not directly explain why Gadhafi would cooperate in a truce that would by definition strip him of power and actually pave the way for his appearance at trial in the Hague (the ICG does in effect propose impunity for Col. Gadhafi). The immediate issue, however, is to pursue a ceasefire, and the stalemated military situation should be regarded
as an opportunity, not an impediment. And the main point of reaching a ceasefire is to set in place a credible process towards a new Libyan government.

That is a political/diplomatic challenge, not a military challenge. In the last debate, then Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae told the House of Commons: “I do not think any of us feels there is a military solution to this conflict.”  NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewer also
emphasized diplomacy. Later in the debate Rae said: “…our diplomatic effort at finding a solution and continuing to aim for a solution obviously has to be as muscular as our willingness to send the CF-18s to patrol the airspace….”[viii]

Regime change is at the core of Libyans gaining a say in their future, without fear of reprisals and attacks being mounted against them in the process. Regime change is nevertheless not a NATO objective because it has neither the authority nor the competence to produce it. NATO does have the responsibility to join with the UN, the African Union, the Arab League and Libyan stakeholders in urgent diplomatic pursuit of a ceasefire.

That’s the kind of diplomacy that Canada should be energetically promoting.


[i] “That in standing in solidarity with those seeking freedom in Libya, the House welcomes United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973; that the House deplores the
ongoing use of violence by the Libyan regime against the Libyan people; acknowledges the demonstrable need, regional support and clear legal basis for urgent action to protect the people of Libya; consequently, the Government shall work with our allies, partners and the United Nations, to promote and support all aspects of UNSC Resolution 1973 which includes the taking of all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in Libya and to enforce the No Fly Zone, including the use of
the Canadian Armed Forces and military assets in accordance with UNSC Resolution 1973, that the House requests that the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development and the Standing Committee on National Defence remain seized of Canada’s activities under UNSC Resolution 1973; that should the Government require an extension to the involvement of the Canadian Armed Forces for more than three months from the passage of this motion, the Government shall return to the House at its earliest opportunity to debate and seek the consent of the House for such an extension; and that the House offers its wholehearted support to the men and women of the Canadian Armed

“Commons approves Libyan mission by UN,” CBC News, 21 March 2011.

[ii] That is likely so despite reports that rebel forces are nearing Tripoli and that citizen protests are taking place in Tripoli and in rural areas previously close to the Gadhafi regime. [Nick Carey, “Second day of fighting near Libya’s capital,” Reuters 12 June 2011.

[iii] United Nations Security Council, S/RES/1973 (2011).

[iv] “Libyan Government forces and opposition committed war crimes – UN panel,” UN
NewsCentre, 1 June 2011.

[v] “International Court Suggests Qaddafi Employing Rape Against Enemies,” Radio Free Europe, 9 June 2011.

[vi] George Parker and Stanley Pignal, “Obama renews call for Libya regime to
go,” Financial Times, 26 May 2011.

[vii] Popular Protest In North Africa and the Middle East (V): Making Sense of Libya, 6 Jun2 2011, International Crisis Group, Middle East/North Africa Report N°107.–%20Making%20Sense%20of%20Libya.ashx

[viii] House of Commons, Government Orders, 21 March 2011, United Nations Security
Council Resolution Concerning Libya.


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