Libya is the latest on the list
In an effort to ensure that embattled Libyan head of state Moammar Gaddafi is unable to use his country’s air force against Libya’s largely disgruntled civilian population, the United Nations Security Council issued a no-fly zone over the North African nation last week.
Acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the UN Security Council, adopted Resolution 1973 by 10 votes to zero, with five nations abstaining from the vote. Member states are authorized to “take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack … while excluding an occupation force.”
A no-fly zone is, in essence, an area declared off-limits to aircraft – especially military aircraft – and although there are a number of restricted airspaces across the world, no-fly zones are often imposed during times of war.
In the last 20 years, the UN Security Council has, in efforts to prevent civilian casualties, issued no-fly zones over Iraq and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Some examples of non-military related no-fly zones include the airspace above the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif., and, with the looming threat of a potential nuclear meltdown in Japan, the airspace above the Fukushima nuclear plant.
Although the Libyan air force is less sophisticated than the United States’ military, last week, US National Intelligence Director James Clapper reported that Gaddafi holds around 80 operational aircraft, a number of different helicopters, transport aircraft, and fighter jets at his disposal.
On Mar. 20, at a Pentagon press conference, Vice Admiral Bill Gortney of the US military claimed that the initial stages of enforcing the no-fly zone were a “significant success”. At the time of the press conference, the US had reportedly fired over 120 Tomahawk missiles onto strategic air defence systems across Libya. Additionally, Gortney reported that there were neither reports of any allied planes being lost nor reports of any civilian injury.
Although international reports surfaced that suggested that Canada had already began bombing Libya, Jay Paxton, a spokesperson for Defence Minister Peter MacKay, rejected the reports, and insisted that the earliest that the Canadian armed forces could join the mission would be on Tuesday, Mar. 22. So far, Canada has pledged to contribute six CF-18 fighter jets, along with a contingent of 140 to 150 pilots and support personnel to the mission in North Africa.
Appearing on CTV’s Question Period on Sunday, MacKay elaborated on what a no-fly zone over Libya would ideally achieve.
“The purpose here is clearly to disable the airfields and the use of Libyan air assets that could be brought to bear and used against civilians,” said MacKay. “So the clear indication is that we want to disable their air force and ensure that civilians are given the maximum protection.”
Because of the volatile state of the country, coupled with the fact that Libya’s fate is, at this point, largely unknown, MacKay couldn’t give a clear indication as to how long the Canadian military plans on being involved in the North African country’s conflict.
“We certainly hope that this will not turn into another protracted drawn-out affair. It’s very difficult to gauge the capability of the rebels on the ground and whether they are, in fact, united throughout the country.”
Although it is uncertain what impact the no-fly zone will have on the ongoing conflict in Libya, many are skeptical as to how effective the UN mandate will be in removing Gaddafi from office.
In his editorial “Freedom not likely result of intervening in Libya” in the London Free Press, Brian MacLeod elaborated on this skepticism.
“Canada’s six CF-18 fighters are poised to help enforce a UN-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya, but no one should expect this will be the end of it. This is likely the beginning of a long engagement with a despot who is willing to kill or be killed … Stopping the inevitable slaughter is commendable, but there are no signs that what will come of it is freedom.”