Edward Rees: The Case Against a No-Fly Zone in Libya





[Edward Rees is senior adviser to Peace Dividend Trust. He previously worked with the Peacekeeping Best Practises Section (PBPS) of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) at the UN Headquarters in New York and as Political Officer to the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy in Timor-Leste.]

...NFZs are not a frequently used tool in the international community's array of potential response mechanisms to internal violence. This is because they only address a symptom of conflict rather than the cause, are complicated to implement, have historically had middling results, and can draw states further into conflict rather than resolving them.

NFZs have been implemented in only a few cases in the last twenty years. During the Bosnian war, Operation Deny Flight (March 1993 to December 1995) and Operation Deliberate Force (August to September 1995) were imposed over the war zone. Designed to deny the Serbian air force the ability to deploy airpower, these NFZs did little to stop the worst abuses of that conflict, including the infamous Srebrenica massacre among other atrocities. Intra-state conflicts, as in Libya today, are ultimately conducted on the ground. The Serbs only came to the negotiating table once the land power balance shifted against them. Certainly NFZs contributed to this, but were not the determining factor. Armies cannot be defeated by air forces alone.

In the first Gulf War, the U.S.-led coalition imposed Operation Provide Comfort (May 1991 to December 1996) and Operation Northern Watch (January 1997 to March 2003) over much of northern Iraq. Designed to provide air cover for the large humanitarian aid response in the Kurdish north, these NFZs were largely successful for two reasons. Firstly, the proximity of airbases in Turkey and Europe made it easy to deploy persistent and wide coverage. Secondly and most importantly, the Kurdish peshmerga militia already controlled much of the contested ground. The NFZ only had to complement that ground-based force. No such dominantground force exists today in Libya....

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