LIBYA – BREAKING THE ARMS EMBARGO

Recent revelations from France that the French military has been supplying small arms to the anti Gaddafi rebels has triggered discussion about whether this action breaches the terms of the arms embargo imposed on Libya by Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973.  Supporters of arming the rebels say it does not allegedly because Security Council Resolution 1973 allows “all necessary measures” to protect civilians.  Purportedly “all necessary measures” can extend to arming civilians if this is necessary for their protection.

This line of reasoning is absurd.  The arms embargo is imposed by Security Council Resolution 1970.  This forbids any and all shipments of arms to Libya without distinguishing between the government forces or the rebels.  Security Council Resolution 1973 reaffirms this embargo and contains further provisions for its enforcement.  Neither Resolution 1970 nor Resolution 1973 say that the rebels are excluded from the embargo.  Had this been the intention the Resolutions would have said as much.  To suggest that the expression “all necessary measures” in one part of Resolution 1973 somehow invalidates or qualifies the arms embargo in another part of Resolution 1973, thereby rendering the Resolution self contradictory and void on one of its most important points, is nonsensical.

I would add that both Resolutions 1970 and 1973 end with the expression that the “Security Council remains seized of the matter”.  In other words the Security Council has ownership of the Resolutions. This means that it is for the Security Council and not for the French or the British or anyone else by themselves to decide what steps are “necessary” to protect civilians and whether the arms embargo imposed by the Resolutions should be relaxed or set aside.  If the French, the British or anyone else feel that arming the rebels is “necessary” to protect civilians then according to the text of the Resolutions they have to seek permission to do this from the Security Council, which is the only body that has the power to decide the matter.  If the Security Council decides that such a step is needed then it can relax the arms embargo by amending Resolutions 1970 and 1973.

In other words the French arming of the rebels is simply another in a long list of breaches of the two Resolutions.  It is not even the most flagrant.  The bombing and killing of civilians in Tripoli and elsewhere is. 

An at least equally serious breach of the Resolutions arises from the presence of military or paramilitary personnel in Libya to provide training and advice to the rebels and to provide guidance to NATO’s bombers.  Claims that this does not breach Resolution 1973 because these personnel are supposedly not an “occupation force” again ignores the simple wording of Resolution 1973, which clearly forbids an occupation force “in any form” and “on any part” (ie even the smallest part) of Libyan territory.  This clearly forbids the deployment of so much as a single soldier. To argue otherwise is ridiculous.

In reality any foreign armed presence on the territory of a state without the permission or agreement of the government of that state is an “occupation force” and it is absurd to argue otherwise. As for the claim I have seen, that the soldiers who have been seen in Libya are not an occupation force because they are retired rather than serving soldiers, those who make this claim are obviously unaware that paragraph 9 of Resolution 1970 (expressly reaffirmed by Resolution 1973) also prohibits the entry of mercenaries into Libya and calls on UN Member States to act to prevent the deployment there of mercenaries when they are their own nationals.

The simple reality is that the operation against Libya is now so far in breach of Resolutions 1970 and 1973 that there is no point in trying to relate it to those Resolutions.  In truth the Resolutions were never more than a figleaf for military action, which would surely have happened anyway whether the Resolutions were passed or not.  

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