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March 8, 2011

OK, so the situation in Libya seems to get graver and increasingly bizarre every day. Currently it sounds like something out of a Bond/Bourne script; so far we’ve had a mad dictator, a populist uprising, hired mercenaries, a botched rescue operation, more hired mercenaries, air attacks on civilian protests, battles fought for control of oil fields, even more hired mercenaries, defectors, refugees, dubious friendships with British Universities and (probably) off-shore bank accounts. Over the past few weeks the escalating situation in Libya has dominated headlines across the world. Incredibly (I suspect not entirely unconnected to Libya’s oil supplies), the conflict seems to genuinely have a mobilised and united international outcry and action in the form of a trade embargo. Although we have yet to see any more

Today things took yet one more step towards the conspiratory-theorists wet-dreams when six members of the British Special Forces and two British “diplomats” were taken captive by anti-Gaddafi forces. According to current reports the members of the Special Forces and one diplomat were dropped from a helicopter in open country (for those of you who can count that means yes, one “diplomat” was already there), and were detained whilst trying to make contact with the leaders of the opposition forces. They were carrying weapons and a number of different passports. Quite reasonably the Libyans questioned who they were and their motive in the country. Reports quoted one opposition leader sensibly commenting that they could not be sure who they were since the Israeli secret service (Mossad) famously used fake British identities in the assaination of Moroccan and Arab activists.

This development makes the murky, murky waters surrounding this evolving humanitarian crisis and the role of foreign governments in the situation even more dirty. Not long ago British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested sending weapons to arm the Libyan protesters, and I think recent events seriously call into question the role of the UK in the conflict. Fortunately the British government aren’t the only ones making a mess of things and in fact a Dutch Special Forces Unit are still being held captive by forces loyal to Gaddafi – we hope for their safe return soon.

I fully understand the criticism that too often foreign, and in particular powerful and developed nations have failed to intervene in humanitarian crises when relatively straightforward action would undoubtedly have saved thousands of lives. However, I think the autonomous action of any foreign state in this conflict, especially when it includes armed military operations, should be part of an agreed and coordinated international response. If the UN cannot be stirred to action then I agree that nations should consider it their moral responsibility to intervene in cases where human rights are grossly abused  (which they should have done, for example, in Rwanda). But by working alone, countries automatically appoint themselves as sole moral adjudicator to ascribe guilt to one side of the discussion. I just finished reading William Hague getting his ass-kicked by opposition and party members on the topic in Prime Ministers Question Time. Perhaps this would have been acceptable fifty years ago, but in the modern world, it undermines the very spirit of partnership and democracy that they claim to represent.

The Guardian has a rolling feed on the conflict, which is very good, but many of the earliest reports seem to be coming from Reuters so its worth checking both if you want to follow what’s going on.

Also, I support the idea of a no-fly zone but I think it would be very difficult to implement because so much of Libya is practically uninhabited desert.



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