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Gaddafi versus the world

The international community must remember that its goal is to protect Libya's civilians

Barely two hours after the major powers' meeting in Paris reached agreement in a bid to oblige Muammar Gaddafi to respect UN Security Council Resolution 1,973, French Air Force jets launched their first attack against forces loyal to the Libyan dictator. They were soon followed by US air strikes. Over the course of the next few days an international military operation, backed by the Arab League, will be rolled out. The Spanish government has taken the correct decision to send military aircraft, as well as putting the country's bases at the disposal of the international coalition's operation, which is aimed at protecting the civilian population in Libya.

France and the United States' rapid response shows that it is possible to set up a no-fly zone over Libya without having destroyed the country's anti-aircraft capability or its radar systems. The argument over the need to do this was used as an excuse over the last few weeks and delayed an international response to Gaddafi's brutal response to the uprising against his regime, causing many deaths and unnecessarily complicating the situation in Libya and the wider region. The international community's failure to act was also sending out a political message to other dictators that may well have encouraged some regimes to crack down more heavily on the rebellions underway in their countries, thus creating further instability.

What Gaddafi has been prevented from doing in Libya, the regimes in Yemen and Saudi Arabia should also be prevented from doing, even if it does not entail a military response. Active diplomacy is the best way to prevent having to apply extreme solutions.

The international community's response to the situation in Libya must not lose sight of its primary objective: to prevent Gaddafi from carrying out war crimes. The creation of a no-fly zone gives the rebels a military advantage, and will better enable them to topple the dictator. There can be no question of the international community directly intervening to bring about the dictator's downfall. To do so would delegitimize any government created by the rebels once the despot has gone. However, much as the international community would like to see Gaddafi abandon power, its role is not to promote democracy, but to protect the civilian population from a likely bloodbath, should the rebel stronghold of Benghazi fall to Gaddafi's forces.

This was a necessary decision, and has met all the requirements of international law. The coalition must act with extreme caution regarding the actions it decides to take over the coming days. The likelihood that the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt would be replaced by a different dictatorship was limited, given that the respective leaders there were overthrown by peaceful means. However, the situation in Libya is far more complex.

The task of preventing an outbreak of uncontrolled violence in Libya is ultimately the responsibility of Libyans. But the international community cannot afford to make any mistakes either, be they the outcome of either inaction or over-enthusiasm on its part.

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