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Spain and the coalition

Foreign intervention must not discredit the rebel forces fighting against Gaddafi

All the Spanish political parties, with the exceptions of United Left (IU) and Galician National Bloc (BNG) have backed the government's decision to participate in the international coalition aimed at protecting Libya's civilian population from Colonel Gaddafi's air attacks. Though expected, the vote result shows that Mediterranean policy is perceived by both parties and public as a priority of Spanish diplomacy. It would have been unjustifiable to fence-sit over an operation in which the moral imperative of preventing the Libyan regime from committing new atrocities has been backed by crucial authorization in the form of the Security Council's Resolution 1973. For reasons not easy to understand, the government set a one-month limit on the mission authorization it demanded of Congress, although this may be extended.

The mission that Spain has now joined does, however, face problems derived from the urgency with which it had to be implemented, hours after the Security Council passed its resolution. Operational reasons made it advisable that the United States initially assume command, but President Obama has expressed a desire to pass on this leading role as soon as possible. France, the first country to intervene, hopes to take over, in order to redeem its recent mistakes in Tunisia. Italy, whose bases are essential, prefers that NATO replace the US, limiting the French role. But this alternative clashes with the distrust of certain allies, such as Turkey.

The formula proposed for solving the conundrum is that of setting up a political command that will execute its decisions through NATO. The US favors this solution announced by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, though the reaction of other NATO members remains to be seen.

Together with command-related problems, doubts have also arisen as to the objective of the mission. In spite of the broad terms in which it is drafted, Resolution 1973 does not extend to the overthrow of Gaddafi. To go beyond operations aimed at protecting the civilian population would not only exceed the legal framework set by the UN; it would also gravely compromise the political future of Libya. The rebels themselves have reiterated their opposition to the international forces going beyond the objective set by the resolution, in the conviction that their legitimacy must not be clouded in the event that they do finally overthrow the dictatorship.

The speed with which the coalition led by France, the UK and the US carried out the mission authorized by Resolution 1973 has distracted attention from other substantial aspects of the text that underlies the international strategy on Libya. Concretely, the need to block the financial assets that Gaddafi has at his disposal (including the Libyan sovereign fund) in order to finance the military machine that he has unleashed on his own people. If his intention is to wage a war of attrition, the need to deprive him of resources is all the more imperative.

The UN has made an emphatic gesture in this direction. The military component of coalition strategy must not downgrade the role of diplomacy, which is still indispensable for a favorable outcome of the mission.

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