India Ducks UNSC Bouncer
Operation Odyssey Dawn began on Saturday, March 19. The first strike was launched by a French Rafale fighter jet destroying a Libyan military vehicle near Benghazi, a rebel held city in eastern Libya that pro-Gaddafi troops had attempted to re-capture.
With more than 100 Tomahawk missiles lined up along the Libyan coastline, Pentagon confirmed that American and British forces were targeting Colonel Gaddafi’s air defence systems in an attempt to enforce the UN-backed “no-fly zone” (NFZ). The chief motto of the NFZ formula is to deter Gaddafi’s air-power and ground capacity against the rebels.
In terms of military arsenal, Gaddafi’s forces can only boast of Cold War era outmoded Soviet systems. Libya’s air defence system is considered antediluvian, comparable to Saddam Hussein’s wherewithal. Gaddafi’s air force is presumed to include up to 80 operational aircraft based around the MiG-23, which was phased out of Russian service 17 years ago. Moreover, ground forces rely on Soviet-era weaponry including T-72 tanks.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that there would be continuous allied air cover over Benghazi, and that the NFZ “was effectively in place” .
Well, these events were eventual fallouts of the decision taken at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on March 17, 2011, where 10 out of the 15 members (permanent and non-permanent members included) decided to approve an NFZ over Libya, authorising all necessary measures to protect the civilians (read rebels).
Interestingly, India had refrained from voting in that contentious UNSC resolution. The resolution refers to Chapter VII of the UN Charter in order to stop pro-Gaddafi elements in their assault over the rebels. Chapter VII authorises “action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security”.
India’s deputy permanent representative Manjeev Singh Puri said India could not endorse the drastic steps called for in the resolution without hearing from the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Abdel Ilah Al-Khatib; former Jordanian foreign minister. Though his visit to Libya was over, the Special Envoy’s report was not available at the time of voting.
In a press release, the Ministry of External Affairs of India asserted that on March 17 at New York, Puri had said : “The resolution that the Council has adopted today authorises far-reaching measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter with relatively little credible information on the situation on the ground in Libya. We also do not have clarity about details of enforcement measures, including who and with what assets will participate and how these measures will be exactly carried out. It is, of course, very important that there is full respect for sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Libya.”
India, along with China, Brazil, Russia and Germany abstained from voting. It hardly needs to be mentioned that India is presently a non-permanent member of the Security Council. And it is evident that India does not subscribe to the direct use of force against Libya or for that matter, against any other sovereign nation-sate.
Moreover, New Delhi indicated that the UNSC resolution “could impact, directly or through indirect routes, ongoing trade and investment activities of a number of member-states thereby adversely affecting the economic interests of the Libyan people. Also, India expressed concerns that the perceived measures might exacerbate an already difficult situation for the people of Libya.”
On the other hand; though Gadhafi declared a unilateral ceasefire on Friday (March 18), there were reports that even on Saturday, at least 26 people were killed and over 40 wounded after forces loyal to Gaddafi pounded the rebellious city of Benghazi (as per Al Jazeera). To an extent, this news erected the legitimacy for the UNSC resolution to be translated into action.
The Voice of America reported that at the crisis summit on Libya at the Elysee Palace in Paris (March 19), major world leaders concurred to use ‘force’ against Muammar Gaddafi. Hence, French war planes pounded Libyan targets Saturday evening, the first foreign strikes enforcing a United Nations NFZ over Libya.
The germane questions at this critical juncture are: Is the world going to witness another Balkanisation as was seen in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s? Will Libya be divided into the oil-rich rebel-held east and pro-Gaddafi west? Or shall we see another Iraq? The UNSC resolution however categorically mentions that ‘no occupation force’ would be stationed in Libya.
Nevertheless, in this context, India’s actions need to be analysed. Was this a Brazil-Russia-India-China (BRIC) plus G-4 effect? Interestingly, apart from Japan, which is at present not within the Security Council, other nation-states of BRIC and G-4 (Group seeking permanent membership of the Council) unanimously abstained from voting.
By so doing, India has definitely exhibited its independent foreign policy stance and to a large extent has tried to eradicate the prevailing notion of its pro-US tilt. It may also be interpreted as a defiant measure against the recent WikiLeaks’ allegations that Indian foreign policy decisions are being ‘policed’ by Uncle Sam. However, at the same time, such an [in]action on India’s part may not be very encouraging for its prospects of bagging a permanent seat in the UNSC with American help.
In this regard, it is noteworthy what commentator Dan Twining says in the Foreign Policy magazine : “Their failure to vote with their natural allies by standing up for the same basic rights for the Libyan people that Germans, Indians, and Brazilians enjoy could complicate American, French, and British support for their quest for a permanent seat on the Security Council.”
However, South Block has remained critical and vocal about the UN-backed air strikes on Libya. In a press release on March 20, it said: “India views with grave concern the continuing violence, strife and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Libya. It regrets the air strikes that are taking place. As stated earlier by India, the measures adopted should mitigate and not exacerbate an already difficult situation for the people of Libya.”
Naturally, India urged “all parties to abjure use of or the threat of use of force and to resolve their differences through peaceful means and dialogue”.
India was not alone in this aspect. Both China and Russia followed suit. “Moscow notes with regret this armed action, taken in conjunction with the hastily passed UN Security Council resolution 1973,” the Russian foreign ministry said on Sunday, March 20. Moscow called for an immediate end to the ‘bloodshed’ in Libya to allow for dialogue.
The Chinese foreign ministry echoed sentiments: “Beijing as always does not agree with the use of force in international relations”, Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said. China believed that all countries should respect Libya’s ‘sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.
The upshot of these developments may be summarised as under:
- Notwithstanding a resurgent Russia and a strong China, neither could risk pushing the UNSC architecture to the brink by applying their veto power in the Libyan case.
- India is yet to frame a robust and uniform foreign policy, especially during international crises situations. Furthermore, in case of pariah states like Iran, Myanmar, North Korea and Libya, India’s posture remains unclear.
- India still seems to be shouldering the pre-1991 principle of Non-alignment and considering its history and legacy, it will be difficult for India to abjure it in the coming future.
- After evacuating around 15,000 of the 18,000 odd Indians from Libya, safety of its people must not have weighed on the minds of the Indian policy-makers. Similar rationale could be ascribed for China.
- It has been reported on March 15 that Gaddafi had decided to export Libya’s oil to India, Russia and China and this was a decisive reason for the abstention of these countries at the UNSC. However, such reports needs further corroboration.
- In the wake of the UNSC decision, Gaddafi declared a unilateral ceasefire. Still, the UN-backed attack took place. Thus it does not augur well for the territorial integrity of any nation-state. And such a thing might have been in the minds of the policy-makers of the BRIC nations.
- It seems highly likely that the Libyan War of 2011 may be a replication of events that took place in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. It bespeaks of Western hegemony.
- Brushing aside intra-group differences, BRIC and G-4 seem to hold ground, at least as far as this Security Council decision was concerned.
In sum, for good or worse, the coming days shall unfold a new history for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Libyan casualties will only grow in numbers, howsoever precise the allied air strikes might be. But, one thing is for sure. India may have somehow ducked this bouncer at the UNSC, but it will face a few more in its stint of two years. MENA will remain jittery in times to come and Sudan will add to the repertoire of problems.
By Uddipan Mukherjee