On Monday I attended the debate on Libya, but decided not to vote. I should explain why.
I of course support the United Nations in its wish to protect civilians in Libya from the barabrism of its government. I could not disagree with the main sentiments of the Commons motion. We would all like the Libyan government to behave better, and would like democratic forces to be allowed to protest and to seek peaceful change.
My concern is who intervenes and what they do. I would prefer the UN resolution to be enforced by the Arab League, supported by NATO powers close to Libya who will find it easier to lend planes and personnel to the task. I do not wish to see more UK lives at risk in conflict after the enormous sacrifices made by our armed forces elsewhere in the Middle East. At a time of necessary restraint on public spending we need to avoid any new open ended financial commitments as well.
The debate raised the issue of how do the UN forces achieve success and get out again? Whilst the aim of the intervention very clearly is to seek to protect Libyan civilians from violence by its government, and not regime change, the easiest way of seeing an end to this business would be the end of the Gaddafi regime. Were the Gaddafi factions to fragment and to topple him, that would provide an exit. If the bombing did kill him, as some have suggested, that too would mark an end.
If the Gaddafi regime stays in place there will remain a serious risk that he and his forces will revenge themselves on the rebels. If the UN does not arm and support the rebels it will be difficult to prevent this. The air zone allows bombing of tanks and army units when they are in open ground moving from town to town, but does not allow intervention house by house in urban areas if the Gaddafi forces blend into the urban landscape and attack the rebels at closer quarters. There will be growing pressure to offer assistance to the ground forces of the rebels if the internal conflict continues.