Libya and international law


                I did not vote for the Libyan motion when the action was first discussed in the Commons because I was worried about how we could ensure a good outcome. I wondered why Libya and not elsewhere in the Middle East, and why the UK when other countries were closer and had the military means to enforce any UN resolution. Events in Syria reinforce the question of what is special about Libya that warrants military intervention from outside.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Today NATO seems to define success as being the end of Gaddafi’s tenure in office. Action from the air has been successful in lifting the external¬†threat to Libya’s second city, as allied planes were able to destroy tanks and other heavy equipment on the way to attack the city. It is far more difficult to do the same at Misrata, where the Libyan government forces are already inside the town and are fighting house to house. The UN Resolution allows action to protect civilian lives, making it hazardous to attack government forces in urban areas where NATO could kill civilians near to the government forces.

                   Goverrnment Ministers and senior mililtary are well aware that they must stay within the terms of the UN Resolution. If the aim is now different to that of the Resolution, the correct thing to do is to go back to the UN and seek to persuade it to change the Resolution to allow NATO to do what it thinks now needs doing. If the UN declines, the UK could then with honour cut back its commitment. If the UN wants its forces to do more, it could identify forces closer to Libya from  other UN members that might like to take the action forward. A Resolution backing regime change would be the safest legal base for military action to remove Gaddafi.


  1. Peter
    April 27, 2011

    Considering that the Libyan people had higher living standards, better health care and better education than any other country in Africa and numerous other countries as well one has to suspect that these alleged freedom fighters in Benghazi have a very different agenda than the western propaganda suggests.
    More likely they have tribal and religious motives whereas NATO just wants to be rid of a troublesome Ghaddafi who has never done what he was told.
    The result of all these differing objectives will be a ruined and divided Libya more prone to extremism which will suit- the Pentagon – they need eternal war to justify enormous budgets.
    I think the correct thing to do is not interfere in civil wars, refrain from attacking sovereign states and look to our own problems. Western interference has never solved any problems, instead it just creates more.

    1. Electro-Kevin
      April 27, 2011

      I feel that the ‘Real’ IRA has sensed our military and economic over-stretch.

      Al Qaeda sympathisers in London mosques have certainly sensed our weaknesses over the past thirteen years and taken advantage of them. Politicians feign that they never knew that the French and the CIA have called our capital Londonistan for years even though every copper and cab driver has been well aware of it.

      So when is Mr Cameron going to start concentrating on making Britain back into a place like Britain – as opposed to trying to make dysfunctional countries into a place like Britain instead ?

      1. APL
        April 27, 2011

        EK: “I feel that the ‚ÄėReal‚Äô IRA has sensed our military and economic over-stretch.”

        That’s impossible, the ‘Real IRA’ have decommissioned their weapons, loads of brittish politicians have assured us its so.

  2. Alte Fritz
    April 27, 2011

    Yesterday’s statement by Mr Cameron that we must be prepared to be in Libya for the long haul was chilling.

    It beggars belief that we can so quickly be told that we are, in effect, on the brink of another adventure. The UN is a poor thing, but it is almost the only body which can give legitimacy to interference abroad.

    That sounds callous to the victims of Gadaffi’s cruelty, but I suspect that political preaching sounds callous to the families of our 324 (and counting) dead in Afganistan.

    1. APL
      April 27, 2011

      Alte Fritz “The UN is a poor thing, but it is almost the only body which can give legitimacy to interference abroad.”

      That sounds like a perfectly good reason to disband the despicable organisation. It’s track record of protecting vulnerable groups in war zones is a pathetically bad, from Bosnia through Rwanda it has been an abject corrupt failure.

  3. lifelogic
    April 27, 2011

    I agree fully. But why did we start this without a sensible achievable aim?

  4. Gary
    April 27, 2011

    Regime change is illegal. Period. If the UN goes against its own charter and the treaties of Westphalia, then it will have to reconsider its raison d’√™tre.

    Syria has re-exposed our duplicity and our willingness to bend the rules and achieve control of oil at any moral cost.

    1. English Pensioner
      April 27, 2011

      I keep reading that “regime change is illegal”. As the only law which applies to us is UK law made by our parliament, can someone cite exactly which law applies. The UN is not a law making body (although it would like to think that it is), and going against the wishes of the UN is not illegal. Nor do I believe that we have signed any international agreement prohibiting us from effecting regime change elsewhere, or indeed going to was with anyone that our government wishes. It may be undesirable, but where is the legislation which says it is illegal

      Reply: International law, which could lead to a prosecution for war crimes if forces started killing civilians as a matter of policy.

      1. norman
        April 27, 2011

        In the first Nuremberg Trial two of the counts were planning to launch a crime against peace, and launching agressive wars. Rather a broad brush, and no doubt it could be argued things have moved on from WW2 when we did target civilians as a matter of policy, but in reality in this war, as in all others, the victors can declare whatever they want legal or illegal at the end of the affair.

        Who’s going to argue and, more importantly, enforce a different point of view?

    2. Conrad Jones (Cheam)
      April 27, 2011

      “Syria has re-exposed our duplicity and our willingness to bend the rules and achieve control of oil at any moral cost.”

      Be careful what you are proposing, Syria is next on the list – budget cuts or no budget cuts – our fiat money can be inflated as much as is necessary to provide the money to pay for all these Military adventures.

  5. waramess
    April 27, 2011

    Apart from the fact that we have a financial crisis at home that will not be improved by these overseas adventures, we would do well to wonder whether our involvment in these very domestic disturbances will prolong the conflict, with the cost of many more lives, rather than shorten it

    We would do well also to reflect on the annual cost of our involvment in Iraq Afghanistan and Libya and concentrate more on how we might get out with some dignity rather than how we might get more involved and where else we might involve ourselves.

    It is hard to believe that as a small nation we are already involved in so many overseas conflicts that bring us little reward at such a great cost both financially and to our armed forces.

  6. Brian Tomkinson
    April 27, 2011

    The aim was always different to that of the Resolution. Government ministers have made clear that their objective is to remove Gaddafi, which they hope they will bring about under cover of the current Resolution. They will not go back to the UN, as you suggest, because they know that their true intentions do not carry support and would be voted down and the present charade might unravel. I must say I find it rather tiresome to see senior ministers still strutting around and happy to meddle militarily in other countries affairs with apparently no idea of how the final outcome will be arrived at or what it will mean to the people of this country to whom they are accountable. I suppose they see it as a convenient public distraction from what really matter here – sorting out the financial mess.

  7. waramess
    April 27, 2011

    When the conflicts die down and Gadaffi is still in power I wonder whether he is the type to take the very personal attacks on his leadership to heart and to send a few of his crack hit men overseas to exact personal revenge?

    1. norman
      April 27, 2011

      Perhaps he’ll petition the UN that the destruction of Libya by foreign air forces (without declaring war, if that matters) was an act of agression and call for the imprisonment of all MP’s who voted for it?

      I can dream!

    2. Stuart Fairney
      April 27, 2011

      Given that we are bombing Tripoli, could we really be surprised if he started arming people to bomb London?

  8. oldtimer
    April 27, 2011

    I note that the default position of some news broadcasters is that they expect the UK to intervene militarily whenever situations like the civil conflict in Libya, and now in Syria, flare up. This thinking is misplaced. The humanitarian explanation does not stand serious scrutiny. The real reasons for the Libyan intervention are access to valuable resources (such as oil) and the willingness of others (the USA) to do the heavy lifting.

    The government has encouraged this thinking because, if IRCC, Cameron has in the past openly stated that he would use the Aid budget to pay for some military activities. It would be better if the aid budget was reduced to an affordable level and that military activities were reduced to match the resources actually available.

    1. Tom
      April 27, 2011

      While agreeing with the general criticism of the government’s policy I do not think that this is “all about oil”. After all, if we had all closed our eyes and let Gadaffi slaughter his own countrymen he would still have sold his oil/gas to us. It was more a question of damned if you do and damned if you don’t (opprobrium of the Arab masses plus a flood of refugees to Europe).

      Of course Sarkozy needed to look tough for electoral reasons and it was mistakenly thought that a no fly zone would cause Gaddafi to lose and/or flee. Militarily it was too little too late. Now we have, rightly or wrongly, got involved it is a fact of life (legal or not) that Gaddafi can not be allowed to win.
      Have we just blundered into another Crimea?

      Syria and the Yemen – and Zimbabwe – are different problems, about which we can do damn all.

      The almost silence about the atrocities in Bahrain is despicable – but politics is the art of the possible as well as desirable.

  9. acorn
    April 27, 2011

    I think you are flogging a dead one here JR. R1973 is “adaptable”, as I said a while back. As for “If the UN wants its forces to do more, it could identify forces closer to Libya from other UN members that might like to take the action forward”; yeah, like that’s going to happen!

    I thought you would lead on “Financial Defeasance Structures” today. No, it’s not a remedy for diarrhoea. It’s the new improved Eurostat definition for disguised bailout vehicles in national accounts. Apparently the UK has had its accounts qualified by the EU auditors; oops!

    Pass those defeasance pills; Libya flavoured. And; phone the Chemist for several repeat prescriptions, we could be in this toilet for quite a while.

  10. Joe Public
    April 27, 2011

    “I wondered why Libya and not elsewhere…..”

    Payback time.

    Remember the hundreds of tons of arms Gaddafi gave to the IRA; the tons of Semtex used with such devastating effect in London & Manchester (oh, & in Northern Ireland too).

    Don’t forget his hitman excecuted WPC Yvonne Fletcher. In London.

    Then of course, there was Lockerbie, too.

    1. Stuart Fairney
      April 27, 2011

      All true, but one wonders why Blair felt the need to do the bunny hug with Gadaffi?

    2. waramess
      April 27, 2011

      All good reasons for our politicians to be circumspect.
      If I were Cameron I would blame it all on Hague

  11. English Pensioner
    April 27, 2011

    Why have we been selective about taking action in Libya and not elsewhere? There are many countries where minorities have been suppressed, and are still being suppressed,, yet we ignore them. In the case of some of these, we could at least argued that we had a moral duty to intervene as they were ex-British colonies or protectorates, and that we were perhaps indirectly responsible for what is happening, but, other than oil, we have never had an interest in Libya, it is a combination of two ex-Italian colonies, and would be better split into its two parts.

    I can see a desire for regime change in Libya, because of the Lockerbie bombing and the shooting of one of our policewomen, but we are told that regime change is not the objective. So why are we involved?

  12. alan jutson
    April 27, 2011


    Simple question

    Just out of interest who funds our part of this acion against Libya ?.

    It is reported that Italy charges us £millions for use of its air bases, we seem to be charged £millions by hotels for the stay of our service personel abroad

    Does the UN pick up the whole tab (any part of the tab at all) do we invoice them for our costs, plus weapons being used, or is it all down to us to fund from taxpayer revenue ?.

    All seems a little more than one sided at the moment, not only are other countries not putting their troops in harmsway, but they seem to be escaping a share of the the cost as well, if we are not being subsidised at all in this venture !!!

    Aware this all seems perhaps a little trivial when human lives are at risk, but if this is going to go on for years, it is a real enough problem.

    Reply: The Uk taxpayer pays all our military bills

    1. alan jutson
      April 27, 2011


      Thanks for the answer, which is as I expected.

      It seems a little lopsided sided this voting for UN resolutions, if countries that vote to support any motion put forward, are not then expected to contribute in any way at all, to support the upholding of that motion.

      Perhaps this goes a long way to outline why the UN is really not a strong organisation at all, and why some people find it eas to defy its resolutions.

      Surely if you are a member of any club or organisation, you pay to help run it !

      Perhaps you may get a different vote result if all who voted to support a motion, had to share the cost of upholding it, at least you would then know where you stand.

    2. Conrad Jones (Cheam)
      April 27, 2011

      “Just out of interest who funds our part of this acion against Libya ?.”

      JR : “Reply: The Uk taxpayer pays all our military bills”

      And 557 MPs voted for it. Mr Redwood abstained – thankfully.

      Assuming that there are a total of 650 sitting MPs:
      ( 557 / 650 ) * 100 = 85.7% were in Favour of bombing Libya.

      Does this adequately reflect public opinion – were there 85.7% of the UK voting population who were in favour of starting another War in the Middle East?

      MORI Poll:

      “Just 43% in Britain are satisfied with the way Prime Minister David Cameron and his government is handling the crisis and 57% are dissatisfied ‚Äď lower than the satisfaction ratings Presidents Sarkozy (50%) and Obama (47%) receive from their respective publics.”

  13. Gary
    April 27, 2011

    Blair grinning and cozying up to Gadaffi should put paid to PC Fletcher/NI payback theories.

    You may be interested in this article in the LA times on 17 April.

    Libyan rebel’s story shows links to Taliban, Al Qaeda, NATO

    1. Joe Public
      April 27, 2011

      On the contrary. BoyDave’s in charge now.

      1. Electro-Kevin
        April 27, 2011

        Do you honestly think David Cameron is bursting to exact revenge over Yvonne Fletcher ?

  14. Damien
    April 27, 2011

    Under no circumstances can the Gadaffi regime remain in place after the atrocities it has delivered door-to-door of the citizens. Gadaffi and his sons have had every opportunity to accept the terms of the UN resolutions 1970 and in particular Para (3) of 1973. Failing as the regime has Para (4) of 1973 clearly and unambiguously authorises “to take all necessary measures” to protect the population from threat or attack which is evident. It is incomprehensible that while Gadaffi’s regime remains that that threat will go away.

    If we as a nation turn our back as NATO partners in this mission to prevent a massacre of those seeking democracy and the overthrow of a tyrant then it is a sad day indeed. The measures of air support and humanitarian aid are reasonable and proportionate. I do agree that there should be no troops on the ground and for that part support of that nature must be local or regional.

    Restoration of normalcy in Libya just like in Egypt will lift hundreds of millions from tyranny and enable the beginning of a functioning democracy and all of Europe will gain from that stability including the UK. Instead of the billions of oil revenues flowing into the private coffers of the Gadaffi regime that money can now be spent on infrastructure, schools and hospitals.

    The question raised is why Libya and not Egypt or now even Syria. Simply put the small Libyan population are being slaughtered by Gadaffi and indeed his son gave notice to this effect. The critical mass of the population in Egypt and even in Syria will mean that it will be impossible for Assad to put down his people. When the intellectuals got behind the rebels Mubarak fell, and it will be with Assad.

  15. Winston Smith
    April 27, 2011

    I am now finding this blog and all the other Conservative allied blogs tiresome. All the contributors agree this Government is a virtual continuation of the ruling elite and their failed policies of a debt driven economy, socialist legisaltion, mass immigration, further EU integration and expensive, vanity driven, foreign interventions. There is no debate. We are in a stalemate. Nothing will change.

    Well, I don’t believe in doing nothing which is why I have left the Tories and will campaign for UKIP at EU and General elections. I urge all those of a similar dispostion to do the same.

    The State is taking more and more of my income, wasting it on pointless adventures and keeping the Orwellians in luxury; at the same time it its cutting back the services it provides me. What can I do? Pay less tax. I now will only deal (in ways which minimise my tax bill-ed)

  16. Glenn Vaughan
    April 27, 2011

    My understanding of UN Resolution 1973 is that it permits the protection of Libya’s civilian population. Consequently I see nothing wrong in supporting anti-government forces in Libya. The so-called rebels are not soldiers or any other form of recognised military personnel as far as I’m aware. They appear to be disparate groups of angry civilians who have obtained primitive weaponry and therefore deserve UN protection under Resolution 1973.

  17. Neil Craig
    April 27, 2011

    The UN Charter is absolutely specific that it does not supersede the rights of national sovereignty, except perhaps where clear genocide is taking place. It has no right to authorise attacks on sovereign states.

    The “legal authority” to bomb is therefore bogus, as I’m sure any lawyer could confirm, had they been asked.

    My opinion is that what is happening is an attempt to “create a new legality” by events and thus move toowards a world government, which in turn is unrestricted by any “narrow” respect for the rule of law. This is what was done with Yugoslavia where the EU was dishonestly allowed to “recognise” the Croatia and Bosnia & Hercegovina, despite, in the latter case, it having a “government” openly committed to (hostility towards?) the Christian majority acros all the territory it claimed.

    Though the EU is stifling human ingenuity a world government would be far worse because it would be able to do so without any outside competition.

    1. Conrad Jones (Cheam)
      April 27, 2011

      It is notable that there are certain Countries that are not taking part in these expensive interventions, namely: Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

      These Countries are actively undoing the leash around their necks – the US Dollar.

      While we’re picking over the Last of the Middle Eastern Countries that have economies strong enough to say “No” to us, the BRICS Nations will be waiting and watching for the first sign of weakness and will not allow US and European Nations to dominate the biggest Oil Fields in the World especially as Oil Reserves fall and oil usage goes up.

  18. Stuart Fairney
    April 27, 2011

    Try this one instead then….

    Given the recent conduct of the Bahrain government with specific reference to its behaviour towards peaceful unarmed protestors, was it appropriate to invite the Crown Prince of Bahrain to the Royal wedding?

    If this behaviour is judged acceptable to the FCO, should we invite Saif Gaddafi ?

    1. Lindsay McDougall
      April 30, 2011

      I worked in Bahrain from November 2006 to April 2008. That country’s problem is that it has a 2:1 Shia majority yet its economy is very closely linked to that of its vast Saudi Arabian neighbour, which is mainly Sunni. Bahrain has an aluminium smelter, oil refining capacity, a somewhat sleazy tourist market that provides R & R for Saudi princes and American oil men, and a huge free car park at its international airport making it a perfect take off point for Americans flying to Bangkok. All of these provide export income to Bahrain, whose oil reserves are running out, and the Saudis turn a benevolent or blind eye to all of them. So if you were running Bahrain, would you risk upsetting the Saudis?

      A religious majority suppressing a religious minority is a form of democracy. It’s what occurs in Iraq, it is proposed for Bahrain, yet in Northern Ireland this model has been rejected. We are a bit hypocrital, methinks.

  19. waramess
    April 27, 2011

    “Under no circumstances can the Gadaffi regime remain in place after the atrocities it has delivered door-to-door of the citizens. Gadaffi and his sons have had every opportunity to accept the terms of the UN resolutions 1970 and in particular Para (3) of 1973.”

    Well, he seems to have quite successfully done so these past forty years or so. The question therefore arises, why now?

    1. Conrad Jones (Cheam)
      April 28, 2011

      “Well, he seems to have quite successfully done so these past forty years or so. The question therefore arises, why now?”

      Good Question.

      Why now, after selling him weapons (on Blair’s watch-ed) despite alleged concerns of him already having “Weapons of Mass Destruction”.

  20. simple soul
    April 27, 2011

    Just a thought: we were getting on perfectly well with Gaddafi until this war started and he was not on the tip of every tongue as a byword for evil. Of course he has blood on his hands, as have any number of other rulers, but we had no problem in rubbing along with him when it suited us.

  21. rose
    April 27, 2011

    I have long felt uneasy about this post 1997 Liberal Interventionism. At least Palmerston only intervened with immediate and overwhelming success.

    Although the intervention in Iraq was ill-judged, it was at least a success as an invasion. The problem in Iraq was not so much that we went in, which we should not have done, as that we went in without a proper plan for the victory. In Libya we haven’t even got a victory in sight, let alone a plan for the peace.

    The threatened and actual uprisings here are quite enough to be going on with – (Irish extremists), the Anarchists, the militant Islamists, and anyone else who likes violence, to say nothing of the likely sectarian troubles ahead as British identity breaks down. We should be guarding ourselves against those, and not hubristically interfering abroad.

  22. Lindsay McDougall
    April 30, 2011

    It seems that my comment is awaiting not moderation but oblivion. Well, Mr Redwood, if you don’t like my suggestion for how to deal with the Real IRA, what is yours?

    Northern Ireland is part of the Union and getting things right there is far more important than getting things right in Libya. Things are not right and the Good Friday agreement is very clearly not in the interest of Unionists. Compulsorary power sharing with Sinn Fein has so far yielded the abolition of grammar schools and a basket case economy that is dependent on public handouts. Where’s the beef?

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