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A no-fly zone over Libya? The case for and against 

Julian Borger
15 March 2011

In three short words, "no-fly zone" sums up the latest moral quandary for the world on where and when the global responsibility to save lives should trump the supposed sanctity of national borders.

After the horrors of Rwanda and Bosnia, where the international community looked on with hand-wringing impotence at mass slaughter carried out under its collective nose, there was a wave of enthusiasm in the late 1990s for the idea that the international community had a "responsibility to protect" populations if national governments failed. (…)

(…)With the outbreak of the Libyan conflict the pendulum has swung back towards action, but only halfway. Britain's Tory prime minister, David Cameron, who until recently derided such armed meddling, is now its most passionate advocate. He is joined by Nicolas Sarkozy's government in France, striving to shed its image in the region as the dictator's best friend. It has also found a more surprising ally in the Arab League.

China and Russia lead the case for the opposition. They have never liked the idea of a global police, and champion the inviolability of borders; several of the "non-aligned" countries, notably Brazil and South Africa, are sceptical to say the least.

In between is an agonised Washington, which would ultimately have to fund, police and carry the can for a no-fly zone. It is currently split between humanitarian idealists, hard-headed realists and undecided Arabists.

Barack Obama's dilemma is deepened by the muddiness of the issue. Gaddafi's planes have not been a significant cause of casualties, and Arab views are mixed and fluid. (…)

(…)These are the arguments on both sides of the no-fly zone debate, along with a selective list of their backers.


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