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No-fly zone in Libya: Too little, too much

March 15, 2011

An anti-aircraft gun (AAA), presumably manned by a rebel. The rebel forces have pressed for a no-fly zone against Col. Gaddafi's airforce.

I find myself pacing at 1:30 in the morning; not unusual itself, but unique in its dilemma. When I started this post, I intended to demonstrate my reservations towards a UN backed no-fly zone over Libya. Citing the initial lack of information available from the media when I started, I would explain how we simply did not know enough to pass judgments on the conflict. I failed to write at that moment and, therefore, lost my opportunity. Now that more time has elapsed, the news reports are more robust and provide adequate – albeit not fully satisfying – insight into the motivations behind the revolt and subsequent pro-government resistance. With new information available during every news update, I have now come to understand that I can no longer truthfully defend my arguments, as some of the ambiguity has begun to disintegrate. Nevertheless, I must still voice my concerns on the dangers of enforcing a no-fly zone.

Political theorist John Locke provides one interpretation of legitimate rebellion:

“…and so they [the legislators/government] putting themselves into a state of war with those who made them their protectors…are properly…rebels.”(Locke 227, p.348 Wooton)

In Locke’s moral universe, a government, by denying the will of its rebel citizens becomes, in fact, the actual rebel. Now, a conventional understanding of Locke requires a majority – or, some may argue, a significant part of the population – to rebel before government resistance is illegitimate. Last night, when I started this post, a CNN news article reported that “Rebels had appeared Monday to have slowed the eastward advance of government forces toward Benghazi.”(Damon, web) Now, as I check CNN a day later, the article has been updated, with the title “Gaddafi’s forces gain ground in march toward Benghazi.” We still cannot know the exact size of either faction, but the ability of both sides to hold their own demonstrates the size of the opposition movement. Therefore, the rebels are, at the least, legitimate by Locke’s principles, for they represent a significant part of the Libyan population.

That said I no longer oppose a no-fly zone on the grounds of limited information. Rather, I feel imposing restrictions on Gaddafi’s air force crosses a boundary between peace and war, for in Libya, we are placing restrictions not to prevent a conflict, but to favor one side over the other in an ongoing shooting war. As far as I know, there is no part of the Geneva Convention prevents one side from exercising a conventional military advantage over its enemy (and we all know how effective the Convention has been.) If the UN passes a resolution for a no-fly zone, then the international community is effectively declaring war on Gaddafi. Therefore, I pose this question: if a no-fly zone tacitly implies that the UN considers Gaddafi’s regime illegitimate, then why not do more? Taking measures to stop the fighting could allow the rebels to organize and form their own independent government, and even aiding the rebels militarily is better that allowing a war to continue. Quite simply, either more should be done, or nothing at all.

The first resolution to institute a no-fly zone will be reviewed by the UN Security Council Wednesday morning. Proponents of the resolution face a steep challenge. Several members of the Security Council – all of which have veto power – have expressed reservations about enacting these restrictions. (Damon, web) For now, we will simply have to wait and see how all of this pans out.

Map of the Libyan Conflict. Gaddafi-controlled cities are marked in green and with blue representing the rebels. Orange indicates a conflicted area. Use the link below to see the updated situation map on the BBC news website.



1.Locke, John. “Second Treatise of Government.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzshe. Ed. David Wooton. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 2008. Print.

2. CNN article: Damon, Arwa, Joe Vaccarello, Yousuf Basil, and Reza Sayah. “Gadhafi forces gain ground in march toward Benghazi.” CNN Wire Staff, March 15, 2011 6:24 p.m. EDT. Web. 15 Mar 2011.

3. AAA Photo: “getty-anti-aircraft-gun-on-.jpg.” Libya: How the opposing sides are armed . Web. 15 Mar 2011. < >.

4. Situation map: “libya_map_all_976_2.jpg.” Libya in maps . Web. 15 Mar 2011. <;.

  1. Peter Chutcharavan permalink
    March 15, 2011 11:26 PM

    If anyone finds a site which further clarifies the situation in Libya, feel free to post the link here.

  2. Brian Fisher permalink
    March 16, 2011 4:17 PM

    Here’s a website that shares the story of an attack between Gaddafi loyalists and rebel insurgents. I hope this sheds some light on the situation. I find it interesting how difficult it is to attain any relative information regarding this matter. I tried to research this material for a while and I was unable to understand even the generality of this civil war. Is it due to Libya’s restrictions over outside media or America’s inability to broadcast information from an enemy nation? Regardless, people are dying and we have the right to learn the basics of this situation.

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