The Resiliency of Military Non-Intervention: When to Apply it and When not

By Con George-Kotzabasis

Robert Haddick, the managing editor of Small Wars Journal, argues in his piece in the Foreign Policy magazine, March 4, 2011, of the uselessness of a no-fly zone in the Balkans, as an example that could also apply in Libya. But the ineffectiveness of a no-fly zone in Bosnia cannot be used as an argument in the totally different circumstances in Libya. Milosevic was fighting a nationalist war for a greater Serbia and his relatively powerful military forces were involved ardently in this ‘great’ goal of Serbia. By contrast, Gaddafi is fighting for his own survival with a weakened army, due to defections from its ranks, and compelled to import mercenaries to kill his own people, which in turn increases and exacerbates the divide between the regime and the Libyan people. This is the fundamental difference between Milosevic and Gaddafi. The former was fighting with a united army an ethnic war, whereas the latter is fighting a civil war with a disunited and weak army.

I think the following quote from Charles Maurice Talleyrand depicts, with his customary profound perception in matters of diplomacy, peace, and war, perfectly well the principle of non-intervention:”The principle of non-intervention, very convenient in itself, and very appropriate to a given circumstance, becomes very little better than an absurdity, when regarded as an absolute and when it is desired to apply it under conditions widely different. This principle is a matter of judgment, when to set it aside, and when to apply it.”

As to the concerns of Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, that a no-fly zone would entail the destruction of Libya’s air defences and therefore would involve grave risk to U.S. air-combat missions, a cogent answer is given by British Defence Secretary Liam Fox. He remarks, “rather than taking out air defences, you can say that if your air defence radar locks on to any of our aircraft, we regard that as a hostile act and take subsequent action.” What is more surprising, however, is that the public declaration of Secretary Gates about the difficulties of a no-fly zone and the aversion of the U.S. to countenance them, has unwisely given advance notice to Colonel Gaddafi and his armed forces of America’s reluctance to engage militarily in Libya. This in itself has put wind to the sails of Gaddafi loyalists to sally forth against the insurgents. Gates absurdly and utterly flunked Clausewitz’s principle to keep close to one’s chest one’s response to a situation and never reveal it to the enemy. His predecessor, the too much maligned Donald Rumsfeld, would have never done that.