Never give a socialist toy soldiers

March 10, 2011

There’s a post up on LibCon today by Rupert Read, which claims that since the Libyan rebels he’s in touch with want a no-fly zone, why not give it to them?

This seems reasonable, but I’m always slightly suspicious of anything written by Rupert Read. He’s a lecturer in philosophy, and as someone with a deep love of the subject myself, I can’t help but worry that he’s doing nothing for the image of philosophers as being completely unworldly. To demonstrate why I feel that in this particular situation, let’s look at the potential outcomes of the current Libyan situation:

1) Gadaffi wins, slaughters his opponents, and waits for the West’s horror at his actions to diminish in the face of rising oil prices. A return to status quo ante bellum. If you think we’ll never be friends with Gaddafi (or Gaddafi Junior) again after his current bout of beastliness, I have a single word for you: Lockerbie.

2) The rebels win, and install some form of government. It may be democratic, it may be not, but what it will be is Libyan and not founded on the personality cult of an obvious maniac. The current civil war becomes Libya’s foundation myth, and helps to bind Libya together as a country in the face of tribal adversity. The West’s overt moral support in the war wins us the new government as a strong ally.

3) The West wins the war, following an invasion on the side of the rebels. cf Iraq & Afghanistan.

It’s clear that (2) is the most desirable, the question now raised is whether a no-fly zone would help us achieve that or not. Let’s be honest about what this would involve – a no-fly zone requires air superiority to enforce, which involves taking out any air defences in operation in the area. I’m uncertain of Gaddafi’s precise armament, but you’re looking at bombing runs on radar installations and any SAM sites as a minimum. This kind of unilateral intervention on the part of NATO or other western allies only serves to demonstrate that any future Libyan Government would serve at our pleasure. Conversely, if carried out via the UN, it would be a welcome demonstration of the importance of international law. However, the Russians and the Chinese are unlikely to go for it.

I must say, a no-fly zone appeals to my inherent sense of fair play – Gaddafi’s forces have an excessive advantage over the rebels in having air support, and removing that would somewhat level the playing field. Unfortunately, there’s a presumption there which claims that we have the right to set the rules of other peoples’ conflicts outwith the framework of international law, which simply isn’t the case. This is the Libyans’ struggle, and it should continue as such. They’re fighting for the right to self-determination, and helping to determine the outcome of their struggle by acting unilaterally would run counter to that.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t intervene, but we should intervene on the presumption that the Libyan rebels are our equals. We should immediately start selling heavy weaponry to the rebels, to counter Gaddafi’s tanks. We should hire out members of our military to provide training to what is still a largely conscript force. Even if we accept only a token payment – or a promissory note – we’re still saying, “You’re our trading partners, not the subjects of our imperial will.” This then allows us – in the grand tradition of British diplomacy – to use the Royal Navy to enact a blockade of the ports controlled by Gaddafi’s forces, in order to protect the people who we want to win in order to pay us back our money.

I’d like to believe that’s what the SAS/diplomatic team really were doing in the desert with all that communications gear – setting up the conditions for arms trading. Time – and history – will tell. In the interim, it’s interesting to note that the instinct for lefties is to intervene in a conflict with moral overtones, on the conviction that they must be right. We’ve seen that before.

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4 Responses to “Never give a socialist toy soldiers”

  1. I think you should give your sense of fair play a bit more credit and air-time! 😉

  2. declineofthelogos said

    Many thanks for your polite reply Rupert, especially given as I was rude to you in the piece. My apologies.

    I would be interested in your response to my challenge that our ‘sense of fair play’ represents an attempt to set the rules of someone else’s conflict in perhaps an unconscionable manner. How is setting the rules of a conflict distinct from being an active participant in it?

  3. Phil Ruse said

    Doesn’t this sense of fair play, which I admit I share, have the consequence of ensuring a longer (never ending?) conflict and presumably more casualties?

    • declineofthelogos said

      I suppose – using the most brutal calculus – that depends on whether you think more people will die as a consequence of protracted war as opposed to allowing Gaddafi to slaughter his opponents wantonly. It’s a difficult judgement to make, but I suspect the latter would be the worst option.

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