The fact that western leaders are considering military options over Libya is deeply disturbing. Within Libya, President Muammar Qadhafi's brutally repressive regime appears to be gaining the upper hand in what has become a civil war. Government forces are using tanks and heavy artillery as well as warplanes in attacks on, for example, the oil town of Ras Lanuf, which is held by the ill-equipped and largely untrained rebels. Almost all the western options talked about, or under consideration, involve illegal military intervention of some kind. British Prime Minister David Cameron floated the over-the-top idea of parachuting weapons to the rebels; and The Independent reports that Washington has even asked Saudi Arabia to pay for and channel U.S. weaponry to them. Some suggestions are crazier. Senator John Kerry has said U.S. aircraft could “crater airports and runways” held by the Libyan government; and Senator John McCain wants Mr. Qadhafi removed, possibly by a “coalition of the willing.” Another proposal is for missile attacks on government positions; the U.S. did attack Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986. Special operations, like the 1961 Bay of Pigs attack on Cuba or the deployment of secret agents, and cyber warfare have been mooted. The most widely discussed plan is for the imposition of a no-fly zone.
All these proposals, however, are deeply flawed. Arming the rebels would bolster Mr. Qadhafi's claim that a colonialist plot is being hatched. Mr. McCain's suggestions sound very much like the threats the U.S. issued in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Aside from the flagrant illegality, such an adventure would take a horrifying toll on civilian population. An invasion would discredit the rebellion, and could turn the majority of Libyans against the invaders. The idea of a no-fly zone may appeal to western leaders because it gives the impression of action without excessive danger to their own troops, but it cannot be implemented without attacks on Libyan air defences. The rebels, who may be losing momentum, have asked for international help — but the conspicuous void is the lack of political pressure on the Libyan regime. The Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the African Union are yet to come up with a clear position. Western talk of military responses before anything else is not only hubristic but it also obscures the political failures that have led to the current situation. Above all, the military actions now proposed would constitute acts of war against a sovereign state and must be condemned outright. India, along with other developing countries, has done well to express its opposition to the use of force as well as to a no-fly zone to resolve the Libyan crisis.