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March 17, 2011

Libya Cease-Fire Draws Skepticism as Emergency Summit Planned in France

The leaders of Britain and France and the chiefs of the United Nations and Arab League will join other world leaders for an emergency summit on Libya.  French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said that Paris will host the meeting Saturday to talk about international intervention in Libya.

The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution on Thursday warranting a no-fly zone over Libya. The next day, Friday, Libya's foreign minister announced an immediate cease-fire.

But news of the cease-fire was met with skepticism. And, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. must see "action on the ground," not just words from Libya.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi will be judged by his actions, not his words.  He said if Mr. Gadhafi does not stop brutalizing his people all necessary steps will be taken to make him stop.

Earlier Friday, Mr. Cameron told British Members of Parliament that Britain will be moving fighter jets near the border with Libya within hours.

"Our forces will join an international operation to enforce the resolution if Gadhafi fails to comply with its demand that he ends attacks on civilians," he said.

Forces loyal to Mr. Gadhafi have been fighting rebels in a bloody battle that has lasted a month now.

Britain and France have been at the forefront of a drive to intervene and were key to the U.N. resolution passed Thursday.

That resolution allows for all necessary measures, short of a foreign occupation force, to defend civilians who are under threat of attack.

Anthony Skinner, a Middle East expert with the risk analysis group Maplecroft, says Europe has been vital to the drive for intervention.

He says right now public opinion in Britain and France seems to favor intervention, despite the fact that air strikes could mean civilian deaths in Libya.

"Without a no-fly zone I think that the public at large also realizes that there would be an even greater blood bath with Gadhafi's forces marching and taking the whole country," Skinner said.

He says right now it's unclear whether or not Mr. Gadhafi will be able to hold onto power.

But he says if the no-fly zone is ineffective public support may turn against further action. Putting troops on the ground, he says, is rarely popular.

"I'm sure that France and the U.K. are very mindful of that,"  he said. "As soon as you deploy forces it does shift the dimensions and it massively increases the risk."

Skinner says the push by France and Britain for military intervention in Libya is in part because of their relatively close proximity to Libya and tight business relations with the oil-rich country.

But not every European country favors intervention. Germany abstained from voting in the Thursday U.N. ballot and said it saw considerable risk in military intervention.

Brazil, India, Russia and China also abstained from the vote.

Germany said Friday that it's not isolated from its western allies.

But John Kent, an expert in international relations at the London School of Economics, says the divisions within Europe over Libya show that European Union member states won't always see eye to eye on foreign affairs.

He says action in Libya will reflect on the balance of power in Europe.

"If in fact this is implemented successfully - and there has to be grave doubts about that - I think it will be a positive impact on the French and British position in Europe," he said. "If it all goes pear-shaped [wrong] for whatever reason, I think it would be more significant for enhancing the German position within Europe."

Although details of Saturday's meeting have not been released, news reports say British Prime Minister David Cameron, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the Arab League's Amr Moussa, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton are among those who have confirmed their presence at the talks.