NATO's secretary-general says the alliance is considering options for military action in Libya if what he called the "serious humanitarian situation" gets worse. Anders Fogh Rasmussen told the opening session of a NATO defense ministers' meeting the alliance's military is increasing surveillance, and planning for other action, but has not made a decision.
The secretary-general called the situation in Libya and along its borders a "source of major concern." He said the alliance has moved to 24-hour surveillance by sophisticated aircraft and is closely monitoring what he called daily, even hourly, "reports about new acts of violence perpetrated by the Libyan regime against civilians." He specifically accused Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi of ordering attacks "on his own people."
"We have asked our military authorities to work on a range of options to see how we, as an alliance, can support international efforts, for example on humanitarian assistance. But we stand ready to consider other options, if necessary,” Rasmussen said. “And we will discuss those areas today."
Rasmussen said NATO would only act if there is a clear need and a legal basis, along with what he called "firm regional support." By "legal basis" he was apparently referring to a U.N. Security Council resolution. He indicated all that is not yet in place, but the alliance is doing what he called "prudent planning."
"It does not mean that we are deciding to carry out specific operational steps today, but it does mean we are watching what the Libyan regime does to its people very closely indeed, and if there is a demonstrable need, if we have a clear mandate and strong regional support we stand ready to help," he added.
The NATO chief said "time is of the essence," but he also said the alliance should not ignore the longer term need for support for the democratic transitions in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere in the region. He said this is "the start of a new era of freedom," like the one experienced by Central and Eastern European countries 20 years ago.