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U.N. Security Council Passes Sweeping Measure to Rein in Gadhafi

March 17, 2011 at 6:57 PM EDT
Ray Suarez talks with Colum Lynch, United Nations correspondent for the Washington Post, about the U.N. Security Council's vote to approve a no-fly zone and "all necessary measures" in Libya.
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RAY SUAREZ: For more, we’re joined by Colum Lynch, who covers the United Nations for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog called Turtle Bay at ForeignPolicy.com.

Colum, what’s the latest? Has a vote occurred in the Security Council?

COLUM LYNCH, The Washington Post: No. The French foreign minister is speaking to the Security Council right now, and they’re preparing for a vote.

So, we’re waiting to see, expecting a divided council, but still expecting the vote to go through.

RAY SUAREZ: Final language for the resolution has come out. If it’s passed, what would it commit the United Nations to do?

COLUM LYNCH: It wouldn’t commit them to do anything, but it would give the member states authority to do all sorts of things militarily. This is sweeping military enforcement language. States can use all necessary measures, including the use of force, to try and prevent military engagements by the Libyans in Benghazi. It can intervene to stop any suspected attacks by the Libyan government against civilians.

So, it’s quite sweeping language, imposes a no-fly zone, and allows foreign air forces to use force to implement that.

RAY SUAREZ: The resolution as it exists right now makes liberal use of the word “civilians” in it. But do they mean the people who are in fact combatants, people without uniforms, but who have arms and are fighting the Libyan government?

COLUM LYNCH: Well, I mean, the reality of this resolution is that, while the language talks about the protection of civilian, the effect that it would have would be placing key states, including those who participate in this operation, the U.S., the Europeans, some of the Arab states, squarely on the side of the rebel army.

There’s a call in this resolution for a cease-fire. It was included in the language at the request of the Russians. But everything else in that language seems like it’s pretty clearly designed to tip the balance of power into the hands of the rebels and against Gadhafi.

RAY SUAREZ: You mentioned the Russians. Did members of the Security Council try to weaken the language of the resolution, and will that get more votes in return?

COLUM LYNCH: Well, it looks like — I mean, it looks like the negotiations are pretty much over, and they will have a vote any second now.

The Russians have throughout the negotiations on Libya tried to restrain the West, to carve out any language which would give military authority to the Americans, the Europeans or any members of the Arab League that participate in this operation. They were successful in an earlier round of negotiations on a previous resolution imposing sanctions.

They haven’t been successful. And, as a result of this, it looks like the council, which voted 15-0 the last time, will be divided. It doesn’t sound like there’s going to be a veto at this point. You never know. But it looks like there might be up to five abstentions.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, what’s the difference between an abstention and a no-vote?

COLUM LYNCH: It — there’s no difference in terms of the legal authority it gives to those who are conducting the operation.

But, you know, you have got to consider that the states that are considering abstaining represent up to 60 percent of the world’s population. So, it doesn’t send a good political signal that the world is united around this operation. And, if it’s a long, arduous military campaign that stretches out over time, that lack of kind of unified support could backfire on the — on those engaging in this operation.

RAY SUAREZ: And finally, Colum, has the American position on this resolution changed in recent days, or even recent hours?

COLUM LYNCH: The American position has been very hard to read over the last couple of weeks. They have seemed very skeptical about the prospects of a no-fly zone, asking lots of question in the council.

And then, suddenly, last night, they became very assertive, introduced language calling, as you mentioned, for operations on land, sea and air, and have now tried to associate themselves with the sort of more combative approach to this problem.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, we’re getting word from the United Nations that the vote is under way. So far, there are 10 votes for the resolution.

Colum Lynch, thanks for joining us.

COLUM LYNCH: Thanks for having me, Ray.