Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ends, ways, and means in Libya (UPDATED)

The U.S. is currently at war in Libya, this time (as nearly always) at the head of an international coalition. In closing his remarks on the passage of UNSCR 1973 last Friday, which authorizes UN member states "to take all necessary measures... to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in Libya," President Obama assured the nation that "our goal is focused, our cause is just, and our coalition is strong." Rest assured: at least one of these things is true.

There's been a great deal of justifiable hand-wringing over the last several days about war aims, an issue that has only been further confused by the president's remarks on the subject. In the directive portion of the Security Council resolution, that august body variously demands, stresses, authorizes, recognizes, decides, calls upon, requests, requires, and urges various parties to take certain actions. I'm going to boil all of that down to the fundamentals. So here's what the resolution does:

1. Demands an immediate cease-fire and end to violence against civilians (presumably by the regime).

2. Demands that the regime meet the basic needs of its civilian population.

3. Authorizes member states to take action to enforce (1), including by arming rebel forces.

4. Establishes a ban on flights over Libyan territory, with certain exceptions, and without specific instructions as to how such a ban will be enforced, or by whom.

5. Authorizes member states to figure out (4) for themselves, and to take responsibility for enforcement.

6. Forbids the deployment of foreign occupation forces on Libyan territory.

7. Reinforces the provisions of a previous resolution (UNSCR 1970) that relate to an arms embargo, travel ban, and asset freeze on members of the Libyan regime.

As you can see, member states are pretty well left to their own devices when it comes to enforcement. That means that individual states like the U.S., or groupings of states operating as an international enforcement coalition, must translate these demands and requirements into desired endstates and military objectives. How might that look? Here's my run at it.

ENDSTATES:
1) Operations against civilians by the Libyan regime are halted (either voluntarily or by compulsion)
2) A no-fly zone over Libyan territory is created and enforced
3) Basic needs of the civilian population are met by the Libyan regime*
4) Humanitarian assistance is freely provided to affected populations

*The president elaborated this requirement by saying that "Qaddafi must... establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas."

These endstates are conditions that are not time-limited; they contain no measure of sustainability, so we must assume that to enact them initially will be considered an objective endpoint. By this standard, the UN-authorized operation would have achieved its purpose if each of these conditions were to be satisfied -- that is, if Libyan forces declared and honored a cease-fire; a no-fly zone were created; water, electricity, and gas were restored to the entire country; and humanitarian assistance reached those who have been impacted by violence. (The president added that "Qaddafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi, [and] pull them back from Ajdabiya, Misrata and Zawiya;" presumably this is to ensure the protection of civilians, but if a cease-fire were to be declared and honored, withdrawal would seem redundant.)

MILITARY OBJECTIVES:
1a) Defeat, dislocate, and/or destroy those Libyan regime forces directly threatening the safety of civilians
1b) Defeat, dislocate, and/or destroy those Libyan regime forces that refuse to withdraw from the immediate vicinity of Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Misrata, and Zawiya
2a) Establish air supremacy over Libyan territory in order to prevent regime air assets from operating
2b) Defeat, dislocate, and/or destroy those Libyan regime air defenses that may threaten coalition forces enforcing a no-fly zone
3a) Coerce Libyan regime to restore supply of water, gas and electricity to civilian population
3b) Disrupt Libyan regime efforts to interrupt supply of water, gas and electricity to civilian population
4a) Defeat, dislocate, and/or destroy those Libyan regime forces presently positioned to disrupt the provision of humanitarian assistance to affected civilian populations
4b) Secure those airfields and port facilities, and supply routes deemed necessary to deliver humanitarian aid
4c) Execute delivery of humanitarian supplies as necessary in support of international humanitarian relief effort

To be clear, if all of these objectives are achieved, here's where we're at: Qaddafi regime retains power; those Libyan forces not postured to threaten civilian populations are left armed and operational; governance of rebel-controlled areas, including supply of water, gas, electricity, and other basic needs becomes the responsibility of opposition forces, and/or the international community, as the Libyan regime will no longer have access to this territory; a de-facto partition of Libyan territory without any plan or vision for how this partition is either formalized or resolved. This untenable reality is, of course, a policy and strategy problem, not a military one.

But what about those military objectives? Are they achievable with the ways and means at our disposal?

WAYS:
1) Coalition air and naval strikes against Libyan regime maneuver forces
2a) Persistent presence and monitoring of Libyan airspace by coalition air and electronic warfare assets
2b) Coalition air and naval strikes against Libyan air defense and command and control assets
3a) Coalition air and naval strikes and information operations against Libyan regime leadership
3b) Restoration of water, gas and electricity supplies by coalition ground forces and/or provisional governmental authority
3c) Coalition air and naval strikes against Libyan regime maneuver forces
4a) Coalition air and naval strikes against Libyan regime maneuver forces
4b) Airfield and port seizures by coalition airborne and special operations forces
4c) Movement of humanitarian aid by military transport and logistics assets
4d) Persistent coalition air and ground presence to secure lines of communication

Let's pause for a second before we move on to means. There are a few of these ways that directly contravene various provisions of the UNSCR, notably the prohibition on "foreign occupation forces" (read coalition ground forces) on Libyan territory. As such, the ways available to coalition military forces to effect objectives 3 and 4 are fundamentally non-viable. Without the use of coalition ground forces to directly restore or coerce the Libyan regime into restoring water, gas and electricity, or to allow the movement of humanitarian assistance into affected areas, the only way to accomplish these objectives is to hope the regime can be battered so fiercely as to accede to international will. (This seems -- to risk understatement -- unlikely at this point.) And to make things more difficult, the regime must be battered sufficiently to allow the imposition of the international community's will, but not so thoroughly as to render it incapable of delivering mandated public services.

But now what about the means available? This is the easy part.

MEANS:
1), 2) U.S. and other coalition air and naval assets in the Mediterranean Sea, Crete, Malta, Italy, other parts of continental Europe, and long-range assets from the U.S. and non-European forward staging areas
3), 4) [Not applicable as they would cause a violation of UNSCR: as above, plus coalition ground forces, transportation and logistics assets, and humanitarian relief assets from the international community]

What if the roadblocks went away? Well, that's where things get really messy. If you want to talk about the restoration of public services to the population, the wholesale removal of regime threat to any and all civilians on all parts of Libyan territory, etc., then see Iraq, Republic of, 2006 et seq.

As mentioned earlier, all this is made even more confusing by President Obama's response when asked if regime change was a goal of coalition military operations:
“It is U.S. policy that Qaddafi needs to go,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference with the Chilean president, Sebastián Piñera. “And we’ve got a wide range of tools in addition to our military effort to support that policy.” Mr. Obama cited economic sanctions, the freezing of assets and other measures to isolate the regime in Tripoli.
In case this doesn't make sense to you: the goal of coalition (including U.S.) military action in Libya is to enforce UNSCR 1973. An additional policy goal of the United States is the removal of Qaddafi from power, but at present the U.S. does not seek to effect that goal through the application of military force -- i.e. through the expansion of the ongoing military campaign. What the president doesn't speak to is U.S. policy post-Qaddafi: if we get what we presumably want and the despot goes, then what? What is our responsibility? What is our desired endstate? What assets and resources can and should we bring to bear to effect that endstate? We're left in the dark. I suppose we can cross that bridge when we come to it, right?

So to sum this all up, our "focused goal" is to enforce the provisions of a UNSC resolution that is in part unenforceable, and on the whole almost certainly unsustainable. Our follow-on plan is to transition whatever military effort remains (after initial operations achieve their objectives) to an international coalition of uncertain composition and under uncertain leadership, and then to use what other non-military means we have at our disposal to seek the non-coalition, non-military, U.S. policy objective of regime change in Libya. ("We are not going to use military means to go beyond a well-defined goal -- specifically, the protection of civilians in Libya.") And then: apres Qaddafi, le deluge... of win. (We hope.)

UPDATE: Here's ADM Locklear, commander of JTF Odyssey Dawn, speaking to the press yesterday:
I think our president was pretty clear when he laid out the construct in his POTUS [President of the United States] speech on 18 March of what his expectations were; one of those, that the regime forces of Gadhafi have to stop advancing on Benghazi; they have to pull back from Zawiyah, Ajdabiya, Misurata.  They have not done that.  Benghazi, we have -- we basically have forced him out of Benghazi.  In the other three places, they have not complied -- (audio break) -- direction from our president.
And so if I take a look at how I -- my mission here, I apply that type of standard to operations that are occurring.  If Colonel Gadhafi would meet that requirement, would have a cease-fire implemented; stop all attacks against citizens and withdraw from the places that we've told him to withdraw; establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas and allow humanitarian assistance, then the fighting would stop.  Our job would be over.
This seems to confirm the military objectives identified above, as well as my conclusions about when U.S. leadership feels the operation will be over.

14 comments:

  1. Gulliver, can't you just boil all this down into a Powerpoint slideshow?

    Nobody has time to read this. If what you have to say can't be stuffed into a few slides, then you talk too damn much.

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  2. Gulliver, can't you just boil all this down into a Powerpoint slideshow?

    Yes, absolutely I can. On the other hand, I already have a regular job.

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  3. I think the situation can be boiled down to a few words.
    1) The West (like the neighbours and Lybian citizens) wants Qaddafi gone.
    2) It doesn't want to use ground forces.
    3) China + Russia didn't want a UNSCR advocating regime change.
    4) So this fluffy piece of paper helps China and Russia save face and avoid a dangerous precedent while it allows the West to blow Qaddafi's armored forces + artillery to pieces.
    5) Once the jets, artillery and armor of the regime are removed from the battlefield, the rebels should be able to win - if they really are supported by the big majority of the people.
    6a) If so, great. Until then we'll think about ways to help them set up a stable government.
    6b) If not ... um ... we'll reconvene and see what can be done ...

    (was that "a few words"? )

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  4. 5) Once the jets, artillery and armor of the regime are removed from the battlefield, the rebels should be able to win - if they really are supported by the big majority of the people.

    Why should we assume this is true (even if we want it to be)? Furthermore, as I pointed out in the post, if regime forces move away from the population centers, they ought not to be destroyed under the terms of the resolution. How does that jibe with clearing a path for a rebel rampage?

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  5. The last time I checked, hope was not a course of action or a tactical task. [Sigh] We never learn, do we?

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  6. Um, if regime forces move away from population centers, then the rebels control those population centers, yes?

    Funny that the rebels get barely a mention in the post itself.

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  7. Um, if regime forces move away from population centers, then the rebels control those population centers, yes?

    Funny that the rebels get barely a mention in the post itself.


    I'm not sure I understand what you're getting at here, kellie. The rebels get no mention in the UNSCR, either, which is what U.S. and coalition forces are putatively there to enforce. What's your point?

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  8. My point is don't rebel forces come in here as a potential means of achieving objectives? The summary of the resolution above makes out that arming rebels is an option, though I can't see that explicitly in the original.

    On top of that, I can't see that ruling out occupation prevents use of military advisors to rebels, or special forces joining rebel forces.

    As the language of the resolution allows all necessary means to protect not just civilians, but civilian populated areas, it sounds like it allows a strategy of protecting and enabling rebels to gain control of populated areas using not just air power, but arms and special forces.

    Armed population + air power + special forces vs regime with mercenaries of no loyalty, denied air and armour.

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  9. The summary of the resolution above makes out that arming rebels is an option, though I can't see that explicitly in the original.

    1973 makes reference to all necessary measures "notwithstanding paragraph 9" of 1970, which imposed a nationwide arms embargo (to include all persons in Libya, including rebels). So yeah, that seems to permit arming rebels.

    That said, I'm not sure why you view this as a way to achieve the goal of restoring basic services, or as superseding the prohibition on foreign ground forces. "[E]xcluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory" says to me "no foreign troops, full stop."

    Even if we were to determine that advisors or embedded SF were a useful solution, with whom would they embed? Who would they advise?

    GEN Ham has already expressly stated that U.S. commanders do not interpret their mandate as including support to opposition forces. He even did some parsing by saying that a civilian with an AK would be entitled to protection from regime forces, but rebels with an armored personnel carrier would not. Whatever you want to happen vis-a-vis the rebels, that's what is happening.

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  10. "Why should we assume this is true?"
    - That they are supported by the great majority?
    I'd say that much was evident from the fact that they were able to start the revolution at all. Im no expert on Lybia, though ...
    - That they win? That's not a given, but I'd give it a 66% chance. Imo that's enough to takte the chance, compared to the 99% certainty of Qaddafi winning without the West intervening and the assured negative consequences that would come with this.


    "[E]xcluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory" says to me "no foreign troops, full stop."

    Sorry, but advisors to the rebels are not occupiers in my book ... ;-)

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  11. Sorry, but advisors to the rebels are not occupiers in my book ... ;-)

    Or under international law.

    Trying to interpret UNSC resolutions without understanding Council politics, how it uses language, and the historical precedents invoked by certain phrases can lead to some serious misunderstandings.

    Likewise, it's inaccurate to read the resolution as assuming that the instruments of national power wielded by individual member states are the only way to achieve some of these goals. Not that you're off on every point - there are certainly tensions and contradictions within this (and every) UNSCR - but you're missing some important context.

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  12. Trying to interpret UNSC resolutions without understanding Council politics, how it uses language, and the historical precedents invoked by certain phrases can lead to some serious misunderstandings.

    Likewise, it's inaccurate to read the resolution as assuming that the instruments of national power wielded by individual member states are the only way to achieve some of these goals. Not that you're off on every point - there are certainly tensions and contradictions within this (and every) UNSCR - but you're missing some important context.


    This would seem to be just the place to enlighten me, no? I certainly have no claim on expertise in either the byzantine bureaucracy of international institutions or in international law writ large, just I'm very much interested in exactly that sort of enlightening context.

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  13. On ADM Locklear's clarification, the problem for Ghadhafi is that if he did "stop all attacks against citizens" he would lose power, so for him a ceasefire according to those terms is impossible.

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  14. the problem for Ghadhafi is that if he did "stop all attacks against citizens" he would lose power

    I don't understand why you believe this to be true.

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