KEITH LOCKE (Green)
The situation in the Middle East is now central to the considerations of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, and was among the topics addressed in the financial review we are debating today. We have been inspired by the success of the Egyptian and Tunisian people in toppling their dictators, and we were hoping that the Libyan people would soon prevail over the Gaddafi regime. However, as we know, the regime has fought back and was making advances, prompting calls for an internationally imposed no-fly zone to neutralise Gaddafi’s air force, which was bombing rebel forces. The proposal for a no-fly zone is only one element in the resolution recently passed by the UN Security Council. The motion had a very loose wording, allowing member states to “take all necessary measures… to protect civilians” in Libya. So far the coalition powers have bombed not only anti-aircraft batteries but also Gaddafi’s tanks, troops, and even his compound in Tripoli. British Secretary of Defence Liam Fox has not ruled out Gaddafi himself being a target.
Five important Security Council members—Germany, Brazil, India, China, and Russia—did not support the UN resolution. They were reluctant to support military intervention in Libya, and the Greens share their concerns. Although we fully identify with the democratic forces in Libya and do not wish to see them crushed, we see a lot of problems with the military intervention as it is evolving right now. There will be many civilian casualties resulting from the air attacks on Government facilities in the cities of Libya. That has been the case in all previous air assaults by Western powers in places such as Belgrade, Baghdad, and Kabul.
We are also looking at more than coalition air operations; it is a military intervention that could involve foreign forces on the ground, even though the UN resolution prohibits a “foreign occupation force” in Libya. We read in this morning’s
New Zealand Herald
that “coalition commanders argued that a ground intervention is not the same as an occupation, and this form of military action must remain a viable option if Gaddafi stays in power.” In other words, regime change is on the agenda, as it was in Iraq, a war that New Zealand stayed out of. We know well the problem that evolved with the Iraqi regime change when it was controlled by foreign forces, as opposed to the more orderly transition that is currently taking place in Egypt, which is being driven by domestic forces—the people and institutions of Egypt itself. It is also possible that the attacks by foreign forces could strengthen the dictator Gaddafi’s base of support as he pushes the message to Libyans that the attacks are coming from Western powers, which have traditionally been seen as hostile to Arab causes in Palestine and elsewhere.
In a related problem, it could be more difficult for the democratic forces to get ordinary Libyans involved in their struggle, particularly in the capital of Tripoli, if the regime can portray the democratic forces as agents of the foreign invaders. The intervention also takes place against the background of hypocrisy from the Western powers involved. For the last few years those same countries have been good mates with the dictator Gaddafi, praising him and selling him the very weapons he is now using against his own people. The fact that Libya had oil was justification enough, they felt. They also said that he had a stable government, and that was a plus to them, even though that stability was enforced by a complete clamp-down on anyone who dissented against Gaddafi. Of course the same countries that are involved in the air attacks at the moment backed a range of dictators across the Middle East, from Mubarak in Egypt to Ben Ali in Tunisia and the kingdoms in the Persian Gulf. Even today there is hypocrisy, with the same governments that are taking action against Gaddafi’s forces not being particularly worried about the Saudi Arabian forces entering Bahrain to crush the democratic movement there, with many people being killed.