All the Way

A French government spokesman has defined the ultimate aim of our imminent military action:

Mr Baroin said the goal of the military action would be to “protect the Libyan people and to allow them to go all the way in their drive for freedom, which means bringing down the Gaddafi regime.”

Regime change is our goal. Our action is not merely aimed at restraining the Qaddafi regime from inflicting atrocities against civilians. It is to remove him from power.

This has consequences. It means that we are tying ourselves to that absolute goal. We will tie our sense of our own credibility to it. It will be hard to extricate ourselves from the crisis now if things go wrong.

I must admit that the academic in me is exhilarated by these events, because they bring strategic studies back to the table. The world is not merely a dismal continuum of non-state networks, epidemics or natural disasters. It is a world of sovereign states who act with force when they think they need to and can. And this despite decades of forecasts from the ‘new security’ folk who marginalise interstate conflict. And despite the glib statements of UK government figures who pronounced the unimportance of interstate warfare while they were slashing capabilities that we are now calling into action.

However, this is ultimately a grave and frightening thing. We are rolling the iron dice and we don’t know how this will unfold. Innocents will be saved but will also be killed by our actions, probably. We are led by relative novices in foreign relations, at least in the figures of Cameron and Obama. And now that we have closed the door on a more politically limited goal and are fully taking one side in the civil war instead of merely intervening to prevent atrocities, Gaddafi will now be motivated to hold on without mercy to the bitter end.

So it goes. I still suspect this action has not been properly conceived or thought through. It is full of hazards that will test us. But setting aside doubts for the moment, we are at war. So to our air forces and the people now presiding over this policy, I wish you well. Let the dice fly high.

UPDATE: It seems that the UK government may be flexible after all on the war aims, if Cameron’s receptive response to Gaddafi’s ceasefire is anything to go by. We will see.