28 June 2011

Why Air War Will Fail

Aerial revolution booster

I've already touched on this, but I can be clearer. NATO's air war in Libya can not but fail. A bombing campaign is as likely to deliver regime change as you are to fell a log with a handheld mixer.

The powers intervening in Libya are demanding Gaddafi's regime dismantle itself. This is a maximalist war aim. Aerial bombardments, as well as bombing campaigns conducted by clandestine terrorists, have succeeded before in extracting limited concessions from a government, but a bombing campaign forcing a capitulation of a regime is unheard of.

Western powers obviously refused to learn the lesson, but their own 1999 adventure over Yugoslavia shows as much. The terms under which the hostilities were concluded was no capitulation of Milošević across the line. Yugoslavia's sovereignty over Kosovo was reaffirmed in the UN, the demand for NATO access to the whole of Yugoslavia was successfully resisted and (needles to say) the government in Belgrade remained in control over the rest of Yugoslav territory.

Not only are the war aims in Libya greater than the demands placed on Belgrade in 1999, but they are public knowledge. In the Kosovo War the western powers kept Annex B to the Rambouillet proposal under wraps and could therefore drop it without this appearing as a defeat for them. This time they can not abandon their openly stated goal of forcing out the regime of Muammar Gaddafi without sacrificing prestige.

Additionally, what success NATO had in 1999 stemmed from the fact it threatened to pulverize the civilian economy of Serbia. The conflict was framed in terms of NATO rushing to save Albanians from the Serbs, destruction wrought upon Serbia therefore did not count for much. Today NATO is allegedly bombing Libya in order to save Libyans from Gaddafi. It is a story ill equipt to survive NATO openly holding hostage the civilian infrastructure of Libya against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi.

The intervening powers may yet have their way, but it will not be because of the air war. This aspect of intervention represents a complete mismatch of means and aims and will suffer a defeat. Arrogance on display in western capitals that sees them refuse drawing lessons from their military interventions means we are unfortunately assured more aggressive wars, but also the satisfaction of seeing the wars go badly for the aggressor.

1 comment:

  1. Indeed, NATO already has forced concessions from Gadaffi; he has offered several times to negotiate - with NATO, with the rebels or with the rebels and NATO as intermediaries. All such offers were casually swatted aside by NATO, flushed with the clean sweat of a job well done and a success assured. They're much less sure now, although it'd be hard to tell from their boasting - but as you say, they can hardly go back now. Why, Sarkozy's reputation as a statesman is on the line!!