NATO has so far played a cautious role in the events in Libya, asking its generals to draw up a plan for possible military action in the country, but insisting that it would only use them if given the explicit backing of the UN Security Council.
“The international community monitors the situation closely, and if Gaddafi and his military continue to attack the Libyan population systematically, I can’t imagine the international community and UN standing idly by,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Monday.
The fledgling Libyan opposition movement has already called for world powers to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent air forces loyal to Gaddafi from launching bombing raids against them.
Rasmussen called for caution, saying that such an operation would require “a wide range of military assets”. The last time NATO operated a no-fly campaign, over Kosovo in 1999, it flew more than 38,000 sorties in 78 days.
At the same time, “I assume that any NATO operation would take place in accordance with, and pursuant to, a UN mandate, and I take note of the fact that the current UN mandate doesn’t authorise the use of armed force”, he said.
The US ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, told reporters on a conference call a no-fly zone would have a “limited effect” on countering low flying helicopters used by Gaddafi’s forces. He added that Libyan air activities have decreased since last week.
“The overall air activity has not been the deciding factor in the ongoing unrest,” Daalder said. “Other things are really determining what’s happening on the ground.”
NATO was stepping up its surveillance of events in Libya with AWACS aircraft, increasing operations from 10 hours daily to 24 hours to get a “better picture of whats really going on in this part of the world”, Daalder said.
NATO defence ministers are due to meet in Brussels Thursday and Friday. The meeting was planned months ago to debate reform issues, but is now expected to discuss the Libyan situation.
“They will consider how NATO can do more to help our partners in North Africa and the wider Middle East during this period of transition – if they so wish,” Rasmussen said.