A Western and Arab military campaign against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi could be launched within hours and cripple his forces - perhaps drive him from power - within weeks. But it is not without risks.
Thursday's United Nations Security Council vote backing military action in Libya offers intervening powers a very broad mandate, by authorizing "all necessary measures" to protect civilians.
It is unclear how far the allies want to go, notably in view of Gaddafi's initial response of offering a ceasefire. But it is clear their firepower gives them many possibilities.
Paul Koring, the Globe and Mail's Washington correspondent, took reader questions on the no-fly zone, the practicalities of imposing it and the likely meaning of the latest developments.
Here's a transcript of the discussion:
Jill Mahoney: Hello everyone. We're pleased to have The Globe's Paul Koring join us to discuss the recent developments on Libya.
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Paul Koring: Morning, ... so only hours after the UN authorized air strikes to stop Libyan adances ... Col. Gadhafi calls a "ceasefire."
Jill Mahoney: Paul, what's your take on the developments on this file?
Paul Koring: Col. Gadhafi may be a despot and a ruthless leader willing to kill his own people but he hasn't ruled for 41 years by being stupid. He knows that tossing out the ceasefire means that he seems to be in compliance. He may be buying time or he may be serious and is willing to settle for the status quo
Jill Mahoney: Before Libya announced a ceasefire, France suggested that air strikes were possible within hours. Given Libya's move, are air strikes still looking likely?
Paul Koring: Air strikes - more likely a salvo of cruise missiles fired from submarines and or warships in the Mediterranean - could happen anytime. Although there are discussions planned for the weekend as to how to implement the no-fly zone, there are warplanes and surveillance planes already close by.
Comment From Élazar Gabay: Does this mean that NATO won't attack anti aircraft installations?
Paul Koring: But Col. Gadhafi may have successfully postponed any first strike. It would look odd for the great powers to bomb something, even a radar or missile site, only hours after a ceasefire.
Paul Koring: My guess ... and it is only a guess ... is that French, British and U.S. warplanes, backed up and directed by NATO command and control AWACs aircraft offshore are already probing the Libyan air defences, seeing what's turned on, whether they are detected, and what's working. But there isn't -- yet -- any need to strike.
Comment From parker: Paul how long will it take for the coilition to get control of Lybia once they start?
Paul Koring: Libyan airspace will be under total control of allied warplanes within hours of the "start." Frankly, it would be suicidal right now to get in a Libyan jet - military or otherwise - and fly anywhere. Maybe a very, very, very, short fleeing flight to Malta all the while calling in the clear that there was no ill-intent but that's about it.
Comment From Henry Leperlier: Are there any news about whether Col. Gadhafi is respecting the ceasefire completely?
Paul Koring: Whether he respects the ceasefire in a macro sense will be pretty clear. Spy satellites and surveillance aircraft can detect flights, certainly any tank fire and or artillery barrages will be known. But you can't know whether some elite group is prowling a re-taken city killing people.
Comment From Bill: What are the possibilities for France/UK to monitor lybian ground movements and events around Benghazi? Also I'm wondering if any actual military engagement would not start before stealth bombers from US bases have arrived in the area?
Paul Koring: The U.S. Air Force has aircraft (and satellites) capable of monitoring ground movements. Also drones (which I suspect are in the air.) Neither the British nor the French have such sophisticated capacity but they too have drones and they will have access to US intelligence. Once the surveillance is fully in place -- especially given that Libya is mainly a vast expanse of desert with a few roads mostly along the coast - nothing much bigger than a pickup truck will move without being known.
Comment From Guest: Does the UN Security Council have a plan? Realistically, how long can we expect the no-fly zone to be in effect? Will this become a waiting game between Gadhafi and the UNSC?