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Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi attends a wreath laying ceremony in the Belarus capital Minsk, Monday, Nov. 3, 2008. (SERGEI GRITS/AP)
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi attends a wreath laying ceremony in the Belarus capital Minsk, Monday, Nov. 3, 2008. (SERGEI GRITS/AP)

Globe Editorial

Deter Gadhafi, but keep boots off the ground Add to ...

The Western powers should resist the temptation to intervene in Libya's civil war. Much as the decisive defeat of Moammar Gadhafi would be welcome, the nature of the leadership of the opposing forces is little known. Libya's problems will not be solved by the application of military strength from outside the country.

Military airplanes and ships - such as HMCS Charlottetown now on its way to Libya - may nonetheless help to deliver humanitarian aid, to the coast of Libya, and also to the adjoining parts of Tunisia and Egypt into which refugees have been pouring - nations that are themselves suffering from political instability. Western planes and vessels may well be able to assist with transporting non-Libyan workers back to their home countries - some to south of the Sahara, some to as far away as Bangladesh. In particular, Canada should step forward to work with groups such as the International Organization for Migration that are struggling with this refugee crisis.

On the other hand, there is a strong case for a no-fly zone to be imposed, if Colonel Gadhafi uses what remains to him of the Libyan air force to bomb his fellow citizens. The UN Security Council should move quickly to authorize such a zone for the duration of the civil war, to be enforced, if need be, by such countries as have effective air power in the region. But it may be a moot point; reportedly, neither Col. Gadhafi nor the rebels have much air power of their own.

For Western powers to involve themselves more deeply in Libya would be counterproductive. It would suggest to pro-democracy elements in the Middle East that, if their opposition becomes violent, they will get help from the West. It would put non-Libyan lives at risk in a situation that is extremely difficult to assess from outside - without any clear benefit to Libyans themselves. Indeed, military intervention might eventually provoke an anti-Western reaction that could end up discrediting the democrats that the West rightly wishes to encourage and help.

By seizing assets abroad and imposing diplomatic sanctions, the West should indeed tighten the vise on Col. Gadhafi. But it should not use its military forces to depose him, in what is ultimately a matter that must be decided by Libyans.

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