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John Baron MP: Why not let our Arab allies enforce the No Fly Zone? After all, we've already sold them the capability to do so.

Baron John.ashx John Baron is Conservative MP for Basildon and Billericay.

Libya – Recent interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan showed poor intelligence and confusion as to mission. The No-Fly Zone suggests we have not learned those lessons. For one thing, what is the end game and what do we know of the rebels?

Military doctrine dictates that the mission should be clearly defined. Whether or not a No-Fly Zone [NFZ] is successfully enforced - though the West is unlikely to fail - I remain of the view that our intervention is the wrong decision. Too many unknowns exist - not least, what exactly is the end-game?

Our record of intervention in the Region has not been good. Most recently, politicians corrupting intelligence on WMD in Iraq and continued confusion regarding our mission in Afghanistan do not bode well. Yet again we are meddling in another Muslim country without it being absolutely necessary. We are told we are responding to calls from our Arab allies and the Arab League, so why not let them enforce a NFZ – after all, we’ve sold them in the past the capability to do so?

Meanwhile, the enforcement of a NFZ will continue to involve attacks on Gaddafi’s ground forces and, regardless of whether there are civilian casualties, this will allow Gaddafi to claim his own people are being murdered. This could affect public opinion in the Arab world. I hope our PR messaging is ready and has better success when compared to Afghanistan. Already, other Arab countries are expressing concern that Allied military action is going beyond what they thought a NFZ entailed.

Furthermore, our intervention does not sit well with our present policy on Arms sales. It is wrong to preach democracy whilst selling arms – particularly crowd-control weapons – to autocratic regimes who suppress popular dissent.  On this matter at least, there is perhaps hope. When questioning the Foreign Secretary during a Foreign Affairs Select Committee hearing last week, he agreed to a full Review of government policy which will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny. William Hague understands that being hypocritical on this issue undermines the UK’s international standing.

Laudably, we are concerned about Gaddafi killing his own people. But he has been doing this for years, so why the concern now? This concern hardly in itself justifies a NFZ? If it does, then should we be planning NFZs for the Yemen and Bahrain in order to be consistent? What about the other numerous internal conflicts around the world? The West’s sudden rush to rid itself of Gaddafi suggest we are not being told the whole story.

Before entering the fray, we should also have a good idea as to the end game. What exactly is the exit strategy? Because if we do not then we risk being drawn into yet another ill-defined mission, whilst civilian casualties rise. It is perfectly possible for Gaddafi’s ground forces to succeed or produce a stalemate regardless of a NFZ – are we then going to walk away? No wonder the Americans want to step back from their involvement over the next couple of days.

And what do we know of these rebels? Apparently, there is a report doing the rounds on Capitol Hill which suggests Libya supplies twice as many rebel fighters in Iraq than any other Arab country – and most of these from the east of the country. We should perhaps be careful what we wish for. The last time there was a change of Regime 40 Years ago, some in the West welcomed Gaddafi’s ‘democratic’ credentials.

I probably sound cold-hearted and a pessimist. But as the Prime Minister said last week, you should only put the men and women of our armed forces into harms’ way when it is absolutely necessary. I question whether this situation demands our intervention. The Army teaches you to be absolutely clear about the objective before committing to a mission. Too many questions remain unanswered.


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