NATO To Discuss Options To Deal With Libya

NATO Defense ministers, including Secretary Robert Gates, are meeting in Brussels to discuss the situation in Libya. Britain and France are pushing for a "No-Fly Zone," while the U.S. and some other NATO allies are much more cautious.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

As the battle over Libya intensifies, so too has the debate over exactly how the outside world should respond. In Brussels today, the American Secretary of Defense Robert Gates joins European defense ministers at NATO headquarters, and European Union foreign ministers are holding a separate meeting.

NATO officials say a range of options are being discussed, including a possible no-fly zone over Libya.

Joining us from Brussels is NPR correspondent Eric Westervelt. Good morning.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And among the possibilities - and it's one that - it seems as if people in the street have grabbed onto - is that idea of a no-fly zone. What are you hearing there?

WESTERVELT: Well, among diplomats there's not a consensus yet, Renee, on that issue of a no-fly zone, and some diplomats here are making it clear that they don't think the situation on the ground in Libya has really reached a tipping point, so to speak, where military intervention such as a no-fly zone is really warranted.

MONTAGNE: I mean, that's a little more complicated than I think the average person thinks it is.

WESTERVELT: Well, that's right. I mean, there's really no hard definition, but in general terms diplomats here are saying, you know, there has to be demonstrable need on the ground and some diplomats say we don't see that yet. So if the Gadhafi regime's attacks on civilians increase, for example, then there might be stronger support for a no-fly zone among NATO members.

But there's also a worry, Renee, that even if a no-fly zone is put in place, it may not do much to help the rebels, may not prove decisive at all. I mean, Western diplomats and analysts point out that most of the recent gains by pro-regime forces, so far at least, have been through ground fighting, using mortars and artillery and automatic weapons, not through the Libyan government's air attacks, which have been relatively ineffective so far, particularly in the fighting in the east.

MONTAGNE: You know, senior American officials, though, have been saying if there were to be a no-fly zone, it would be a matter for the U.N. to take up, and shouldn't be U.S.-led. Do most NATO members feel the same?

WESTERVELT: I think so. Certainly those who support the idea. France and Britain want a no-fly zone backed by the U.N. Security Council. But as we know, Russia and China, both permanent Security Council members, are not backing the idea. Turkey as well is lukewarm to the proposal. And German diplomats are quietly expressing skepticism as well. So while NATO officials here stress that urgent planning is underway for all contingencies, in fact, Renee, it looks like discussions about a no-fly zone still have a way to go.

MONTAGNE: Well, did it make any difference that yesterday two members of Libya's opposition council visited the European Parliament and actually lobbied for both political recognition and a no-fly zone?

WESTERVELT: Well, it may make some difference, but these Libyan opposition figures are self-appointed; it's not clear if they represent everyone there in rebel-controlled territory. I mean, they made it clear that they don't want foreign military intervention on the ground but would welcome a no-fly zone, at least for the territory they control in the east of the country.

And really I have to stress that there is not consensus among the rebels, from what we know, about a no-fly zone either. Most rebel leaders seem to support the idea of Western help, but others says, you know, it could actually hurt the cause and play into Colonel Gadhafi's hands.

Among many of the regime's bizarre claims, including that this uprising is all from al-Qaida brainwashing Libyan youth, he's now also saying this is a neocolonial plot to steal Libya's oil. So NATO officials, including the secretary-general, are saying we can respond on a short notice and quickly if we need to, but they're also highlighting the sensitivities in the region to what would be military intervention in yet another Muslim country.

MONTAGNE: Eric, thanks very much.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Eric Westervelt speaking to us from Brussels.

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