Coalition Countries Have Different Ideas About Libya

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President Obama made sure to begin a bombing campaign in Libya with allies, but that doesn't mean they all agree. Arthur Goldhammer, of the Center for European Studies at Harvard University, talks to Stave Inskeep about friction among countries in the coalition.


President Obama made sure to begin a bombing campaign in Libya with allies. But that does not mean the allies all agree. We've already seen signs of friction among the Western and Arab countries who agreed to take part. And for more we're joined by Arthur Goldhammer of the Center for European Studies at Harvard.

Welcome to the program.


INSKEEP: Let's start with the Europeans, Britain and France. What do they disagree on when you talk about them and the United States?

GOLDHAMMER: Well, there have been reports of disagreement over exactly how the command and control of the operations should be handled once the United States lays back from its current level of involvement.

The British wanted a greater NATO involvement. France wants a political buffer between the NATO command and the actual control of the operation in order to ensure that there is greater input from Arab states, so that this is not a Western operation that might be mistaken for a reassertion of colonial power.

INSKEEP: Well, now that's interesting, because when you begin giving those lists it just sounds like little administrative tempests. But it sounds like some of these countries think that there are real matters of substance behind these disagreements.

GOLDHAMMER: Well, France at least is presenting it in that light. And I am not privy to the actual discussions, so I can't say much more on that point.

INSKEEP: Are all these countries fundamental interests the same?

GOLDHAMMER: Well, there is certainly a paramount fundamental interest, which is the humanitarian one, which all of the countries have declared - protecting the citizens of Libya from attack by Colonel Gadhafi's forces. Beyond that it's difficult to say. Every country has its own national interests, of course.

INSKEEP: Some of them depend on Libyan oil more than others, for example.

GOLDHAMMER: For example, there is a history of discussions between France and Libya. When President Sarkozy first came to power one of his moves was to negotiate with Libya over the release of Bulgarian nurses who were held prisoner at that time. His ex-wife was actually his special emissary there.

Gadhafi did agree to release the nurses. And in exchange, France made certain promises to sell weapons to Libya and to build a nuclear power plant. Gadhafi also made promises to sell gas to the French national gas company, GDF Suez.

INSKEEP: So awkward seeming business relationships and diplomatic relationships now. And how much more complicated does this become? Because there is this effort to keep Arab nations onboard.

GOLDHAMMER: Well, that is certainly a complicating factor. And there have already been indications from the Arab League that they were unhappy with the initial military efforts, which went beyond what they had imagined.

And I can only speculate that that will become even more difficult as the military operations wear on, since the rebels seem not to be making progress with the level of air support they've currently received.

INSKEEP: Civilian casualties can make a big difference there I imagine.

GOLDHAMMER: Certainly. We can only imagine what images will be broadcast throughout the Arab world as this operation proceeds.

INSKEEP: Mr. Goldhammer, thanks very much.

GOLDHAMMER: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: Arthur Goldhammer is with the Center for European Studies at Harvard University.

This is NPR News.


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