David Cameron has faced the House of Commons to receive backing for military action against Libya which has already taken place.In the UK parliament, Mr Cameron made the case for intervention in Libya and fielded questions about UK arms exports and why the UK should intervene in Libya, but not in other countries.
HMS Triumph fired cruise missiles at 7pm on Saturday 19th March 2011 and on that same day RAF Tornados took part in an international operation to enforce the two aims of UN Security Council Resolution 1973: firstly the suppression of Libyan air defences and the enforcement of a no-fly zone and secondly to protect civilians.
Mr Cameron informed the House that international forces had largely neutralised libyan air defence and RAF Typhoon jets were within 25 minutes of Libyan air space. They would be patrolling Libyan air space on Monday afternoon, UK time. The Prime Minister of the UK took the time to pay tribute to service men and women, saying that his thoughts were with their families “as they risk their lives to save the lives of others”.
Mr Cameron said that himself, President Obama and President Sarkozy had called, last week, for an immediate ceasefire, for Colonel Qaddafi to stop troops advancing on Benghazi, to pull his forces back from other towns and restore water, electricity and gas as well as allowing humanitarian assistance to enter the country. Mr Cameron maintains that Colonel Qaddafi did not comply with these terms.
The House of Commons expressed a broadly supportive tone during the debate, but raised important questions, such as how to prevent “mission creep”, how to include the Arab League more substantially and how to call an end to a military objective which does not include regime change.
Mr Cameron insisted that Arab nations are fully involved with the political leadership of the mission promising to meet regularly with the Secretary General of the Arab League and welcoming the provision of Qatari jets from the Gulf. He underlined that action had to be taken immediately to prevent a massacre in Benghazi, when answering questions on a point of order. Some MPs stated that Parliament should have been consulted before military action began.
When asked about troops on the ground and other limitations to the mission, Mr Cameron insisted that the terms of the UN resolution are very clear and that no occupying force would enter Libya and that regime change is purely a matter for the Libyan people.
When asked about the accountability of military chiefs and officials in Libya to the International Criminal Court, Mr Cameron said: “if you continue to work for Qaddafi put down your weapons, walk away from your tanks”. He added later in support of the motion before the House “we should not stand aside while this dictator murders his own people”.
In the UN vote for resolution 1973, India, Russia and China abstained and the two permamnent members of the Security Council did not use their veto. This was taken as a measure of international support by the Prime Minister who also pointed out the provision of military aircraft by Spain, military equipment from Canada, Belgium and Denmark as well as the use of Italian and Greek facilities.
Mr Cameron made an undertaking that no depleted uranium or cluster munitions would be used by British forces in the course of military action. He also maintained that the matter had been brought before the Commons as quickly as possible following consultations with the UN, Cabinet, COBRA and Paris Summit. He maintained that Benghazi and Tobruk would have fallen within 48 hours had the coalition not intervened.
When questioned about the fact that British forces would be facing a military armed with British-made weapons, Mr Cameron promised a “proper review of arms exports and training licences”. He stated that the UK had already revoked licences for “equipment of concern”, though dodged a question over what would happen if a UK plane was shot down and required search and rescue assistance in Libya.
As part of his speech, the UK Prime Minister claimed that, left to fend for itself, Libya would become a “pariah state festering on Europe’s border”, which would place additional pressure on Europe through emmigration. Emphasising the case for war, Mr Camoeron said “the people of Lockerbie know what this man is capable of”. When questioned on the case for war in Libya when compared with the case for intervention in other countries, Mr Cameron quoted recent coverage which said “Why should I tidy my bedroom when the rest of the world is such a mess” – a sentiment known as the Blair Doctrine which states that not being able to intervene everywhere does not preclude intervening somewhere.
Mr Cameron explained that command and control would eventually transfer from the US to NATO. He acknowledged a need to a internationalise the mission. He said that other countries had volunteered for inspection duties on the ground in Libya as part of an arms embargo. He also said that there would be no diversion of resources from Afghanistan and the Libyan exercises “will not affect our mission in Afghanistan”.
When asked about the future, Mr Cameron admitted that the future leadership of Libya is unclear, but said “it is better to take this action than risk the consequences of inaction, which is the slaughter of innocent civilians”. In answer to a question, Mr Cameron went so far as to posit that a new and amenable regime in Libya might allow for the conclusion of the Metropolitan Police investigation into the shooting of PC Yvonne Fletcher and historical support for North Irish terrorism.
Mr Cameron appeased the backbenchers with promises to report to the house on developments and debate the issues involved, but repeatedly stated “this is not the same as Iraq” and that clear objectives and authority are in place for intervention in Libya. One MP raised concerns over the potential for Colonel Qaddafi to use mustard gas, which Mr Cameron noted and many parallels were drawn by MPs to the historical situation in Kurdistan when a no-fly zone was imposed on Saddam Hussein’s regime.
According to the Prime Minister, the Libyan opposition do not want to divide Libya and this is something that the coalition forces would support.
Ed Miliband, for Her Majesty’s Opposition, steadfastly supported the UK Government’s motion in the House of Commons on the bases of basic principle, Britain’s Imperial history and the consequences of inaction. Mr Miliband stated that the motion supported a just cause, a feasible mission and had international support. He, too, raised the central issue of “how we reconcile Libya with issues elsewhere” after an intervention asked why Britain should not resist brutal dictatorships elsewhere in the world.
Mr Miliband promised that the Opposition would provide support with scrutiny. Another intervention suggested arming the resistance to allow the Libyan people to protect themselves. Mr Miliband said that “it is right to recognise the transitional council as a reasonable interlocutor”, drawing attention to the broad support for moves against Colonel Qaddafi from countries as diverse as
Lebanon, Columbia and South Africa. To do nothing, he said, “would be a dereliction of our duty, our history and our values. We cannot and we should not abandon them”.