Libya Arms Embargo Precedes Air Strikes

By Liang, Xiaodon | Arms Control Today, April 2011 | Go to article overview

Libya Arms Embargo Precedes Air Strikes


Liang, Xiaodon, Arms Control Today


Members of a UN-authorized coalition began air strikes March 19 against military assets controlled by Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, completing an abrupt reversal in relations that until as recently as three months ago involved significant arms sales. With an arms embargo mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 1970 in place since Feb. 26, key coalition members such as France, the United Kingdom, and the United States are now committed to preventing the further influx of weapons to Gaddafi's forces.

A second Security Council resolution concerning Libya, Resolution 1973 of March 17, authorizes member states "to take all necessary measures. ..to protect civilians." Officials from members of the coalition have expressed a range of views on whether the new resolution permits arming of the rebels.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have said that arming the rebels is now permitted but that there has not been a decision to take that step. President Barack Obama said March 29, "I'm not ruling it out. But I'm also not ruling it in."

The text of the new resolution says the measures to protect civilians are to be taken "notwithstanding paragraph 9" of the February resolution. That paragraph contains the Security Council's instructions for an arms embargo. The State Department had said it interpreted the first resolution as blocking arms transfers to all parties, a stance that drew criticism from U.S. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

The embargo is the first action by the United Nations to block arms transfers to Middle Eastern states affected by a surge of unrest beginning in January. Some of those states have been the subject of unilateral or EU-organized arms embargoes, but the Security Council has not moved to expand any of these measures to a global scale.

The embargo will affect European and Russian arms suppliers most heavily. According to annual national and EU reports, the EU countries issuing the largest number of licenses for arms exports to Libya were, in order, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Between 2005 and 2009, these states approved export licenses worth about 700 million euros (approximately $1 billion). …

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