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United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:49 pm on 21st March 2011.

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Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament 4:49 pm, 21st March 2011

Nothing could demonstrate more eloquently the difference between the ill-conceived Iraq war and this operation than the overwhelming agreement on both sides of the Chamber, including the very eloquent and moving speech by the Leader of the Opposition. We now have a no-fly zone, the effect of which has been to neutralise the Libyan air force and take it out of the conflict. There is a naval blockade on Libya, which means that none of the coastal towns can be subject to bombardment. However, Gaddafi’s army remains, and it is legitimate to ask how the objectives of the Security Council resolution can be met, given those circumstances.

As the Prime Minister and others have pointed out, the Security Council resolution allowed us to do that because “all necessary measures” is a very well-known term. I was puzzled when Mr Amr Moussa expressed confusion on behalf of the Arab League about the action being taken, given that Lebanon, a member of the league, was a sponsor of the resolution. He must have known what it was intended to lead to, and I am relieved that he has moved on from that.

What we have seen already is the use of military power—the UN is entitled to do this—to attack artillery, heavy weapons and tanks on the roads of Libya where they might threaten civilian populations, but that is also relevant to the difficult question asked by one of my hon. Friends: what about Libyan regime forces that might have penetrated the towns and cities, where direct attack might be very dangerous? The need to protect civilians is of course paramount, but I believe that that matter will be addressed, because even the regime troops that have penetrated the towns and cities will need to have supplies of fuel and food renewed and other equipment provided, and that can now be blocked because any attempt to provide such reinforcements from outside the towns and cities can now be subject to the most precise destruction by coalition forces. That aspect of the resolution is very welcome.

There is another aspect to consider. Although we talk about a no-fly zone, the areas where civilian lives might be endangered or threatened have in fact become a no-combat zone. It is worth considering that the Security Council resolution stipulates not only “all necessary measures”, but

“all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970”,

which is the resolution that imposed the arms embargo. That must mean that it is now appropriate under the terms of the resolution to supply the insurgents in Libya with military supplies in order to protect the civilian populations in which those insurgents are to be found. I hope that the Foreign Secretary or whoever will be winding up the debate will confirm that.