As I write this, my RSS feeds and Twitter timeline tick over with reports of fierce fighting between Libyan and rebel forces, news of the Paris summit for world leaders, and speculation on the fighting to come. Gaddafi has undeniably broken his own ceasefire. A Libyan warplane has been shot down. This will get messier still with the involvement of foreign forces, not only from enforcing a no-fly zone but also from the ground level troops required to provide tactical intelligence in support of air assets.
With Britain, the US, Canada, France, Spain, Denmark and the UAE readying their fighter jets for the Mediterranean, I can’t help but wonder when Australia’s military will be dragged into the fight for Libya.
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd today ruled out the possibility of RAAF aircraft being used to enforce the no-fly zone, however I’m still not convinced that denies future involvement of Australian forces in other Libya-related operations. The Australian public would be forgiven for resisting the thought of sending our troops on other far-flung coalition conflicts, but best we consider the possibility now, and there are a couple.
The first and most likely of these scenarios involves Australian troops deployed as a part of an international stabilisation force after Gaddafi’s forces are pushed back swiftly. Both Foreign and Defence Ministers Rudd and Stephen Smith are correct in pointing out that this is a matter ostensibly for NATO, however, as part of a UN or coalition mission, Australia may be requested to send troops.
The second and more ominous scenario envisages a more protracted engagement with NATO and other foreign troops. President Obama will have to make good on his promise that military action will ensue if a cease-fire is not immediate; given Gaddafi is currently pushing into Benghazi, I’d say the President has few choices. While President Obama has asked for military action to exempt ground forces and be “finite”, there is still the possibility that the situation in Libya could take a turn for the worst. The UN resolution, based on Chapter 7 provisions on the responsibility to protect, mandates the protection of Libyan civilians; the door is left open for a more active intervention. In this scenario, although considerably less likely, Australian troops may contribute a small contingent for heavier fighting and more surgical tasks.
While crystal-ball gazing is an undertaking fraught with danger (and I’m happy to be wrong on these points), perhaps the Australian public, wary of political underselling of conflicts such as Afghanistan, should begin considering whether some 70 years later there might be a second coming of the Rats of Tobruk.
Photo courtesy of AFP.