The Fog of War: Dan Smith on Intervention in Libya

UC Press author Dan Smith makes sense of the current conflict in Libya in his recent blog post, Libya and the Fog of Intervention. Smith, the Secretary General of International Alert and chair of the UN Peacebuilding Fund‘s Advisory Group, offers a comprehensive analysis of the situation, pointing out that the “three weeks of what has become NATO’s armed intervention in Libya have generated far more questions than anyone could hope to answer.”

Smith covers the lack of clarity and “largely deliberate confusion” over the goal of intervention, possible outcomes of NATO’s strikes, and challenges and dilemmas on both sides of the argument. Read an excerpt below, and visit Smith’s blog to view the full post.

The three weeks of what has become NATO’s armed intervention in Libya have generated far more questions than anyone could hope to answer. The uncertainties by no means overwhelm the case for intervention but they do add immediacy to the reservations expressed by the doubters and sceptics.

The Fog of Intervention

The 19th century Prussian military philosopher, Carl von Clausewitz, didn’t quite coin the term ‘the fog of war’. But credit for it is generally given to him because he did use a fog metaphor (as well as, in the same breath, metaphors of twilight and moonlight) to describe the effect of all the uncertainties that pile up in military operations. And in its fogginess, the Libya intervention is fast becoming a classic:

  • Uncertainty about what kind of operation it is (from day one it has gone far beyond what is normally understood by a no-fly zone but the logic of a full-blooded intervention seems to appeal to no-one);
  • Questions about who is in charge (with answers starting at not-NATO-under-any-circumstances and ending with yes-of-course-it’s NATO) (though not all NATO members – e.g., Germany and Turkey – are actually supportive);
  • Lack of clarity about who is taking the operational lead;
  • Obscurity about the depth, scale and durability of the US commitment;
  • Confusion about who supports (with the Arab League backing before back-tracking then going back to backing) and who tolerates (China and Russia swiftly lost their abstentionist spirit when they saw what the intervention entailed);
  • Largely deliberate confusion over what the goal is (humanitarian, or regime change, or evening the odds between rebels and regime);
  • The difficulty of getting reliable information about whether some air strikes have either missed their targets or been targeted wrongly.

Learn more about confrontation and instability in the region in Smith’s book, The State of the Middle East: An Atlas of Conflict and Resolution.