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Monday, May 9, 2011

Libya: Unrest and U.S. Policy

Christopher M. Blanchard
Acting Section Research Manager

Over 40 years ago, Muammar al Qadhafi led a revolt against the Libyan monarchy in the name of nationalism, self-determination, and popular sovereignty. Opposition groups citing the same principles are now revolting against Qadhafi to bring an end to the authoritarian political system he has controlled in Libya for the last four decades. The Libyan government’s use of force against civilians and opposition forces seeking Qadhafi’s overthrow sparked an international outcry and led the United Nations Security Council to adopt Resolution 1973, which authorizes “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians. The United States military is participating in Operation Unified Protector, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military operation to enforce the resolution. Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and other partner governments also are participating. Qadhafi and his supporters have described the uprising as a foreign and Islamist conspiracy and are attempting to outlast their opponents. Qadhafi remains defiant amid continuing coalition air strikes, and his forces continue to attack opposition-held areas. Some opposition figures have formed an Interim Transitional National Council (ITNC), which claims to represent all areas of the country. They seek foreign political recognition and material support.

Resolution 1973 calls for an immediate cease-fire and dialogue, declares a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace, and authorizes robust enforcement measures for the arms embargo on Libya established by Resolution 1970 of February 26. As of April 21, U.S. military officials reported that U.S. and coalition strikes on Libyan air defenses, air forces, and ground forces had neutralized the ability of Muammar al Qadhafi’s military to control the country’s airspace. Coalition forces target pro- Qadhafi ground forces found to be violating Resolution 1973 through attacks that threaten civilians. President Obama has said the United States will not introduce ground forces, and Resolution 1973 forbids “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.” On April 14, the United Kingdom and Qatar co-chaired the first meeting of the intergovernmental Libya Contact Group, and the group agreed to develop a mechanism for providing financial support to the ITNC. Qatar, Italy, Kuwait, France, and others have formally recognized the ITNC as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people. Some reports suggest that some Contact Group members have begun supplying defensive weaponry to opposition forces. The United States and others continue to provide humanitarian assistance to displaced persons.

Until recently, the United States government was pursuing a policy of reengagement toward Qadhafi after decades of confrontation, sanctions, and Libyan isolation. While U.S. military operations continue, Obama Administration officials highlight a number of non-military steps the U.S. government has taken to achieve Qadhafi’s ouster, such as new targeted sanctions established in Executive Order 13566. Some Members of Congress expressed support for U.S. military intervention prior to the adoption of Resolution 1973, while others disagreed or called for the President to seek explicit congressional authorization prior to any use of force. Some executive-legislative consultation occurred prior to the start of U.S. military operations, and, on March 21, President Obama sent a letter to Congress outlining U.S. military objectives and operations, but not explicitly seeking congressional authorization. Several House and Senate resolutions now seek to further define the goals and limits of future U.S. engagement in Libya.

Many observers believe that Libya’s weak government institutions, potentially divisive political dynamics, and current conflict suggest that security challenges could follow the current uprising, regardless of its outcome. In evaluating U.S. policy options, Congress may seek to better understand the roots and nature of the conflict in Libya, the views and interests of key players, and the potential consequences of military operations and other proposals under consideration.

Date of Report: April 25, 2011
Number of Pages: 42
Order Number: RL33142
Price: $29.95

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