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Panel Discussions - Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Qaddafi a “Serious Threat” But Only Libyans Can Oust Him

Col. Muammar Qaddafi is a "serious threat" but it is the Libyan people who must be the ones to remove him, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the UN, told a gathering at IPI’s office in Vienna.

Speaking at the March 22nd event, "Peace and Justice in a Time of Instability: A Jordanian Perspective," Prince Zeid said, "With so much uncertainty surrounding today’s international and regional politics, on one thing we can agree—Muammar Qaddafi is a serious threat to both his people and the international community, but the task of removing him can only be that of the Libyan people."

Prince Zeid said the best possible outcome was an immediate ceasefire followed by a negotiated agreement foreseeing Col. Qaddafi’s resignation and departure from the country. The likeliness of this scenario, however, seemed weak, he said, especially in light of a possible indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC). In that event, Prince Zeid said, Col. Qaddafi would have little, if any, incentive to give up until everything is lost.

Participants, who included high-level diplomats, Austrian state officials, and international practitioners, said they welcomed the intervention by the "coalition of the willing." They noted, however, that, had it happened earlier, it might have prevented a protracted stalemate that now seems likely to occur.

Many agreed that another sustained international campaign threatened to lock Qaddafi and his opponents into a long-lasting confrontation. Among the factors they cited were the Colonel's ties to other African leaders he had financed in the past and the frailty of theory and practice of the responsibility to protect.

Prince Zeid, who is a member of IPI's International Advisory Council and has extensive expertise in international criminal justice, described the recent unanimous referral by the UN Security Council of the Libyan case to the prosecutor of the ICC as "historic." The new-found unity of the Arab world in the face of the events unfolding in Libya and the overcoming of prior mistrust of international criminal justice marks a new phase of regional diplomacy, he said.

He indicated Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were the main regional supporters of military action against Col. Qaddafi. Concerns for civilian casualties and collateral damage had produced a more cautious approach from other Arab countries, he said.

Of all factors that ignited a united move by these states, a particularly important one was the United States' desire to bring in Arab participants in a collective measure to ensure broader legitimacy. Another was the position shown by Libyan diplomats in New York who withdrew their support for Col. Qaddafi.

Questions were asked concerning the strength of the Arab League’s commitment to the intervention, which, judging by diplomatic soundings in New York, seemed likely to last so long as civilian casualties did not reach a critical level.

Nevertheless, Prince Zeid said, paraphrasing Henry Kissinger in another context, "This is only the opening scene of a drama which by the fifth act may look pretty different than the initial optimism."

Prince Zeid said that life often imitated chess where players act strategically and it is impossible to foresee an opponent's next move. In this regard, a certain inherent mistrust among countries in the Middle East may constitute one of the problems facing regional understanding that is instrumental to stability.

"For how events have been unfolding in the past weeks," he said, "to better know what's going to happen in the region, one has to wait until the upcoming Friday."

Prince Zeid also warned of the rising pressure on regional stability propelled by growing transnational trends, represented by the rise of main commodities’ price, threatening human security across continents in places as diverse as Japan and Liberia. Furthermore, he said, threats seem to be interconnected—discontent generated by food prices affects oil prices, which in turn determines further commodity-price peaks—paving the way for a descent into further uncertainty.

"Today's volatility is disconcerting," said Prince Zeid, "and there is hardly enough brain power to compute the complexity of the broad security picture."

Nevertheless, he recognized that in many respects current events in the Middle East and North Africa are deeply inspiring, and there are positive trends accompanying the more worrying phenomena.

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