The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously yesterday to call for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya, as well as "all necessary measures" to protect civilians.
The resolution, number 1973, allowing military action was passed shortly before forces loyal to Libyan ruler Moammar Gaddafi were expected to roll into Benghazi, the rebel stronghold, and crush the uprising. Within hours of the council's action, however, Gaddafi announced a ceasefire.
Celebrations erupted in Benghazi, as rebels and their supporters flooded the streets, waving flags and chanting. But reports via Facebook and Twitter indicate that there is still fighting on the ground, and that Gaddafi's missiles are beginning to fly into the western part of the country.
The move to approve the resolution, sponsored by the United States and Lebanon, comes after weeks of wrangling and intense discussion. While Republicans had pressed President Barack Obama to seek action unilaterally or through NATO alone, he and U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton made clear that they did not want to move forward on any military action without agreement from the international community, specifically a Council resolution authorizing the use of force.
The Republican leadership repeatedly condemned Obama for not quickly deploying troops to the region. But the president, apparently, worried about a repeat of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, in which the Bush administration led an invasion that began what most now consider a disastrous war - without international approval.
Most expected the resolution to fail in the UNSC, or that language authorizing the use of force would be stripped from it, but a request from the Arab League this past weekend, said Clinton, changed minds and brought about a "sea change" in the thinking of the international community.
Li Baodong, China's UN ambassador said after the vote, "China is always against the use of force when those means were not exhausted." He complained, "specific questions" China asked were not answered, but nonetheless, "[China] attaches great importance to the requests of the Arab League and the African Union."
China, one of five countries on the council with veto power, abstained from the vote, giving a tacit approval to the use of force, as did Russia. India, German and Brazil - non-permanent members of the council with no veto power - also abstained. The vote was 10 to zero in favor.
Baso Sangqu, speaking on behalf of South Africa, which currently holds a seat on the council, said his nation was concerned about "what is fast becoming a civil war in Libya." He added that any solution "must also preserve the solidarity and integrity of Libya."
Many non-aligned countries worried that the U.S., NATO and/or the European Union would use the conflict in Libya as a pretext to invade and occupy the country. However, the requests of the Arab League and the UNSC provision that there be no occupational force seems to have moved some support towards intervention.
Andrei Savivykh, speaking on behalf of socialist-oriented Belarus, which plays a large role in the Non-Aligned Movement and frequently butts heads with the U.S. and the European Union, said earlier today, "It is obvious that the UN Security Council Resolution is aimed at de-escalation of the conflict and protecting civilians. We expect that all the UN member states will act to meet this primary objective."
Much remains up in the air. No one yet knows what kind of a role the U.S., along with Britain, France and other NATO countries, will play or, as reports of continued fighting surface, what will happen on the ground in Libya.
The full vote of the council is as follows: Ten countries - Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Gabon, Lebanon, Nigeria, Portugal, South Africa, France, the U.S. and the United Kingdom - voted for, none voted against and five countries - China, Russia, India, Germany, Brazil - abstained.