A lack of diplomacy at the UN?

Agreeing to protect civilians in Libya was the easy part. Deciding how to do so is proving much more difficult.

    It was an unusually undiplomatic moment outside the UN security council chamber, and a sign of tension within. 
    The Council had just decided not to hold an emergency meeting on Libya.
    Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin was on his way out the door when he publically chastised the spokesperson of another country for speaking to a group of reporters. (I can't tell you which country because conversations at this stake-out are supposed to be off the record, but Western diplomats routinely brief reporters in this informal setting).
    "Double check with your ambassador," Churkin shouted at the spokesperson. "It's really impolite and rude. It's the president (of the security council) who is supposed to brief the media."
    According to the spokesperson, Churkin was "fuming" because Russia wanted the emergency meeting, which was requested over the weekend in a letter from Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa. In the letter Koussa said the security council's two recent resolutions on Libya, 1970 and 1973, had paved the way for "military aggression" against Libya, and he accused France and the United States of bombing unspecified civilian targets.
    However, the rest of the security council was willing to wait until Thursday to discuss Libya, the spokesperson said. That's when the secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon is expected to give his report on implementation of Resolution 1973, including the no-fly zone.
    But the council is not as unified as the spokesperson suggests.
    Russia, China, and Brazil – three of the five countries that abstained from the vote authorising member states to "take all necessary measures" to protect civilians in Libya - have expressed misgivings about ongoing airstrikes. India, which also abstained, says there should be no foreign troops in Libya. They have been stressing the need for a ceasefire.
    Even the countries that pushed hardest for the no-fly zone – France and the United Kingdom - were having trouble agreeing on who should command it. The Arab League, which backed international intervention, has since questioned some of the military strategies involved.
    As Churkin, the Russian ambassador, himself has pointed out, Resolution 1973 does not specify how the no-fly zone will be enforced and what the rules of engagement are. The text was pushed through in haste in a last-ditch effort to protect Libyan pro-democracy fighters from Muammar Gaddafi's encroaching forces.
    Agreeing to protect civilians was the easy part. Deciding how to do so is proving much more difficult. The security council was quick and unanimous in condemning Gaddafi for his crackdown on peaceful protestors with Resolution 1970. The unity began to fracture with Resolution 1973.
    Thursday's council meeting will show us how deep the fissures in the international community have become.


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