The Cable

Polish FM on Libya: No no-fly yet, let them work it out internally

As the United States contemplates implementing a no-fly zone in Libya, don’t expect Poland to lead the campaign among European powers to support international or NATO military intervention. "It’s an internal Libyan conflict so far," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told Foreign Policy in an exclusive interview on Wednesday. Poland is a NATO ally and ...

FERENC ISZA/AFP/Getty Images
FERENC ISZA/AFP/Getty Images

As the United States contemplates implementing a no-fly zone in Libya, don’t expect Poland to lead the campaign among European powers to support international or NATO military intervention. "It’s an internal Libyan conflict so far," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told Foreign Policy in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

Poland is a NATO ally and will assume the presidency of the European Union in July. But it does not currently support an international no-fly zone over Libya, or any NATO military involvement there.

"If Col. Qaddafi continues to bomb his own people, then we might have to consider it," Sikorski said regarding the establishment of a no-fly zone. "But it’s a very tough issue because he hasn’t yet provoked us, so it would be under a humanitarian or ‘responsibility to protect’ justification."

"It would be best if Col. Qaddafi did us the favor of just resigning and preventing further bloodshed," the foreign minister added.

Sikorski, a former fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), has longstanding ties to the conservative foreign policy community in Washington. He awarded Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland on Tuesday at an event at the Atlantic Council.

In accepting the award, McCain plead for the imposition of a Libya no-fly zone and accused the Pentagon of avoiding such a move.

"We are spending over $500 billion dollars, not counting Iraq and Afghanistan, on our nation’s defense. Don’t tell me we can’t do a no-fly zone over Tripoli," McCain said. "I love the military, I love it, it’s been my life, but they always seem to find reasons why you can’t do something rather than why you can."

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been warning of the difficulties of implementing a no-fly zone and testified on Wednesday that doing so "begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses."

Either way, Sikorski threw cold water on the notion that NATO should be the organization to take on such a mission.

"NATO is a defensive military alliance. We are already engaged in Afghanistan on a huge scale. I don’t know if anybody has called on NATO to have a role in this," he said. "We have to hope that the Libyans themselves resolve this internal civil war."

Sikorski also rejected the comparison of the humanitarian crisis in Libya to past crises in Rwanda and Bosnia.

"In Rwanda, it was military forces slaughtering innocent people. Here you have a split within the military — with some units backing the opposition and others remaining loyal to Col. Qaddafi — so it’s not a directly comparable situation," Sikorski said.

"In Bosnia, it was months and years of ethnic cleansing. That’s not, thank god, the Libyan situation yet. What we have in Libya is a popular revolt against the tyrant and hopefully it will be resolved before we can intervene," he added.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, raised the Rwandan and Bosnian examples in calling for intervention in Libya. Vice President Joseph Biden also recently criticized the slow response to war crimes in Bosnia, although he did not directly connect that to the unfolding crisis in Libya.

"It’s amazing how in the Balkans it took so long," Biden said on Feb. 25. "Our administration also believes that holding perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable is an essential component of our prevention efforts. And that’s why we have to reinvigorate efforts to bring some of the worst war criminals to justice."

Sikorski will meet with Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Poneman on Wednesday evening, and with Clinton on Thursday. This weekend, he’ll join AEI’s off-site retreat on Sea Island, Georgia, where Libya is sure to be a hot topic of discussion.

His message to the assembled group of conservative thinkers will be that drastic, bold intervention by the U.S. government into the ongoing Arab revolutions is not such a great idea.

"I believe the U.S. has to be very careful, because it’s not as if everyone in the Middle East sees the U.S. as a beacon, so I believe we all have to tread very carefully," he said.

Joshua Keating contributed to this report.

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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