Boots on the ground?

President Obama has pledged that U.S. ground forces will not be deployed in Libya, but other members of the coalition are a bit less adamant. Here’s what Canada’s foreign minister had to say, shortly after Canadian CF-18’s began flying sorties over Libya:  Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon indicated in an interview on CBC Radio’s The ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
John Moore/Getty Images
John Moore/Getty Images
John Moore/Getty Images

President Obama has pledged that U.S. ground forces will not be deployed in Libya, but other members of the coalition are a bit less adamant. Here's what Canada's foreign minister had to say, shortly after Canadian CF-18's began flying sorties over Libya: 

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon indicated in an interview on CBC Radio's The House that aired Saturday, that Canada is "open to all options" in responding to the Libyan crisis. When asked by host Kathleen Petty if that includes "boots on the ground," Cannon said if that were required to "protect citizens that are being literally murdered by [Libyan leader Moammar] Gadhafi, that's what the resolution calls for."

The Security Council resolution authorizing the intervention prohibits "a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory." But some seem to believe the lack of definition for "occupation force" leaves the allies some wiggle room. Here's British Foreign Secretary William Hague:

President Obama has pledged that U.S. ground forces will not be deployed in Libya, but other members of the coalition are a bit less adamant. Here’s what Canada’s foreign minister had to say, shortly after Canadian CF-18’s began flying sorties over Libya: 

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon indicated in an interview on CBC Radio’s The House that aired Saturday, that Canada is "open to all options" in responding to the Libyan crisis. When asked by host Kathleen Petty if that includes "boots on the ground," Cannon said if that were required to "protect citizens that are being literally murdered by [Libyan leader Moammar] Gadhafi, that’s what the resolution calls for."

The Security Council resolution authorizing the intervention prohibits "a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory." But some seem to believe the lack of definition for "occupation force" leaves the allies some wiggle room. Here’s British Foreign Secretary William Hague:

"There will be no occupying force and no invasion of Libya. That is what I think would alarm people," he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

But Hague said it would be "foolish to exclude all possibilities" of having troops on the ground, pointing to the use of special forces to get British nationals out of the desert three weeks ago. "Circumstances can arise where those sort of things can happen," he added.

As Peter Beinart notes, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair initially pledged to avoid the use of ground forces in Kosovo, and it may have because they reconsidered that the tide was turned in that war. 

If, as many predict, airpower proves insufficient to remove Qaddafi from power or prevent atrocities on the ground, the use of ground troops is by no means out of the question. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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