Over forty years ago, Muammar al Qadhafi led a revolt against the Libyan monarchy in the name of nationalism, self-determination, and popular sovereignty. Opposition groups citing the same principles are now revolting against Qadhafi to bring an end to the authoritarian political system he has controlled in Libya for the last four decades. The Libyan government’s use of force against civilians and opposition forces seeking Qadhafi’s overthrow sparked an international outcry in February and early March 2011, and a stalemate began to break in favor of the Qadhafi government, threatening civilians in opposition-held areas. The United States and other European and Arab states are now carrying out military operations in Libya to enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which was adopted on March 17 and authorizes “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians. Qadhafi and his supporters have described the uprising as a foreign and Islamist conspiracy and are attempting to outlast their opponents. Qadhafi remains defiant amid the dismantling of his military by coalition air strikes. His supporters threatened to respond to attacks by striking civilian and military targets in the Mediterranean region.
Resolution 1973 calls for an immediate cease-fire and dialogue, declares a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace, and authorizes robust enforcement measures for the arms embargo on Libya established by Resolution 1970 of February 26, “while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.” As of March 28, U.S. military officials reported that U.S. and coalition strikes on Libyan air defenses, air forces, and ground forces had neutralized the ability of Muammar al Qadhafi’s military to control the country’s airspace and were increasingly focused on targeting pro-Qadhafi ground forces found to be continuing to violate Resolution 1973 through attacks on Libyan civilians. President Obama has said the United States will not introduce ground forces and has called for Qadhafi to step down. The no-fly zone called for in Resolution 1973 is in place and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is assuming command of coalition operations. The United States and international partners are providing humanitarian assistance to displaced persons in temporary camps in Tunisia and Egypt.
Until recently, the United States government was pursuing a policy of reengagement toward Qadhafi after decades of confrontation, sanctions, and Libyan isolation. President Obama now has joined some leaders in asserting that Muammar al Qadhafi must ultimately give up power,although that outcome is not called for explicitly in Resolution 1973. Obama Administration officials highlight a number of non-military steps the U.S. government has taken to achieve that objective, while military operations to protect Libyan civilians continue. U.S. steps include new targeted sanctions established in Executive Order 13566. Some Members of Congress expressed support for U.S. military intervention prior to the adoption of Resolution 1973, while others disagreed or called for the President to seek explicit congressional authorization prior to any use of force. Some executive-legislative consultation occurred prior to the start of U.S. military operations, and, on March 21, President Obama sent a letter to Congress outlining U.S. military objectives and operations, but not explicitly seeking congressional authorization.
Many observers believe that Libya’s weak government institutions, potentially divisive political dynamics, and current conflict suggest that security challenges could follow the current uprising, regardless of its outcome. Some opposition figures have formed an Interim Transitional National Council which claims to represent all areas of the country and is seeking recognition and material support. In evaluating U.S. policy options, Congress may seek to better understand the roots and nature of the conflict in Libya, the views and interests of key players, and the potential consequences of the military action under way and other policy proposals under consideration.