What Happens After A "No Fly Zone" Is Instituted Over Libya?

Tyler Durden's picture

With the enactment of a no-fly zone over Libya now a matter of days, despite all the rhetoric otherwise, the question becomes what the implications of such an escalation in military activity would be. Stratfor provides one perspective on this development: unlike conventional wisdom that this would lead to brisk and clinical institution of supremacy, Stratfor believes it could actually backfire: "The idea that this would be a quick, surgical and short-term invasion is certainly one scenario, but it is neither certain nor even the most likely scenario. In the same sense, the casualties caused by the no-fly zone would be unknown. The difference is that while a no-fly zone could be terminated easily, it is unlikely that it would have any impact on ground operations. An invasion would certainly have a substantial impact but would not be terminable. Stopping a civil war is viable if it can be done without increasing casualties beyond what they might be if the war ran its course. The no-fly zone likely does that, without ending the civil war. If properly resourced, the invasion option could end the civil war, but it opens the door to extended low-intensity conflict." Either way, the military outcome is by now likely predetermined, and is a function only of ongoing actions by the now supremely irrational Gaddafi. All we can do is sit back and watch.

From George Friemdn of Stratfor

How a Libyan No-fly Zone Could Backfire

Calls are growing for a no-fly zone over Libya, but a power or coalition of powers willing to enforce one remains elusive.

In evaluating such calls, it is useful to remember that in war, Murphy’s Law always lurks. What can go wrong will go wrong, in Libya as in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Complications to Airstrikes

It has been pointed out that a no-fly zone is not an antiseptic act. In order to protect the aircraft enforcing the no-fly zone, one must begin by suppressing enemy air defenses. This in turn poses an intelligence problem. Precisely what are Libyan air defenses and where are they located? It is possible to assert that Libya has no effective air defenses and that an SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) attack is therefore unnecessary. But that makes assumptions that cannot be demonstrated without testing, and the test is dangerous. At the same time, collecting definitive intelligence on air defenses is not as easy as it might appear — particularly as the opposition and thieves alike have managed to capture heavy weapons and armored vehicles, meaning that air defense assets are on the move and under uncertain control.

Therefore, a no-fly zone would begin with airstrikes on known air defense sites. But it would likely continue with sustained patrols by SEAD aircraft armed with anti-radiation missiles poised to rapidly confront any subsequent threat that pops up. Keeping those aircraft on station for an extended period of time would be necessary, along with an unknown number of strikes. It is uncertain where the radars and missiles are located, and those airstrikes would not be without error. When search radars and especially targeting radars are turned on, the response must be instantaneous, while the radar is radiating (and therefore vulnerable) and before it can engage. That means there will be no opportunity to determine whether the sites are located in residential areas or close to public facilities such as schools or hospitals.

Previous regimes, hoping to garner international support, have deliberately placed their systems near such facilities to force what the international media would consider an atrocity. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi does not seem like someone who would hesitate to cause civilian casualties for political advantage. Thus, the imposition of a no-fly zone could rapidly deteriorate into condemnations for killing civilians of those enforcing the zone ostensibly for humanitarian purposes. Indeed, attacks on air defenses could cause substantial casualties, turning a humanitarian action into one of considerable consequence in both humanitarian and political terms.

Airstrikes vs. Ground Operations

The more important question is what exactly a no-fly zone would achieve. Certainly, it would ground Gadhafi’s air force, but it would not come close to ending the fighting nor erode Gadhafi’s other substantial advantages. His forces appear to be better organized and trained than his opponents, who are politically divided and far less organized. Not long ago, Gadhafi largely was written off, but he has more than held his own — and he has held his own through the employment of ground combat forces. What remains of his air force has been used for limited harassment, so the imposition of a no-fly zone would not change the military situation on the ground. Even with a no-fly zone, Gadhafi would still be difficult for the rebels to defeat, and Gadhafi might still defeat the rebels.

The attractiveness of the no-fly zone in Iraq was that it provided the political illusion that steps were being taken, without creating substantial risks, or for that matter, actually doing substantial damage to Saddam Hussein’s control over Iraq. The no-fly zone remained in place for about 12 years without forcing change in Saddam’s policies, let alone regime change. The same is likely to be true in Libya. The no-fly zone is a low-risk action with little ability to change the military reality that creates an impression of decisive action. It does, as we argue, have a substantial downside, in that it entails costs and risks — including a high likelihood of at least some civilian casualties — without clear benefit or meaningful impact. The magnitude of the potential civilian toll is unknown, but its likelihood, oddly, is not in the hands of those imposing the no-fly zone, but in the hands of Gadhafi. Add to this human error and other failures inherent in war, and the outcome becomes unclear.

A more significant action would be intervention on the ground, an invasion of Libya designed to destroy Gadhafi’s military and force regime change. This would require a substantial force — and it should be remembered from Iraq that it would require a substantial occupation force to stabilize and build a new regime to govern Libya. Unlike in Egypt, Gadhafi is the regime, and sectarian elements that have been kept in check under his regime already are coming to the fore. The ability of the country to provide and administer basic government functions is also unknown. And it must also be borne in mind that Gadhafi clearly has substantial support as well as opposition. His supporters will not go without a fight and could choose to wage some form of post-invasion resistance, as in Iraq. Thus, while the initial costs in terms of casualties might be low, the long-term costs might be much higher.

It should also be remembered that the same international community that condemned Saddam Hussein as a brutal dictator quite easily turned to condemn the United States both for deposing him and for the steps its military took in trying to deal with the subsequent insurgency. It is not difficult to imagine a situation where there is extended Libyan resistance to the occupying force followed by international condemnation of the counterinsurgency effort.

Having toppled a regime, it is difficult to simply leave. The idea that this would be a quick, surgical and short-term invasion is certainly one scenario, but it is neither certain nor even the most likely scenario. In the same sense, the casualties caused by the no-fly zone would be unknown. The difference is that while a no-fly zone could be terminated easily, it is unlikely that it would have any impact on ground operations. An invasion would certainly have a substantial impact but would not be terminable.

Stopping a civil war is viable if it can be done without increasing casualties beyond what they might be if the war ran its course. The no-fly zone likely does that, without ending the civil war. If properly resourced, the invasion option could end the civil war, but it opens the door to extended low-intensity conflict.

The National Interest

It is difficult to perceive the U.S. national interest in Libya. The interests of some European countries, like Italy, are more substantial, but it is not clear that they are prepared to undertake the burden without the United States.

We would argue that war as a humanitarian action should be undertaken only with the clear understanding that in the end it might cause more suffering than the civil war. It should also be undertaken with the clear understanding that the inhabitants might prove less than grateful, and the rest of the world would not applaud nearly as much as might be liked — and would be faster to condemn the occupier when things went wrong. Indeed, the recently formed opposition council based out of Benghazi — the same group that is leading the calls from eastern Libya for foreign airstrikes against Gadhafi’s air force — has explicitly warned against any military intervention involving troops on the ground.

In the end, the use of force must have the national interest in mind. And the historical record of armed humanitarian interventions is mixed at best.

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kato's picture

Let the Europeans deal with it. They need some real practice. Plus, it is their backyard and the oil from Libya goes to European-use refineries.

John Wilmot's picture

Here Here. As someone said in a previous article, this is perfect opportunity to wean Europe off of American military support. That would be in the interests of the U.S. Whether Europeans would/could actually resolve the Libyan problem is another matter. Italy would have to provide the main contigent I think, as it's most directly affected, and the Italian government is already buried in debt, and probably the next major shoe to drop in the EU - don't know if a war could be afforded. Not to mention the fact that Italy's history with North Africa, and with war in general, is quite a bit less than stellar. They've been defeated by third-rate powers in the past. 


The word quagmire comes to mind for this whole mess..

dark pools of soros's picture

yeah but doesn't the oil pay for the war??  right???  

thefedisscam's picture

yeah, right. they said the same thing for Iraqi war. How much the U.S. ended up throwing away?

ZackAttack's picture

Italy stands to gain or lose the most. Let them carry the water.

TeamAmerica's picture

Exactly correct.  The Europeans have been quick to exit from committments in Afghanistan, so we ought to let them deal with this one.  

Lord Koos's picture

And the higher costs of oil resulting from a protracted civil war in Libya have no effect on the USA, right?

In a globalized world, simplistic solutions need not apply.



sgt_doom's picture

"What happens when a no-fly zone is instituted above Libya?

I'll bite......the companies manufacturing fly-swatters complain?

frankoo's picture

What we need, is a good old fashioned "Surgical Strike".

Careless Whisper's picture

after the no fly zone? then comes the limited fly zone with mandatory purchase of hundreds of radiation body scanners by rapiscan.

Trundle's picture

But before the purchase, you'll get the Easter Bunny bomber.

MsCreant's picture

Sorry Careless, had to do it.

Gahdaffi, right there.

Super Fly Zone:


LongSoupLine's picture

What happens, you ask Tyler?


Silver will be on like Donkey Kong.


Until then, all's well because Maria "my voice etches diamonds" Bartiromo is pumping BAC from their "trading" floor like a good little whore.

Id fight Gandhi's picture

Yeah BAC is just fine.lol

Hope on dividends. Where's the robosigning issues and underwater mortgage problems?

Not reported

10kby2k's picture

Don't fuck with my money honey.

Debtless's picture

How 'bout we stay the fuck out of this mess for crying out loud.

SWRichmond's picture


  1. They will welcome us as liberators!  
  2. The people want democracy!
  3. Karl Rove thinks it's a good idea!
  4. It's for the children!
  5. It's not about the oil.
  6. Qaddafi has WMDs!
  7. The muslims are repressing the christians!
  8. It'll turn into an Al-Qaeda stronghold!
kaiserhoff's picture


We should stay out and Obummer should quit running his mouth.

No strategic interest.

TeamAmerica's picture

Please explain - exactly what did Obama say about Libya that upsets you so?

Also...oil is not a strategic interest?   That makes you a contrarian in the extreme, kaiserhoff.

Sudden Debt's picture

I don't really understand what's so cool about all that fighting in all those wars.



If there would be any war over here where I would need to fight in to protect the interst of the group...





sgt_doom's picture

Man oh man, talk about SWRichmond stealing my thunder.....

Oh regional Indian's picture

+8 SWR.

The play book is an open secret at this point eh?
I guess we'll all get to gnash our teeth and watch the lies being rolled out.


old naughty's picture

Is it not supposed to keep the birds out, no?

Id fight Gandhi's picture

Cramer said a no fly zone means oil tanks and 10% rally in stocks.

sgt_doom's picture

But sgt_doom says: more money for those Somali pirates hijacking the oil tankers.

youngman's picture

It would do nothing but piss off the Muslims....you just roll with the tanks and machine guns and the boots on the ground....and you would take pot shots at the planes ..possibly hitting a few...


What this is.... is Barry´s big "I am a Man" moment....to show people he is in charge...and a tough guy not just a community organizer....he is a joke...he put all his faith..whatever faith it is..... in his "I am sorry" tour of two years ago...thinking his Muslim blackness would be all that is needed...its not in the world of killers and thieves....the biggest toughest dude wins....and that used to be the USA...not anymore...He and Hillary have lost the Middle East..this "war" will go on for years....and affect the oil and gas fields...who cares about their tourist business....

Misean's picture
What Happens After A "No Fly Zone" Is Instituted Over Libya?

There's less to eat?

Sudden Debt's picture


I means the airline tickets for people who have booked a Safari to Senegal WILL BE MORE EXPENSIVE!!!

my god...

another crucial part of our economy is in danger...

second thing....


Wild beast will clearly takeover Africa...


Misean's picture

I was refering to the flies getting banned. I rather imagine all those zoo creatures would apprecitate not having to swat as many thought.

Sudden Debt's picture

It are actually the Africans who are bugging the flies.

That's why they call it bugging.

Get it?




Shameful's picture

Post no fly zone, how about boots on the ground for another theater for the US version of a jobs program. Got a huge backlog of volunteers for the military. Sure the rational is we might as well get our dicks stuck in a few new places.

Gubbmint Cheese's picture

Here comes yet another US military base...

cougar_w's picture

This should be bullish for stocks.

Like just about everything else.

And then QE-III or whatever QE number we're up to this week.

Trundle's picture

If you don't fight them there, you'll have to fight them here;

The invasion will be paid for with oil revenues we generate from the invasion;

Iran/Libya (name the country) is trying to obtain yellow cake from Niger (the forged Italian intelligence documents evidence of same).

Id fight Gandhi's picture

What? How much money did the USA get from oil when they liberated Iraq?

RECISION's picture

People keep forgetting the </s> tag

SpeakerFTD's picture

Look, can we all agree this is really about the oil? 

Then doesn't game theory dictate that Qaddafi should blow up his refineries BEFORE there is a no-fly zone.   I mean, what will be the point of a no-fly zone if the facilities are already destroyed?   Qaddafi gets the upper hand, and forces NATO to either full-on invade, which would be a disaster, or bugger off and let him get to work massacring his people

dark pools of soros's picture

why protect people if food prices are rising??

buzzsaw99's picture

USA! USA! We can kick Libya's ass with one aircraft carrier in like fifteen minutes.


I'll kill you with my teacup:





Sudden Debt's picture














buzzsaw99's picture

Okie dokie. I only need to know one thing, where. they. are.




New_Meat's picture

SD-what's that "WE" kemosabe?  U said u r outta' here. - Ned

pacu44's picture

Goodie, another war! I thought we did premptive wars to stop all this nonsense and disaray?

Sudden Debt's picture

rising oil prises = nonsense & disarray

what else did you mean?


I guess somebody needs some reconditioning....

DumPhuck's picture

Actually, we are RESPONSIBLE for the chaos and disarray....