By Ben Hernandez, Jr.
As the battle to usurp complete control of Libya rages on for the rebels, the United States has discreetly been playing the role of whistleblower. With news that the family of ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was able to seek refuge in the country of Algeria, the U.S. State Department was quick to point out the ambiguities regarding their ease in crossing the country’s border, especially given the existence of travel ban sanctions by the United Nations. Days after the Libyan conflict commenced in February, the U.N. Security Council unanimously voted to enact the U.N. Security Resolution 1970. Among the list of mandates within the resolution include the freezing of the Gaddafi regime’s foreign assets, the restriction of arms to Libya, and of course, the banning of travel, particularly for Gaddafi and related officials.
The U.S. State Department is apparently reviewing the reasons supporting Algeria’s decision to allow Gaddafi’s family to enter the country, which appears like a prima facie case that conflicts with the U.N. Security Resolution 1970. Gaddafi’s wife, three children, and grandchildren were able to successfully flee into Algeria as Libyan rebels stormed the capital of Tripoli last week. His three children include sons Hannibal and Mohammed, as well as daughter Aisha—all three targeted in the travel ban due to their close connections with the Gaddafi regime.
“There are concerns that this isn’t in keeping with the travel ban restrictions,” said Victoria Nuland, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman. “We care, in terms of the fact that under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970, the Gaddafi family was subject to a travel ban. So, they have now traveled. The government of Algeria has now sent a letter to the UN. We are reviewing that letter now in New York but, clearly, there has to be an international community decision and response in regard to the travel ban restrictions that 1970 imposes.”
An Algerian representative told the U.N. that the decision to allow Gaddafi’s family to enter the country was predicated on humanitarian grounds. Gaddafi’s daughter, Aisha, purportedly gave birth near the border, which could vindicate the Gaddafis’ violations of the travel ban. The apparent loophole exists within the U.N. resolution itself, allowing travel ban deviations “where the Committee determines on a case-by-case basis that such travel is justified on the grounds of humanitarian need, including religious obligation.” However, adherence to the resolution would involve Algeria having to contact the U.N. 48 hours prior to violating the travel ban.
Legal or not, the Gaddafis entering Algeria has certainly caused friction with the de facto Libyan leadership, the National Transitional Council (NTC). The NTC views this as an “act of aggression” and is demanding that Algeria deliver the Gaddafis back to Libyan authorities in order to be tried by the courts.
Dissension between Algeria and Libya is not a new occurrence. Following Algeria’s political and economic liberalization in the early 1980s, the country has been hesitant to form a solid political union with its enigmatic North African neighbor despite requests by Libyan government. In 1983, the Treaty of Fraternity and Concord between Tunisia and Algeria was met with the creation of the Treaty of Oujda in 1984 between Libya and Morocco, causing a rift between the neighboring countries. A formal union of Libya and Algeria almost came to fruition in 1987, but the FLN Central Committee, a political party that advocated Algerian nationalism, reneged on the deal after the heads of each government were unable to agree amicably on the terms. Tensions were mollified in 1988 following the creation of the inter-Maghreb commission, a group responsible for fostering an Arab Maghreb union. Shortly thereafter, the Union of the Arab Maghreb treaty made Morocco, Mauritania, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya a cohesive political unit.
Most recently, Algeria has proclaimed its neutrality regarding the efforts of the Libyan rebels against the Gaddafi regime. However, as reported by CNN, Algeria filed a complaint with the U.N. regarding attacks on its embassy in Tripoli. Furthermore, the country has yet to fully recognize the NTC as Libya’s formal governing body following the success of the rebel insurrection. This, coupled with the defection of Gaddafi’s family into Algeria, has helped reintroduce disharmony between the two nations.
“We are warning anybody not to shelter Gaddafi and his sons,” said NTC spokesman Mahmoud Shamman in a statement reported by Reuters. “We are going after them in any place to find them and arrest them.”
Algeria has openly denied housing Gaddafi. Algerian foreign minister, Mourad Medelci, quickly squashed rumors regarding the ruler’s presence in the country.
“The hypothesis that Mr. Gaddafi could come knocking on our door was never considered,” Medelci told a French radio network. “I think the information that was disclosed which concerns some of his family members who had to be received in Algeria because of extreme circumstances, mainly humanitarian reasons, created a wave of panic.”
In the meantime, the transitional period that will ensue with respect to a post-Gaddafi government will be a strong determinant in future Algeria-Libya relations. The sooner Libya can restore political order, the more responsive Algeria will be regarding its recognition of their governing body.
“The NTC has said it is going to set up a government representative of all regions, and when it has done that, we’ll recognize it,” asserted Medelci.
Rather than engage with Gaddafi loyalists directly in the Libyan conflict, the United States has been, for the most part, content with keeping their efforts relegated to fiscal aid, intelligence, rescue missions, and other supporting roles. Now, with their recent identification of Algeria possibly encroaching upon international law, the U.S. is assuming the role of compliance director. This decision certainly has a fiscal component to it—with the U.S. already saddled by costs incurred from the wars with Iraq and Afghanistan, taking on another war would certainly exacerbate the financial strain the U.S. is already experiencing. Based on numbers published by the Center for Defense Information, the total war-related costs the past decade will reach $1.29 trillion by the end of the 2011 fiscal year. Obviously, the majority of this fiscal outpouring has been allocated towards the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
President Barack Obama wouldn’t certainly want to catch the domestic ire of spending on another war in Libya when funds can be allocated towards programs focused on job creation. In addition, he also doesn’t want to ignite domestic tension by sending more troops to Libya. For now, keeping the Libyan conflict at arm’s length is what the Obama administration is actively pursuing.
“If we tried to overthrow Gaddafi by force, our coalition would splinter,” said U.S. President Barack Obama in March. “We would likely have to put U.S. troops on the ground to accomplish that mission, or risk killing many civilians from the air. The dangers faced by our men and women in uniform would be far greater. So would the costs, and our share of the responsibility for what comes next.”