Owen Bowcott
March 21, 2011

Targeting Muammar Gaddafi and his military high command is permissible under the broadly drawn terms of the UN security council resolution, according to many international lawyers.

Regime change – the ultimate desire of most countries supporting the motion – is not, however, an aim specified in any of the 29 points of the UN text.

If it occurs, it will be as a byproduct of international intervention.

The key phrase in UN resolution 1973 – “to take all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack” – allows states participating significant latitude in deciding what is militarily possible.

The ambiguities created by such loose phrasing may even have been intentional.

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“Sometimes these UN resolutions are [deliberately] not clear,” said Anthony Aust, a former Foreign Office legal adviser who helped draft the Kuwait resolution in 1990. “They are ambiguous because it’s the only way to avoid a veto.”

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