C.J. Chivers of the New York Times has an article today on the dangers of Libyan arms winding up on the black market, where they could make their way to terrorist groups. On the surface this might seem to be an argument against arming rebel groups fighting Qaddafi’s cruel rule. In actuality, it is the opposite.
The primary danger Chivers warns about is the proliferation of “manpads” — man-portable surface-to-air missiles like the Soviet-made SA-7 that at least one Libyan rebel was seen carrying in a photo. But no one proposes supplying the Libyan rebels with Stingers or the like. Clearly, that would be a very dangerous thing to do, and it would not be necessary if we were to impose a no-fly zone.
If we or our allies do supply any arms to the rebels surely it would be infantry weapons like assault-rifles and machine guns, which are in any case freely available all over their world. Their sale even into the wrong hands probably would not appreciably change the terrorist threat to the U.S. and our allies one way or the other. But if they tip the balance of the fighting in favor of the rebels, such arms could end the civil war faster — and thereby bring closer the day when central authority can be reestablished in Libya.
That is the only way we are going to prevent looting of Libya’s weapons stockpiles, which reportedly include chemical weapons. Those are definitely weapons we don’t want to fall into the wrong hands. And the best way to avert that outcome is to hasten Qaddafi’s long-overdue departure from power.