Saturday, August 16, 2003

BBC NEWS | Lockerbie: Response then and now

An interesting piece on the reaction to a Lockerbie incident if it happened today. The only problem is that it almost ignores the chief reason that Thatcher and Reagan did not launch an invasion of Lybia after the Lockerbie bombing, they simply did not know that Lybia was responsible at the time. Lybia was not even the main suspect at first, until the '91 gulf war Syria was the official suspect.

There is a similar problem with the night club bombing that started the cycle, the US accused Lybia immediately after the bombing but no hard evidence of complicity appeared until the late 90s. It is somewhat strange to see Thatcher being almost attacked for weakness fo making what is surely an obvious calculation, attacking Lybia might well stir up a hornets nest.

The other big factor was that the cold war was going on and an invasion of Lybia would stretch forces already thought to be inadequate to fend off the USSR. NATO generals would still give lectures on how the USSR would invade western Europe within a week using 'echelon warfare'. The fact that many of the Soviet tanks were WWII vintage was ignored in this analysis. Folk like myself who thought the soviets were having a sufficiently difficult time in Afghanistan that they were unlikely to attack NATO were called naive. Later when I read the history of the British empire I found that similar stories had run in the British press on a regular basis throughout the 1800s, a period where Britain's military superiority was even greater than the position the Us is now in. The stories never seem to change - except when the need arises.

Yet another reason for caution was the twin horrors of Vietnam and Afghanistan. The US did not at the time believe that it had overwhelming military superiority of the sort that could invade countries like Lybia in a few days with negligible casualties. The crash program of electronic warfare gadgets begun after Vietnam had not yet started to pay its biggest dividends. During the 1980s the balance of power was definitely on the side of defense. Lybia's own invasion of Chad was held off by a small band of mercenary forces using technicals - anti-tank guns mounted on land rovers against the lumbering Soviet tanks.

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