Two days ago, Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi  appeared on television taunting the international community for doing nothing to stop his father’s brutal crackdown against rebel forces. Laughing, he told the world soon it will be too late.

The response finally came this morning, when the UN Security Council voted for a no-fly zone over Libya. All necessary measures short of an invasion are to be put in place under the mandate to “protect civilians and civilian-populated areas”.

Crikey asked expert Dr Garth Pratten, from the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, for clarification …

What is a no-fly zone?

“Exactly what it says,” Dr Pratten said, “an exclusion zone in which the object — in this case Libyan forces — is prevented from flying their aircraft over a designated airspace. It’s like a naval blockade in a sense.”

What happens if they venture into the no-fly zone?

The aircraft may be given an initial warning to retreat. If they dont retreat, they will be shot down, Dr Pratten said.

Who will be involved?

Dr Pratten says the operation will most likely be carried out by NATO countries. The leading advocates are France, Britain and now the United States.

How does it work?

“The aircraft will most likely be stationed opposite where most of the revolt has taken place,” Dr Pratten said. “I’d say some aircraft will be based along the Mediterranean, with some land-based aircraft in Europe.”

Will there be any NATO troops stationed on the ground?

“No, the UN have been very clear that troops on the ground would constitute an invasion.”

What is the aim of the no-fly zone?

Essentially to seek to deny Gaddafi forces the use of air as a form of power. Air power is what gives the army on ground a significant advantage over oppositional forces — it’s what Gaddafi has and the rebels haven’t got. It will stop Gaddafi from bombing rebels.

Why has the UN waited until now to act?

Dr Pratten says the UN traditionally moves slowly. He says it’s important to make sure this is unilateral action, properly endorsed by the international community. He says they’re acting now after Gaddafi’s forces have re-established themselves in many parts of Libya.

“The UN traditionally moves slowly,” he said. “The US also has its historical concerns, due to experiences with Iraq and Afghan, and its had to work carefully to keep China and Russia onside.”

Will a no-fly zone be effective in stopping Gaddafi?

If it’s implemented as a straight no-fly zone it may slow him down, in Dr Pratten’s opinion, but it won’t necessarily stop him. This is mainly because most of the damage being carried out by Gaddafi is from land-based artillery damage.

The UN has granted extra powers to aircraft patrolling the aircraft zone. What are they?

The aircraft can also use aircraft to strike ground targets, Dr Pratten says. The extra military capability as written in the UN Security Council could potentially have a better effect in stopping Gaddafi, without the need to deploy troops on the ground.