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Lessons from Libya

By Lorenzo Nannetti March 2012

Associazione Culturale

Il Caff Geopolitico
www.ilcaffegeopolitico.net info@ilcaffegeopolitico.net C.F./P.IVA 07017300968

Lessons from Libya

One year after the beginning of the revolts in Libya, and several months after the end of the civil war following the death of Muammar alGaddafi, Libya remains a question mark, but can become an interesting case study on actual dynamics of intervention and its possible consequences in foreign countries

The Arab Spring arrived in Libya for reasons similar to those of the other countries of North Africa: a strong youth presence without jobs, without prospects for development due to a global economic crisis that also led to speculation on the prices of food, culturally connected to the outside world by new technologies and that felt to be trapped by a dictatorship ruthless in quelling dissent. Finally, the presence of ethnic and sectarian divisions. Gaddafi was perhaps the first dictator to use extreme means to try and bend the rebels since the early days, and while his work is now considered to have been "overshadowed" by that of his Syrian counterpart, at that time it had a high media impact. Maybe convinced by his own rhetoric this often happens to dictators in charge for many years he thought that nobody external could really act against him, and when he finally arrived at a step from victory with its forces already in the suburbs of Benghazi, he threatened more massacres. And it was this that gave the final impulse to international decision to intervene.

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Every nation had its reasons for intervening in the conflict, and in particular the French and British economic and political interests in the Mediterranean have played an important role in their decision to intervene (as well as in the Italian one of temporizing, at least at start), however there is no doubt that this option has been made more attractive by a public opinion shocked by the pictures and testimonials from Tripoli and surroundings, as well as from the perspective of a final bloodbath in Benghazi. It's not surprising then that the international debate in the UN saw a substantial communion of intent among key actors; even Russia and China preferred not to use the veto in the Security Council, paving the way for the UN resolution and its armed intervention. It is here that we must change the perspective and observe the external intervention. There are many points to remember, first of all political divisions among allies, sort of a military prelude to the current difficult negotiations on economy and finance. There was the paradox of allied nations operating almost alone, with many operations separated from one another and with minimum coordination just as not to disrupt each others effort. In the end an agreement was found with the establishment of NATO-led Operation Unified Protector, but this confirmed European problems in having a common, shared foreign policy on one hand, and in being unable to operate without US support, on the other. US forces had to replenish their allies with ordnance and help with drones and AWACS. On the media side, differences of opinion and the desire by some nations not to appear too involved have brought NATO and EU nations states to be inadequate in their communication towards public opinion. While exact details of course have to remain classified, neither general mission objectives (Gaddafi is a target or not? Why/why not?) nor general procedures (what is a no-fly zone? What does it entail? How is each nation contributing?) were clearly explained to the public, leaving the media to answer these questions, often inappropriately or inaccurately and giving rise to misunderstandings that mined support at home.

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Nothing to be happy about then? Actually, elements of success exist: NATO was able to intervene without sending ground troops, as many had feared, except for some special forces teams. It was possible to supply and help the insurgents, with support from above, to the conquest of Tripoli and, subsequently, until the death of Gaddafi, achieving most of the short-term strategic objectives. Finally there is a growing understanding with new actors such as Qatar, with which it has been possible to achieve communion of intent and execution through the activism of its ruler Al-Thani, perhaps one of the few cases of direct Arab intervention in addition to Saudi commitment in Bahrain. On the other hand, however, the Libyan experience has also led to other repercussions, which now dominate the local situation and raise doubts about achievement of long-term strategic objectives. From the international point of view, the NATO intervention in Libya was judged so negatively and so threatening to their interests by China and Russia that the two countries are no longer willing to grant consent even silently through abstention - to other similar actions, which led to their veto against incisive solutions in Syria. Locally Libya hasn't made that serious step toward rebuilding that the West expected; the differences between the various armed groups remain considerable, especially for what concerns the sharing of power and wealth, as well as the interest to have militias disarm, a fundamental premise for the real pacification of the country. In this regard, arming the rebels has definitely contributed to the fall of Gaddafi, but in the long term it will continue to provide the greater source of uncertainty about the future of the country; it might even fuel the possibility that armed extremists groups will finally seize power and restore the country to the status of an enemy rather than the economic and political partner everyone hopes for. This led to the delay in providing similar weapon support to Syrian insurgents, who present the same issues; in their case, it is even more critical due to sectarian fragmentation the proved to be so dangerous in Iraq.

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So there are many lessons to learn from intervention in Libya: Europe will continue to produce contradictory foreign policies until they will have only one voice, unity of purpose and common interests. In particular, Member States must gradually give up their independence in foreign policy to allow the EU High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs (currently the British Catherine Ashton) to be much more than the current hollow figure. NATO without the United States does not have enough projection power to influence events and situations very far away from Europe mainly because of the substantial budget cuts. Libya was near and this allowed the heavy use of bases on the mainland. This will become even worse in the future unless a really working, integrated European defense system is finally implemented, that can put remedy to the deficiencies of individual States with more efficient cross-border synergies. Arming insurgents against dictators is an efficient methodology to unseat them from power without becoming directly engaged in a potential ground quagmire but also contributes to arming groups that could later turn against their benefactors, or otherwise prevent the recovery of security. This is all the more probable the more fragmented opposition is, and at least the outside knows about it. In order for the public to be fully aware of the military effort and, ultimately, support it, EU countries should spend more energy in explaining major operational, political and diplomatic issues. It has to be done in simple and comprehensive ways, because public audiences are generally non-specialist. Otherwise, the public will be more easily influenced by misinformation (or superficial information) that may ultimately create effects of mistrust and distrust.

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The interventionism of Qatar, never so active as in Libya, is a novelty which seems to lay the groundwork for new contacts and collaborations in resolving local crises in the Middle East-North Africa region. On one hand, this allows Europe to partially disengage from future interventions in some areas of the globe, in favor of reduction of expenses. On the other hand, however, it also shows how Europe is losing more weight as a partner of the US, which in the long run could see other linkages as more effective, to the detriment of EU influence outside its borders. Not always nations who initiate a conflict with the idea of profit then really manage to achieve it as hoped. France and Britain hoped to renegotiate oil & gas agreements and get greater access to Libyan reserves, but have been frustrated by Italy, which in order to grant its own bases and give the ok to the NATO operation whose HQ was in Naples asked and obtained that its existing energy interests were to be guaranteed. The serious commitment by Italys ENI in financing the Transitional Government of Benghazi has also additionally strengthened the Italian position, as indicated by the fact that the current Libyan oil Minister is a former leader of the six-legged dog. The hunt for Gaddafi and the threats to bring him to trial at the Hague International Court (which could have put him to death) played a role in preventing a possible surrender of the dictator. If you do not provide alternative ways out, even if opposed to the common sense of Justice, no dictator will ever surrender/exile rather than fighting to the last. For this reason the option of voluntary exile is still left open in Syria.

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Open Issues
Various questions therefore remain open to the international community:

In the face of budget cuts and ongoing operational requirements, will we see

an increased effort to produce a common defense policy that enables the effective (and not only on paper) implementation of EU armed forces? Or the contrasts between Nations that we see in the economic field will continue, bringing Europe to a progressive military irrelevance?


US-EU relations will remain firm, but the US is already shifting to an Asia-

Pacific axis. Is the EU set to lose its influence beyond its borders and immediate neighborhoods? Is it possible to repeat the Libyan experience of active cooperation with

foreign actors in some crisis areas, as happened with Qatar, therefore going beyond the traditional sides originated during the cold war that we are accustomed to?













technical/diplomatic/political issues related to military operations, or will virtual silence maintained (at the risk of continuing to give rise to rumors, wrong analyses and misleading opinions)?

If sanctions are not effective and arming the rebels remains risky, what

alternatives exist to a conflict in order to stop the repression in Syria?

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Key References
NATO and Libya Operation Unified Protector, NATO website http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/topics_71652.htm D.Roberts, Behind Qatars intervention in Libya, 28/09/2011 http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/68302/david-roberts/behind-qatarsintervention-in-libya Operation Unified Protector, Global Security website http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/unified-protector.htm

Other related articles by Il Caff Geopolitico

L. Nannetti, Lora di Tripoli, 21/02/2011 http://www.ilcaffegeopolitico.net/central_content.asp?pID=669 L. Nannetti, La resurrezione del Colonnello, 16/03/2011 http://www.ilcaffegeopolitico.net/central_content.asp?pID=696 L. Nannetti, Vento Caldo sulla Libia, 20/03/2011 http://www.ilcaffegeopolitico.net/central_content.asp?pID=706 L. Nannetti, Confusione nei cieli, 22/03/2011 http://www.ilcaffegeopolitico.net/central_content.asp?pID=713 L. Nannetti, N Unified n Protector, 04/04/2011 http://www.ilcaffegeopolitico.net/central_content.asp?pID=728 L. Nannetti, La via duscita, 12/05/2011 http://www.ilcaffegeopolitico.net/central_content.asp?pID=761 L. Nannetti, Game Over (?), 22/08/2011 http://www.ilcaffegeopolitico.net/central_content.asp?pID=846 L. Nannetti, Nella testa del Colonnello, 24/08/2011 http://www.ilcaffegeopolitico.net/central_content.asp?pID=847 L. Nannetti, Ghedda-fine, 20/10/2011 http://www.ilcaffegeopolitico.net/central_content.asp?pID=895 L. Nannetti, Lezioni di Libia, 07/11/2011 http://www.ilcaffegeopolitico.net/central_content.asp?pID=911 M. Penna, Ci veto doppio, 10/02/2012 http://www.ilcaffegeopolitico.net/central_content.asp?pID=1025

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Il Caff Geopolitico
Established in 2009, Il Caff Geopolitico is an independent cultural association based in Italy and active worldwide through a web-based network of young professionals in the field of geopolitics. Its meeting point is the online magazine www.ilcaffegeopolitico.net, publishing open, clear and simple analysis of international politics. Il Caff Geopolitico core mission is to spread knowledge about world dynamics, facilitating their understanding to the non-specialized public, in order to foster a conscious participation of the people in politics and civic life.

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