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Libya and the Obvious Truth

Since the beginning of thLibya and the Obvious Truthe strategic bombings of Libya enforcing a no-fly zone mandated by the United Nations Security Council resolution 1973, the Euro-Atlantic community has gone through a rough political and diplomatic period. President Sarkozy of France was one of the architects behind the UNSCR and leading the path to implementing a no-fly zone. Several days after the launching of Operation Odyssey Dawn, NATO took over the military supervision of the operations. As underlined in a previous blog, the reasons behind the operations and military strategy were extremely confusing, and did not include the foundations of an exit strategy. Furthermore, regime change was never on the menu and ultimately became the entrée. The call for regime change in Libya is a very dangerous strategy from France, the UK and the US, as the Libyan war will be remembered as another western intervention in an Arab state. The world is closely monitoring the ongoing.

A week ago, the EU, shining by its absence, launched an ESDP mission, EUFOR Libya, in order to assist the humanitarian evolution on the ground.

Which lessons can we draw so far?

1)    Failure from the High Representative Ashton and the EEAS: the EEAS and Ashton have not contributed to the enLibya and the Obvious Truthhancement of EU power in this transitional period. The failure to predict, act, and interact in Tunisia and Egypt were already damaging to the credibility of the EU as a global actor. Now, with the Libyan crisis, Ashton has completely disappeared and is sitting on the back seat of history. Of course, she is dependent on the will of EU Member States. But she could have orchestrated meetings between EU and NATO members, and among EU Member States in order to bring a certain degree of cohesion within the EU. The position of the High Representative is extremely complex and requires diplomatic skills. Maybe it should be time for her to resign.

2)    The Financial crisis: has had a major impact on the power of European powers such as France and the UK. They have proven that they cannot launch and sustain a relevant military operation without the assistance of the US. Since his election, UK Prime Minister Cameron has been on a mission to cut spending. One of his plans was to reform British army by cutting all across the board without a clear long-term strategy. Today, the UK is proving that cutting without thinking can be extremely costly and could ultimately endanger Britain credibility as a mid-size power by affecting its power of projection. At the European level, the European Defense Agency was established in 2004 to merge defense programs in order to limit overlapping and duplication in the defense sector, while combining spending on new military capabilities. Member States, especially France and the UK, regard their defense sectors as too strategic to be shared. Today, the Europeans are competing on selling abroad three fighter jets, the Eurofighter Typhoon (UK, Germany, Spain and Italy), the Rafale (France), and the Saab Gripen. The duplication and competition in defense programs are too costly to be sustainable. It is time to either pool military capabilities under a common European umbrella, or stop the defense integration experiment.

3)    Fear that ESDP would become a European army: back in December 1998, former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, published a piece in the Financial Times where she famously called the EU to comply with the 3Ds – no-duplicating, no-decoupling, no-discrimination. For several years, the US was concerned with the aspiration and motivations of the Europeans to develop the ESDP, which was perceived as a balancing instrument to US power. 13 years later, the ESDP now known as the CSDP, since the Treaty of Lisbon, is a weak and limited body deployed only for small military and civilian operations with limited political risks.

4)    US power is declining: considering the domestic turmoil caused by intense ideological debate on the US budget and the debt crisis, US power and image has been eroded. How can the US maintain its role of hegemon, when its government was on the verge of a shutdown? Is the US a reliable power? The US for the first time since the end of World War two seems to be an over-stretched power with three wars on its agenda.Libya and the Obvious Truth

5)    NATO is nothing without the US: the French and the British are calling the US to retake the lead role in the air campaign in Libya. Ironically, the French and the British are complaining of the lack of burden-sharing between NATO members, especially from Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Turkey. Because the US is not undertaking the bulk of the costs and military actions, the alliance is unable to pick it up and faces a leadership crisis. A failure in Libya could be disastrous for the future of NATO and the war in Afghanistan.

Libya is a very instable situation and could have dramatic effects on the stability of the region. The mission was to achieve a military goal – protection of civilians. It was not mandated by the UN to undertake a political goal of regime change. Friday’s Op-Ed written by leaders Sarkozy, Obama, and Cameron in the International Herald Tribune called for a Libya without Qaddafi, “Qaddafi must go and go for good.”  By inserting political motivations into a military operation, the Euro-Atlantic community may have made a major strategic mistake affecting the future of multilateralism. The BRICs, which abstained on the voting of the UNSCR, will most likely veto any future interventions, which will be hurting the credibility of the UN and possibly costing the lives of civilians.



Maxime H.A. Larivé

Maxime Larivé holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and European Politics from the University of Miami (USA). He is currently working at the EU Center of Excellence at the University of Miami as a Research Associate. His research focus on the questions of the European Union, foreign policy analysis, security studies, and European security and defense policy. Maxime has published several articles in the Journal of European Security, Perceptions, and European Union Miami Analysis as well as World Politics Review.