Refugee Dimension of the Libya Lesson

23 April 2015
I hold the view that the Libya intervention went beyond the letter and spirit of what was envisaged in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 of 17 March 2011 and caused divisions within the international community (*). The growing loss of migrant lives in the Mediterranean has once again focused attention on the intervention.

Rick Noack, in his Washington Post article of 21 April 2015 gave three reasons why Europe is being held responsible for migrant deaths in the Mediterranean. These were the following:
• The E.U. downsized its rescue mission in a bid to deter refugees from risking crossing the Mediterranean,
• It is nearly impossible to enter Europe legally if you’re a refugee,
• NATO and E.U. member states bombed Libya but failed to rebuild the country.
Under the third reason he wrote:
“… Prior to the Arab Spring, E.U. member states openly supported many of the regimes in North Africa and the Middle East that are responsible for many of the woes and problems the region faces today.
“In 2007, for instance, then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy hosted Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi for five days in Paris with the aim of securing an arms deal… Only four years later, France and other countries (including the United States) attacked Libya in an attempt to topple Gaddafi.
“That intervention was supposed to be swift and easy. But Libya has turned into a mess, a fractured conflict-zone, and Europe has done little to improve conditions in the country…”

What Rick Noack said reminded me of another article of four years ago. This is what Steven Erlanger had written in the New York Times on 20 March 2011:

“President Nicolas Sarkozy may be down in the opinion polls, but he has put France boldly in the forefront of an allied effort to prevent the decimation of the opposition to Libya’s leader, Col. Muammer al-Qaddafi.

“Ten days ago, Mr. Sarkozy met with representatives of the Libyan opposition and recognized it as the country’s legitimate government. And while the United Nations Security Council has authorized the use of force to protect civilians by “all necessary measures,” the logic of the military operation would seem to be the ouster of Colonel Qaddafi.

“Mr. Sarkozy, motivated by French failures to respond quickly to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and pressed by a new foreign minister and vocal public figures like the writer Bernard-Henri Lévy, came together with Britain to drag Europe and the United States toward a military engagement in the Arab world that key allies like Washington and Berlin never wanted.

“France had “decided to assume its role, its role before history” in stopping Colonel Qaddafi’s “murderous madness,” Mr. Sarkozy said solemnly on Saturday, standing alone before the television cameras and pleasing those here who still have a strong sense of French exceptionalism and moral leadership.

“Mr. Sarkozy was aided in his ambitions, ironically, by the rapid decline of the rebels, who fell back quickly toward their last stronghold, Benghazi. It appeared that the quick movement of Qaddafi troops, with all their advantages of aircraft and firepower, would soon put an end to the ragtag opposition. And Colonel Qaddafi and his sons had promised the kind of fierce, merciless retribution that Washington and other allies, including Italy, with its traditional ties to Libya, decided they had to make an effort to stop.

“Although the situations are almost entirely different, Libya was compared with Bosnia and Kosovo, and analogies were made to the 1995 slaughter of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica by Serb forces despite promises of United Nations protection.

“The aggressive French stance, which included lectures to others by Foreign Minister Alain Juppé about how “the weakness of democracies gives dictators free rein,” and that how “it’s not too late to break with this rule,” put some noses out of joint.

“Some officials of NATO countries resented having to rush to Paris on Saturday for an elegant lunch meeting and a show of hands giving symbolic backing to the military strikes while Qaddafi forces were nearing Benghazi, while others complained that initial French air sorties were not coordinated with allies…

“The enhanced war against Colonel Qaddafi appears to go significantly beyond the no-fly zone that the Arab League supported a week ago, prompting criticism on Sunday by its longtime secretary general, Amr Moussa only a day after he was at the Paris meeting called by Mr. Sarkozy.

“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” said Mr. Moussa, who is also a candidate for Egypt’s presidency, as he called for an emergency Arab League meeting…

“Arab League criticism that the military operation has already exceeded a simple “no-fly zone” was echoed on Sunday by the African Union, China, Germany and Russia, which criticized the “indiscriminate use of force” and said the allies had exceeded the United Nations mandate, a charge rejected by France on Sunday.”

And finally, this is a passage from the interview President Obama gave Thomas Friedman of the New York Times on 8 August 2014.
“… I absolutely believed that it was the right thing to do. … Had we not intervened, it’s likely that Libya would be Syria. … And so there would be more death, more disruption, more destruction. But what is also true is that I think we [and] our European partners underestimated the need to come in full force if you’re going to do this. Then it’s the day after Qaddafi is gone, when everybody is feeling good and everybody is holding up posters saying, ‘Thank you, America.’ At that moment, there has to be a much more aggressive effort to rebuild societies that didn’t have any civic traditions. … So that’s a lesson that I now apply every time I ask the question, ‘Should we intervene, militarily? Do we have an answer [for] the day after?

Mr. Obama seems to have drawn his conclusions from the Libya experience.

PM Cameron insists that the Libyan intervention was the right thing to do.

And, Mr. Sarkozy is engaged in an effort to stage a comeback as president.

(*) My earlier spot entitled “Arab Spring: The Libya Lesson” of 21 January 2015.

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