Another Chapter in the Libya Lesson

January 20, 2020

The motto for Arab spring strife has always been “there is no military solution to the conflict”. Yet, the pattern of behavior has always been the opposite and this started with Libya.

Measures taken by governments to quell Arab Spring revolts caused the “international community”, a misnomer, “grave concern”.  But no other country became the subject of a “UN sanctioned” intervention except Libya.

Libyan dictator’s violent reaction to the protests and his unbalanced statements gave the West an opportunity. France, UK and the US, the first two also for internal political purposes, immediately presented a draft resolution to the Security Council but the lesson from the Iraq and Afghanistan military interventions led them to seek other instruments of international legitimacy to pave the way.

Thus, the Arab League timidly adopted a resolution asking the Security Council to declare a “no-fly zone” over Libya. This was essentially an act of self-defense to show that the Arab League countries advocated change, at least in Libya. African Union and Organization of Islamic Cooperation condemned Qaddafi for the violence.

On 18 March 2011, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1973 which,

  • Demanded immediate ceasefire and an end to all violence;
  • Called for the facilitating of a dialogue to lead to political reforms necessary to find a peaceful and sustainable solution; (BBC’s initial analysis of this was the following: ”This indicates that a final settlement to the crisis in Libya must be political and reached by the parties to the conflict themselves.”);
  • Authorized member states to take all necessary measures to protect civilians while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory;
  • Decided to establish a ban on all flights in Libyan airspace.

On 19 March 2011, a day after the adoption of Resolution 1973, a conference in Paris, held under French, British and US leadership, decided to start air operations against Qaddafi’s forces to protect the civilians. Within hours air strikes began. It soon became clear that the purpose was regime change.

In a joint op-ed published in mid-April in the International Herald Tribune, Le Figaro and the Times of London, President Obama, President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Cameron stated the following, confirming that that their objective was regime change:

 “Our duty and our mandate under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Qaddafi by force. But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Qaddafi in power… It is unthinkable that someone who has tried to massacre his own people can play a part in their future government. The brave citizens of those towns that have held out against forces that have been mercilessly targeting them would face a fearful vengeance if the world accepted such an arrangement. It would be an unconscionable betrayal…

“Furthermore, it would condemn Libya to being not only a pariah state, but a failed state too… Neither Europe, the region, or the world can afford a new safe haven for extremists.

“… so long as Qaddafi is in power, NATO must maintain its operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders…”

The force with which these operations were conducted caused discomfort in Arab capitals which probably expected that Resolution 1973 would be vetoed by Russia and China whereas they abstained. These two countries, both permanent members of the Security Council, also expressed concern over the scale of air strikes. It is worth recalling that Brazil, India and Germany also abstained.

Operations which were started by a coalition of the willing were later taken over by NATO.

One may fairly say, therefore, that Resolution 1973’s implementation went beyond its letter and spirit.

It has been almost a decade since Qaddafi’s demise but Libya is still in search of stability. After the Paris, Palermo and the Abu Dhabi processes we now have the Berlin process. Better put, Berlin has decided to move to the center stage of Europe’s Libya diplomacy. Because as Muslims keep slaughtering Muslims, their hopes of “victory” or “peace” are pinned on external powers, which in case of failure also become convenient scapegoats. But, with its always very cautious approach towards Middle East external interventions Berlin more than merits the role of a peace-maker.

The 57-paragraph Statement of the Berlin meeting is more than a ceasefire call. It is a comprehensive program for peace and the rebuilding of Libya. Its paragraph 4 underlines the enormity of the challenge:

“4.  The conflict in Libya, the instability in the country, the external interferences, the institutional divisions, the proliferation of a vast amount of unchecked weapons and the economy of predation continue to be a threat to international peace and security by providing fertile grounds for traffickers, armed groups and terrorist organizations. It has allowed Al Qaida and ISIS to flourish on the Libyan territory and to launch operations in Libya and in neighboring countries. It has facilitated a destabilizing wave of illegal migration in the region and an important deterioration of the humanitarian situation. We are committed to support Libyans in addressing those structural governance and security issues.”

In paragraphs 19 and 20, it calls on all actors to refrain from any activities exacerbating the conflict or inconsistent with the UNSC arms embargo or the ceasefire, including the financing of military capabilities or the recruitment of mercenaries. And it reiterates a call to stop any support to UN-designated terrorist individuals and groups.

One can only hope that the German Government which foresaw the dangers of the Libya intervention and abstained in the vote for Resolution 1973 will have a better chance of success. This would depend first and foremost on Libya’s warring parties but external meddlers as well. Sadly, their record is far from bright. And there is no agreement on what kind of a Libya the world wants, one dominated by Islamists or those with at least secularist tendencies? That the Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord Fayez al-Sarraj and Commander of the Libyan National Army Khalifa Haftar could not even manage a handshake in Berlin is not a good omen.






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