What Europe should learn from Libya

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

In the case of Syria, European policymakers should draw lessons from the last Libyan intervention and aim at a strong collective security framework under the aegis of the EU, writes Giles Merritt from Security & Defence Agenda.

Giles Merritt is the director of Security & Defence Agenda, a think tank based in Brussels.

"From New York to Brussels, the international community is struggling to find an appropriate reaction to the Syrian government’s use of violence against uprisings there.

NATO’s intervention in Libya was backed by UN Security Council Resolution 1973 and by the Arab League. But given the lack of political will to intervene in Syria, can the Libyan operation offer any lessons for Syria?

A number of conclusions are being drawn from the Libyan case. First, that it turned out not to be the black-and-white scenario of the evil Colonel Gaddafi versus freedom-loving rebels. The aftermath of the conflict revealed the lack of nationwide unity and of a functioning civil society. The ethnic and religious divides within the Arab world are more complex than is generally realised.

In any case, the Syrian government must still be seen as a legally constituted body, so intervention by the EU or NATO or even an Arab-led coalition would be unlawful as well as politically difficult. And meanwhile, Operation Unified Protector in Libya revealed NATO’s – and above all Europe’s – shortcomings in terms of capabilities.

Set against that, Libya showed how powerful a force public opinion can be in moving Western governments to take action. Policymakers should therefore be looking instead for a solution through the building of a new collective security framework in the southern Mediterranean and Middle East. In short another NATO, perhaps this time called the North Africa Treaty Organisation.

Few would disagree that the Arab League has by and large failed to play an adequate role as the popular uprisings against dictatorships have gathered momentum. But, rather than be in any way linked to NATO, it might well be preferable to create this new North African security umbrella under the aegis of the EU.

As well as defusing tensions, the creation of such a NATO II would help promote moves towards democratic government and faster economic development. Right now, though, the sad reality is that for the present the EU’s contribution in Syria is likely to be limited to its humanitarian aid and crisis management expertise."

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