- Parent Category: NATO & Transatlantic Relations
- Category: NATO
- Written by Luiza Savage & Jorge Benitez
It has been almost a year since former U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates, who served both Bush and Obama, focused his final speech on blasting NATO allies who are “apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources to be serious and capable partners in their own defence. . . .”
Note: Reposted by Strategy International, Source Atlantic Council of the USA
- Parent Category: NATO & Transatlantic Relations
- Category: NATO
- Written by Administrator
- Parent Category: NATO & Transatlantic Relations
- Category: NATO
- Written by John Karagiannopoulos
The Libyan Revolt and NATO’s Possible Intervention
By John Karagiannopoulos
Edited by Dr. Marios Efthymiopoulos
NATO is the sole defensive Euro-Atlantic Organisation, a military alliance with a military and civilian constructed infrastructure and assets that can be used at any given time or joined international request. It is a collective system of defense, whereby its member states agree to mutual defense in response to internal threats and by UN mandates, under article 5 of the transatlantic Treaty, to external threats.
During 1990’s, NATO got engaged for the first time militarily in operations in the former Yugoslavia. One of the first NATO operations was operation Sharp Guard (June 1993-October 1996). It followed to a series of interventions on behalf of the Alliance leaders that projected a safer and more secure stable world in the region of the Balkans. However, from the lessons learned, especially since the Kosovo intervention in 1999, NATO allied members requested changes to occur. The requested NATO to undergo a long procedure of restructuring the administrative and operational infrastructure of the Alliance in order to lead 21st security policies that would lead to a) enlargement and b) procedural changes in the level of inter-organizational cooperation.
NATO’s operational interventions in the 1990’s and beginning of the 21st century, its lessons learned, are today seen as an operational mandate, a ‘handbook’ for security. Peace-keeping, human disaster and preventing operations in Bosnia & Kosovo in the 90s, direct military operations for global threats and challenges, operations in Afghanistan & Iraq, are some of the major threats. Yet, NATO deals also with peace support operations such as Darfur and relief operations in natural disasters such as in Pakistan. This said, NATO pursues a 21st century role towards a wider frame of security responsibilities and not strictly responding to direct military threats rising from its traditional threat, as was the case in the past, during the Cold War Era.
Recent events in the area of Northern Africa, have given rise to new security challenges. New issues are now yet to be explored, analyzed and discussed. Recent geopolitical, energy and security implications reach automatically a global status, since our world is inter-related. Any NATO operation should not come to anyone’s surprise if Alliance leaders decide to a possible military and political engagement.
The Arab part of North Africa, is seen both as a separate case of security but also as a whole and at the same time, as a major player in the global chessboard. In these vast land masses where the Arabs reside, from Morocco in northwest Africa to the Persian Gulf, they share more or less a common political and cultural background. Political despotism, moderate Islam or (in some cases) Islamic fundamentalism, the lack of any democratic tradition in some Arab societies and a deep historic struggle with Israel, forge a powerful amalgamation of a common Arab consciousness. This common heritage and identity that characterizes the Arab countries helps the spillover of uprisings and rise western concerns for the latest unrest that occured those last months in Maghreb[i] and the Middle East. These concerns are amplified even more because of the domino effect which occurred after the first Tunisian uprising in last December.
Egypt followed and in both cases the popular uprisings managed to overthrown their authoritarian regimes of Tunisian President Ben AliHosni Mubarak, leaving a vast vacuum in those countries’ political systems. Now is Libya in the center of the crisis where a whole different turn towards civil war, presents another major challenge for the European Union, the United States and their collective defense organization NATO. and Egyptian President
In the past, NATO and the Maghreb countries (except Libya), engaged in a cooperation program called “Mediterranean Dialog”[ii] and more recently, in the “Istanbul Cooperation Initiative – ICI”[iii]. Especially Col Gaddafi’s Libya passed from the club of “Rogue States” - in the eyes of the Western World and the US particularly - into the club of moderate Arab states with a revised and renewed relationship with the West. Libya since the 1980’s abandoned radicalism and took its distance from harboring terrorism openly. In the last years Col Qaddafi could be seen next to top Western Leaders during Summits, including President Obama.
On the other hand, this new relationship did not help Libya to import anything from the political culture of the West. Its regime remained autocratic without any further western “suggestions” for the opposite. After all, given the sensitivities of the Arab “psyche” on matters of social liberalism, the “West” limited her relations within the boundary of an economic partnership with Libya, based mainly on oil, as it is one of the major providers of oil of the EU and the US. With the latest uprising in the country, this new economic relation is under jeopardy. For the last two weeks Libya is engaged in an informal civil war with severe internal and external consequences.
Inside the country, thousands of people have been killed in the most decisive challenge of the Gaddafi regime, since his rise to power in 1969’s coup. This can lead to a mass exodus of desperate illegal immigrants to southern European countries. On top of that Libya has threatened to suspend cooperation with Europe, in fighting illegal immigration on Libyan soil. Given his unquestioned determination to provoke a total bloodshed in the country, in order to retain power and the humanitarian crisis that may follow the next few days, due to shortages of food and other commodities, a question has been raised whether or not, the international community and especially NATO should intervene to resolve the crisis, or at least to provide aid and relief to the people of Libya. With a sufficient history of humanitarian interventions on behalf of NATO, such a possibility is not out of question. For example, in 2010 during the floods in Pakistan, NATO provided airlift and sealift assistance for the delivery of donations by nations and humanitarian relief organizations, in response to a request by the Government of Pakistan[iv].
Furthermore, the revolt in Libya triggered a rupture in oil production that poses a threat to global development especially in these difficult times for global economics. Libya is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and holds the largest proven oil reserves in Africa[v]. Moreover, Libya is Africa’s major oil producer and one of Europe’s biggest North African oil suppliers. Also, Libya has very low production costs and the oilfields are close to the refineries and markets of Europe. With these in mind it is not extraordinary that the EU and the US subsequently would like to react towards normalization of oil production as soon as possible.
A third so called “reason for intervention” is the political struggle in Libya and its aftermath. The West mainly for economic and geopolitical reasons in the last years pursued a policy of close collaboration with the Arab states concerning security issues in the sensitive basin of the Mediterranean. As a whole, the Arab world backed western concerns for Islamic terrorism and illegal immigration, two of the most urgent issues faced by the US and the EU respectfully.
Especially the issue of rising Islamic fundamentalism, in accordance with the Iranian and Syrian paternalism within the Arab states, (the grip on Palestine of Hamas) for example, dictated the maintenance, if not a policy of tolerance of the western powers toward authoritarian regimes - like Gaddafi’s - which provided the necessary assets and political agreements to contain this problem before it is exported on western soil. Especially with Libya, Col Gaddafi’s turn in his foreign policy during the last years and his willingness to collaborate on both issues, presented an obstacle from keeping a hostile position on behalf of the Western powers against his political authoritarianism.
A possible initiative on behalf of the Western powers and the Alliance is a step that has to be considered twice before it is materialized. Already one by one the European countries along with the United Stated declared that Col Gaddafi has lost legitimacy of power after turning guns on his own people[vi]. On this basis, the international community began to urge the pro-Gaddafi forces to switch sides in support of the revolutionaries and consider the option of a possible military intervention in order to stop the bloodshed on the ground.
A number of possible alternatives have been suggested, all within the capabilities of the Alliance. A non-fly zone over Libya, along with the naval blockade is among the most “cost free” measures that can be taken on behalf of NATO. This does not mean that an air operation will be way too easy[vii]. On the contrary, the option of open military intervention is not favored within the circles of the US and NATO elites[viii]. Robert Gates, the US Defense Secretary, stated before a congressional panel that, “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses". The Pentagon could get the job done if ordered by the president, but an attack would require more air power than a single US aircraft carrier, which typically carries about 75 planes. "It is a big operation in a big country".
It is clear that in this particular time of the Libyan revolt, the international factor hesitates to proceed to bolder actions that include the use of force on the ground. So far it has correctly responded to the Arab peoples request for political change in a politically stagnated region. It offered political legitimacy to the revolts by backing the requests of the people to oust the authoritarian regimes. Lately, the international community began talking about investigating alleged crimes against humanity from Col Gaddafi's regime, as has been said by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court[ix].
All the above steps are on the right direction. The “West” has to renounce any relation to Col Gaddafi, as he alone cancelled any legitimacy on power by attacking its own people.
The question of a possible military intervention has to be considered therefore carefully. Although a bold strike wouldn’t lack the support on many countries, it would provoke major players in international affairs Like Russia and China, which both stated that they disagree with any military strike on behalf of the Western powers and NATO. Also a strike could be seen as an attempt by the West to control the future events and to form a new pro-western political reality in the region.
As such a premature military strike would not be a favorable option. All the wishful outcomes during these revolts, like the democratization of the political systems of the Arab states can be accomplished by other means. As it was suggested by US Senator Lieberman, “another option was to provide US air defense weapons to the Libyan rebels and to train them in their use”. Meanwhile, “Every move in the diplomatic play-book has so far been thrown at the embattled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and yet he is still hanging on to power”[x]. An arms embargo has been applied, assets of Gaddafi’s family frozen all over the world and even “direct threats” from the ICC[xi] for prosecution on the basis of war crimes against innocent civilians.
The situation so far does not favor a strong military response from NATO. The EU and the US are reluctant to take the “next step” after the first round of diplomatic measures against Gaddafi’s regime. That is a sign that a second consideration has to be taken before any international intervention. There are many issues at risk and not many but enough assets to earn from such an option. If nonetheless, the humanitarian crisis escalates and the Libyan regime continues its attack on civilians[xii], if the number of foreign citizens fleeing the country raise and the oil production continues to drop, then a military response will soon become a reality not only a possibility that will not be any longer unavoidable.
[i] Maghreb: It is an Arabic word literally meaning "place of sunset" or "the west". The term generally refers to the five North African countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Mauritania. From Wikipedia
[ii] Was a program initiated in 1994 by the North Atlantic Council, which involved seven non-NATO countries of the Mediterranean region: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. It was a dialogue aimed to contribute to regional security and stability, to achieve better mutual understanding and to dispel any misconceptions about NATO among Dialogue countries. From NATO http://www.nato.int/cps/en/.
[iii] NATO's Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, launched at the Alliance's Summit in the Turkish city in June 2004, aims to contribute to long-term global and regional security by offering countries of the broader Middle East region practical bilateral security cooperation with NATO. From NATO http://www.nato.int/issues/ici/index.html.
[iv] The goods delivered were part of the international community’s overall effort to support the victims of the flood disaster in Pakistan. From NATO http://www.nato.int/cps/en/SID-63793F52-5DB78472/natolive/news.
[v] According to the 2008 BP Statistical Energy Survey, Libya had proved oil reserves of 41.464 billion barrels at the end of 2007 or 3.34 % of the world's reserves.
[vi] US President Barack Obama has insisted that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi "step down from power and leave,". "We will continue to send a clear message: The violence must stop. Muammar Gaddafi has lost the legitimacy to lead and he must leave," Obama said at a White House news conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Thursday March 03 2011.
[vii] The Libyan Air force is the elite of Gaddafi’s Army. Some 18.000 men from the Qadhafah and Magariha clans, along with more than 150 fighting jet planes (MIG-21, MIG-23, MIRAGE F-1 and SUKHOI-22) and a strong network of anti-air weapons, can put quite a fight in case of an ill prepared air strike from NATO. Fox2Magazine publication, March-04-2011.
[viii] The Pentagon is making it clear it does not want war, even as senators passed a resolution urging the UN to act on setting up a no-fly zone. From Al jazeera http://english.aljazeera.net/news/americas/2011
[ix] Speaking at a press conference in The Hague, the Netherlands, on Thursday feb-03-2011, Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he would investigate claims that peaceful protesters had been attacked by forces loyal to Gaddafi.
[xi] The International Criminal Court.
[xii] According to Yehudit Ronen, an expert on Libya matters from the Hebrew University of Bar-llan, Gaddafi is not exactly the “mad man” shown internationally from his recent appearance on global TV networks. His careful use of air power so far, reveals that he came up with a well prepared plan to repel the assault from the opposition and sometime in the near future to attack when the revolt looses momentum.