Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Daalder, Stavridis Should Consider the Problems Libya Intervention Caused

US Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder and Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) Admiral James Stavridis have penned a piece on the NATO operation in Libya for Foreign Affairs. NATO Monitor was, naturally, expecting to read an analysis which painted NATO in the best light possible, but from the very first line the article seems to overstate the case, when the authors write:
NATO's operation in Libya has rightly been hailed as a model intervention.
and then later in the piece they write:
By any measure, NATO succeeded in Libya. It saved tens of thousands of lives from almost certain destruction.
Well, up to a point Lord Copper as Evelyn Waugh put it. Not even the strongest supporter of Operation Unified Protector could pretend that it was an absolute and unqualified success, but that is where Daalder and Stavridis take this. In so doing, they have to ignore evidence during the operation and also to simply not comment on the consequences that have started to emerge since NATO ceased military action. They write:
Washington also led the charge for the UN resolution that authorized the intervention, justifying the action as consistent with "the responsibility to protect," the norm that calls on the international community to intervene when governments fail to safeguard their own civilians.
Most would agree (and NATO Monitor certainly does) that the initial actions to protect Benghazi from the regime's offensive, and the destruction of what remained of the Libyan air force on the ground, plus the protection offered to other cities in the face of sustained assault by Gaddhafi's forces could all be explained under the 'responsibility to protect' (R2P) mandate. Beyond that, the situation becomes much more complicated. NATO military force was used, not to protect civilians, but to assist in attacks on the regime. Instead of protecting cities, NATO was facilitating military assaults on them. It can be argued that no civilians could be safe while Gaddhafi remained in power, but that would be to deny the divided nature of Libyan society and the fact that some Libyans continue to support him even now he is dead. It was always likely that the stretching of the mandate by NATO to meet the political goals of the US, UK and France would be problematic. Many have noted that the NATO interpretation of the R2P mandate has undermined the concept itself. For example, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung has written:
The intervention was clearly authorized by the United Nations Security Council (UN-SC) in Resolution 1973. Nevertheless, it is the first time for the international community to call upon the principle of a “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) - established by the UN General Assembly in 2005 - to justify the Libyan campaign. With the Libya operation we are on new ground. There has not been any precedent yet which would clearly justify that the threshold to take resort to the concept of R2P is reached. What is intensifying this uncertainty is the politically desired regime change, which is clearly not authorized by the UN-SC and would under the given mandate not be legitimate for NATO to perform. Both the uncertainty concerning the exact criteria needed to trigger the R2P as well as the problem of a regime change will have consequences for both international law and the sovereignty of nation states far beyond the mission in Libya since humanitarian interventions and the closely related R2P could conceivably become a new precedent.Regardless of how the R2P will be enshrined in the future, the clear distinction between regime change and the protection of civilians has to be respected today.
As NATO pushed the boundaries of its mandate, Russia and China said clearly that they would not be quick to grant the Alliance such a mandate again. And now, for reasons of power politics, they have made good on those statements and blocked international intervention to help the people of Syria as their own government attacks them. If NATO had been more cautious in Libya, and stuck to the mandated purpose of Unified Protector by protecting people from military assault no matter who the attacking party and who the target, then while it is unlikely there would yet be a decisive outcome there, it is likely that there would be a military stalemate forcing a political solution. R2P requires impartiality, and the humanitarian NGOs and international groups that conceived the principle are deeply disturbed at the way it has been reinterpreted and misapplied in Libya. The tragic case of Syria is showing all to clearly why Unified Protector was not an unqualified success. The consequence, in the short term, is that there is no protection for the people of Homs.

NATO's impartiality was further undermined by the actions of France in breaching the UN arms embargo. This had been swiftly agreed in February 2011. France argued that the subsequent mandate of March authorizing 'all necessary measures' to protect civilians had varied the arms embargo., They argued further that they were arming rebel groups with light infantry weapons to enable the protection of civilians. For many, this stretched R2P beyond breaking point. It is very hard to accept that providing weapons to fuel a civil war in any way protects civilians. French actions also undermined the UN Security Council on arms embargoes, which by precedent apply to the entire territory of a country unless a resolution states that it only applies to certain groups within a country. Legal protections for civilians and the authority of the UN to prevent conflict were suddenly doubly undermined.

There are areas where the argument in the Foreign Affairs article are valid. For example, where the authors write:
[NATO] conducted an air campaign of unparallelled precision, which, although not perfect, greatly minimized collateral damage. 
they are undoubtedly right. The great care taken to do everything possible to avoid direct civilian casualties from NATO strikes is commendable. No doubt lessons learned in Afghanistan played a great part in this, and it is likely that Unified Protector is almost unique in the low level of civilian casualties caused by airstrikes. NATO's military infrastructure and experience of operations from Bosnia onwards contributed to this outcome. The authors correctly state that: 
The first lesson is that NATO is uniquely positioned to respond quickly and effectively to international crises. Some countries have significant military reach. But when a group of countries wants to launch a joint intervention as a coalition -- which confers political legitimacy -- only NATO can provide the common command structure and capabilities necessary to plan and execute complex operations. 
NATO is a unique multi-national institution. Its international command structure is indeed unmatched. As a regional organisation empowered to enforce UN mandates, this military power can be of great use. But the member states of the Alliance need to learn to act as they are authorised, not as they wish they had been authorised, or as is consistent with the political desires of NATO governments.

However, the lesson that Daalder and Stavridis take from Unified Protector is not this, it is that NATO member states must cooperate more to build a still more effective military infrastructure. They say that European members of NATO must do more so the US can do less. This burdensharing argument is as old as the Alliance itself. They write:

NATO began to address these shortfalls before the war in Libya began. At the Lisbon summit in November 2010, for example, the alliance adopted a new "strategic concept" to guide it for the next decade. In it, the allies committed to deploying the "full range of capabilities necessary to deter and defend against any threat to the safety and security of [its] populations." It also identified and prioritized the ten capabilities that member states agreed were essential to the organization's strength not only in today's operations (such as enhanced methods to counter improvised explosive devices and improvements in information sharing) but also in the future (such as missile defense and joint intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance -- a key deficiency in Libya).
The alliance will now have to summon the political will to implement these standards in a period of fiscal austerity. NATO countries can continue to invest in their military capabilities on their own -- which means investing inefficiently and often insufficiently, while leaning on an increasingly impatient United States to make up the difference. Or member states can invest through NATO and other multinational programs, saving money, promoting cooperation, sharing capabilities, and demonstrating solidarity. NATO will continue to succeed only if every member state chooses the latter course.

It is depressing that this is the only conclusion that they seek to draw from the Libya experience. There are other conclusions that must be drawn which are more profound, and which are rooted not just in a narrow examination of NATO's military efficiency in Operation Unified Protector, but in the realities on the ground then and now. It is essential to look at the effects of the operation beyond the end of hostilities, in Libya and across the region.

One major concern is the proliferation of small arms and light weapons from Libyan arms dumps throughout Libya and across the region. There has been great concern about the flow of MANPADS and other weapons out of Libya. The US believes that only 5000 of 20000 MANPADS have been recovered. There are deep concerns that Al Qaeda related groups in Africa might buy such weapons to try to shoot down western aircraft, as has happened in East Africa in the past.  There are reports that Libyan weapons have been smuggled to rebel groups in Sudan. Some of the weapons have already left north Africa. For example, Haaretz has reported that some Libyan weapons have reached Hamas in Gaza.

These weapons flows have also facilitated conflict in neighbouring countries, notably Mali. Gaddhafi had recruited Tuareg tribes to come to his support, and armed them heavily. Following the defeat of the regime, they returned to the northern Sahara in Mali and Niger. Well armed and ready to fight, they have restarted a rebellion in Mali that had been quelled as recently as 2009. Attacks have been made on several cities, including Timbuctou, and there has been fighting between Tuaregs and the Malian army. 20,000 people have already been displaced in this sparsely populated region. This instability and the risk of internal conflict is also feared in Tunisia and other countries including Niger, Chad and Sudan.

In October the UN called on Libyan authorities to halt the flow of weapons out of the country and control the weapons within their borders. This highlights another problem the NATO operation left behind it. Libya has no national government. The National Transitional Council, with its power base in Benghazi, controls little of the country and few of the diverse militias that remain. Some 300 militias are still armed and ready to fight. There are regular attacks on towns, most recently Bani Walid was taken over by Gaddhafi loyalists and militiamen from Misrata attacked a refugee camp killing men, women and children thought to have supported the old regime. In short, the country is unstable and there is a great risk of further violence and potentially of civil war. Many scores remain to be settled and it cannot be ruled out that the country will be divided.

If Ambassador Daalder and SACEUR Stavridis had published a truly honest assessment of the NATO mission they would have mentioned these facts. Any analysis of the effectiveness of this or any other humanitarian intervention has to include the problems caused or exacerbated by the intervention, and not just look at what might have gone right. In claiming to have saved thousands of lives, the authors must accept that their actions have led to deaths in Libya, Mali and Sudan. They should also accept that they have, however unwittingly, exacerbated the risks of terrorism across the region.

Most serious, however, is the damage done to the emerging R2P international law norm. Humanitarian law is a fragile thing, and the protections offered to civilians in conflict zones are weak. All Security Council members, and all NATO members, have a duty to ensure that they are even handed in actions intended to prevent harm to civilians, and that unlike in Unified Protector, heir operations are not simply a cover for other political goals.

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