The intervention in Libya: not a recipe for success PO (Phot) Sean Clee

The intervention in Libya: not a recipe for success

Following the uprisings in Libya in 2011, a number of countries participated in an intervention to protect civilians from the Gaddafi-regime. What can be learned from this intervention with its so-called light-footprint strategy?

On June 29th, the CTC and ICCT hosted a high-level expert meeting to discuss the intervention in Libya. Around thirty participants from various countries and with various backgrounds came to The Hague to share their expertise in the context of a NATO Science for Peace Programme: Transitioning from Military Interventions to Long-Term Counterterrorism Policy. Libya is the first of three case studies that will be discussed - followed by a meeting on Afghanistan and one on Mali. What can be learned from the intervention in Libya with its so-called light-footprint strategy?

In March 2011, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1973 which authorised its members to take “all necessary measures” to protect the Libyan population. A month earlier, an uprising in the country started that was soon violently repressed by the Gaddafi-regime and led to an all-out armed struggle between the rebels and the government.

The UN-mandated intervention was spearheaded by France, the United Kingdom and the United States, with indispensable help of some Arab countries. After a few days the intervention was transferred to NATO and would become known as “Operation Unified Protector”. Within just a few months, the mission accomplished what it never officially admitted to be its ultimate goal but unmistakably was: removing Gaddafi from power, as he was captured and killed by Libyan rebels in October 2011.

Some were very quick to claim this intervention to be a “model intervention”. Four years later, the prospects for Libya are grim to put it mildly. The country has descended into chaos if not a full-blown civil war. Against this backdrop, the transition following the intervention could hardly be called a success. According to some who joined the meeting in The Hague, this transition was an outright failure. Despite the efforts of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), security sector reform efforts did not lead to positive results. Also attempts to recollect weapons stolen from the arsenals of Gaddafi failed miserably. The consequences of which were also felt outside Libya. Arms and armed men have travelled across borders. The conflict in Mali might have never erupted without this massive influx from Libya. The country currently has two rival governments that are verbally and physically fighting each other. Due to the post-intervention chaos, terrorist groups – such as the Islamic State – are increasingly able to gain a foothold in the country.

Still, judging the intervention in 2011 against its limited mission goals, it could be called a success. The question is, however, if such a light-footprint strategy is really something that we wish to adopt if we also care about the long-term future of a country and long-term counterterrorism policies. According to the participants of the expert meeting, the intervention in Libya is definitely not an example to follow in the future.