Date: Tuesday, 08 August 2017
By Karim Mezran and Elissa Miller for Atlantic Council
8 Aug 2017
There is a continuous debate in the public sphere on whether the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya was a success or a failure. Did it constitute the beginning of a new era, or the destruction of a nation state? It is easy to fall into the trap of labeling international interventions as either good or bad. However, interventions are rarely, if ever, that simple. A more nuanced way of judging interventions is to focus on whether they are carried out correctly. In the international arena, interventions can be necessary or even useful, but they must be planned with a clear focus and agreed to by—and if possible developed with—local actors on the ground.
In March 2011, NATO led a military intervention in line with United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1973 that authorized member states to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in Libya.1 The mandate was to protect the civilians of Benghazi who had revolted against Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime. Despite this limited mandate, the way the NATO military operations were carried out made it immediately evident that the real goal of the intervention was much wider, namely to provoke the collapse of Qaddafi’s regime. Coalition forces extensively bombed targets outside of the scope of the mandate with a clear intent to kill Qaddafi, a fact demonstrated by the bombing of a compound of villas near Tripoli where Qaddafi was supposedly hiding that killed his youngest son, Saif al-Arab. However, the coalition failed to set out a plan for the restoration of public order in Libya.
As a result, more than six years later, the situation in Libya is significantly more complex and dangerous. The militias who fought against Qaddafi developed diverging interests and found value in entrenching their control over cities and villages. This led to a fragmentation of authority, which in turn contributed to the proliferation of criminal organizations that further undermined any reconstruction efforts and the possible establishment of a state apparatus. Inevitably, the rivalry among various factions dragged a series of external actors into the politics of Libya, which turned the country’s conflict into a proxy war............................
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