Thinktank says ‘contortion’ of security council resolution makes agreement from countries such as China or Russia harder to win
The Libya campaign led by Britain and France was a military success but has come at a potentially high price, making future UN-backed missions to protect civilians less likely, a report by a leading UK security thinktank has warned.
While the bombing was initially presented as having a humanitarian objective, it morphed into a campaign primarily concerned with regime change, with the military action by Nato countries ending immediately after Muammar Gaddafi was killed, the report noted.
“The Libya campaign was hailed as a triumph for the principle of the responsibility to protect [R2P],” said the report, Short War, Long Shadow, published by the Royal United Services Institute.
“But the truth may be otherwise. For the manner in which the initial security council resolution was contorted out of all recognition from the protection of civilians to, in effect, outright regime change has left a sour taste in the mouths of powers like China, Russia and India who still hold an absolute conception of state sovereignty.”
The report, released on the first anniversary of the start of Nato’s Operation Odyssey Dawn, continued: “For advocates of the R2P, the worry should be that there is indeed a legacy of the Libya conflict: China and Russia will presume that the model in future operations is rather regime change under the cloak of R2P, and will be more forthcoming with vetoes. We have already seen this over Syria.”
The report pointed out that the “Benghazi scenario” – lightly armed rebels facing the full force of a regime’s heavy weapons – was averted in Libya but has already happened in Syria, in Homs and Idlib, precisely because the international community has not been able to wage a campaign.
The seven-month bombing campaign over Libya was a one-off case, the institute said. While it showed off western military capabilities, it had troubling implications for the fledgling concept of R2P.
“All military victories come at some diplomatic price and the costs of this one are becoming evident as subsequent events unfold … the political fallout of operating at the very edge of what the resolution authorised had a well-noted effect on both Moscow and Beijing,” Michael Clarke, the institute’s director, wrote.
“President Putin reportedly feels personally duped and angry at the outcome in Libya … Having Putin’s Russia discomforted in this way may give British politicians some satisfaction, but it makes the avoidance of regional chaos around Syria harder to achieve”.
Clarke described Libya as “a classic example of the liberal interventionist policies that Tony Blair had said we should be prepared to undertake, and the Cameron government had made clear it would not”. He warned that it was far from clear that the UK has learned lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan about the need to formulate strategy in a coherent way.
The decision to intervene in Libya was taken by a “hawkish prime minister and key cabinet figures [who] pushed the operation forward, despite private military warnings of the risks, harking back to the Blair administration’s informal style of sofa government”, he said.
from Richard Norton-Taylor