Atlantic Update 3/3/11: Transatlantic Perspectives Toward Libya


As the situation in Libya continues to unravel, the transatlantic community is under pressure to develop a cohesive and timely response to what is quickly becoming a humanitarian as well as political crisis. Split priorities and divergent interests have, for now, left the international community with limited tools and policies to bring a peaceful resolution to events in Libya. 

The United Nations:

The international community has looked to the United Nations to legitimize any action taken in response to the violence in Libya. On Saturday the UN showed some resolve and unity as the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1970. Further action outside the humanitarian realm is unlikely as Russia and China are wary of increased interference.

  • Resolution 1970 enacts an immediate arms embargo, targeted asset freezes, and a travel ban on Muammar Gaddafi and his family.
  • The UNSC voted 15-0 to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for further investigation, the first time in history the UNSC has voted 15-0 to refer a case to the ICC.
  • Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd is to propose UN approval for a no fly zone.
  • The UN has suspended Libya from the UN Human Rights Council.

NATO has been stuck in a complex situation with its membership pulling in opposing directions, many wary of, or opposed to, direct NATO intervention. Calling for an emergency meeting of the North Atlantic Council, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has made it abundantly clear that NATO will not act without a UN mandate.

  • Friday saw an emergency meeting of the North Atlantic Council.
  • Spain has called for the deployment of NATO monitoring capabilities, including AWACS and naval vessels.
  • Canadian Foreign Minister Cannon has said some allies are “balking” at the idea of a no-fly zone.
  • The Turkish Prime Minister has ruled out any NATO role in Libya.
  • Currently NATO is to act as an “enabler” and “coordinator,” monitoring the situation and preparing for “any eventuality.”
The United States:

All eyes once again turned to the United States to set the pace. Taking a much stronger stance immediately, President Obama suggested on Wednesday that all options were on the table, including unilateral action. The President and Secretary of State have consulted foreign leaders, with some arguing that Secretary Clinton’s call for Gaddafi’s immediate departure is one of the final pieces leading up to a larger U.S. reaction.

  • Last Friday President Obama issued an executive order enacting sanctions and an arms embargo.
  • Senator Lieberman and Senator McCain have called for a no-fly zone and recognition of a provisional government in the east.
  • Monday the U.S. Treasury froze $30 billion in Libyan assets, the largest amount frozen in a single government order.
  • Monday the Pentagon announced that troops were being repositioned within the Mediterranean to prepare for all possible contingencies.
  • Commander of US CENTCOM General James Mattis warns that any no-fly zone would require the bombing of Libyan anti-aircraft installations.

A running theme in Italy’s response to the recent unrest in the Middle East has been the risk of migrants flooding into southern Europe. This has been further complicated as Italy’s relationship with Libya has been mired in its colonial history as well as the more recent 2008 Italy-Libya Treaty of Friendship, which explicitly prevents Italy from launching or facilitating any attack on Libya.

  • On Saturday Italy suspended the treaty as “de-facto no longer operational”
  • The country has cut off oil shipments and supports EU sanctions.
  • Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has called for Gaddafi step down, describing the events in Libya as “irreversible.”

Scarred by France’s lackluster response in Egypt and Tunisia, the French position in regards to Libya has in many ways been about redemption. Following the resignation of Foreign Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie for her clumsy handling of the uprising in Tunisia, President Sarkozy was the first European leader to clearly state that “Gaddafi has to go.” France has stated that the priority is delivering humanitarian aid despite leaving all options on the table.

  • Called for the UN Security Council meeting which produced Resolution 1970.
  • French Foreign Ministry saw no need for NATO to meet on the issue as the matter was being addressed at the UN.
  • French and British officials have called for a special European Union Summit on the topic.
  • France has sent two planes of medical aid to the country.
  • French Foreign Minister Juppé rules out any military action without UN mandate.
Great Britain:

Great Britain was a key player in normalizing the relationship between the “mad dog” of the Middle East and the international community under Tony Blair’s premiership. Prime Minister Cameron has sought to balance Britain’s complicated commercial and energy interests in Libya with a more assertive policy of preparing for any military action that might be necessary to prevent or resolve a humanitarian crisis.

  • On Sunday Great Britain froze the assets of Muammar Gaddafi in the UK.
  • The country has taken a lead position in the planning for a possible no fly zone over Libya.
  • Prime Minister David Cameron has said “Gaddafi must go now.”

Russia has historically opposed intervention in states’ internal affairs and Russia has warned about the risk of instability in the Middle East as a result of the political turmoil in the region.

  • Thursday Russian Foreign Ministry rejected sanctioning Libya, as “hardly…an effective method of international action.”
  • Friday Russia voted for UN Security Council resolution 1970, including an arms embargo that will cost Russian arms exporters $4 billion in sales.
  • Tuesday Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned against outside forces “meddling” in Libya’s domestic affairs.
  • Russia has called a no-fly zone ‘superfluous.’
The European Union:

The European Union and its Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton have been criticized over Europe’s slow response to the unrest in its neighborhood. However rhetoric has been met with some action as the EU looks to find consensus among its membership.

  • EU arms embargo and targeted sanctions against Gaddafi and his associates have been adopted.
  • The European Commission has allocated at least $3 million in immediate humanitarian aid.
  • EU officials to gather for an emergency summit on March 11.

Klee Aiken is an intern with the Council’s International Security Program.

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