Monday, 21 March 2011 13:40

Germany’s Case for Non-Intervention

This post is a reply to Matt (Sixth Sense Editor)'s post yesteday  'Libya, Germany, and the tyranny of definition' that can be found here.

Discussing a no-fly zone over Libya is a particularly hard thing to do. It is easy to argue in both directions and neither side is clearly convincing. This dilemma led to disagreement among Western states on whether or not to intervene in Libya. As Matt points out in his thought-provoking blog post, the United Kingdom and France were clearly in favour of the mission, whereas Germany abstained from the vote. I think however that Germany had palpably good reasons to abstain (or at least not to participate in such military mission) and that it was Germany's communication that could be described as their key flaw.

On Civil War

First, Matt's definition of Libya as a civil war: I think it does not make a substantial difference if we are talking about a civil war or not...

Published in Beyond Europe

Whilst you read this, there will be British and French planes flying over and bombing Libya. Last night alone 112 Tomahawk missiles were fired into Tripoli and surrounding targets. The UN has endorsed "all necessary measures short of an occupation force" to prevent Gaddafi's forces attacking civilian and rebel groups and this was officially supported by the EU's foreign affairs representative. Germany's abstention in the UN security council therefore represents a division in Europe's response and raises serious questions about how each of the three main states understand the Libyan case and what underlying domestic interests they have brought to their respective decisions.

The tyranny of definition

There is a small but significant distinction between Germany's understanding of Libya at the moment and that of France and Britain. The German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, said in a telephone interview with a radio station on Thursday, "I do not want Germany to be part of a war in Libya, a permanent civil war in Libya." This civil war is a very different image to the one invoked by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who has described the conflict in terms of "the people" versus the regime and argued that the "people's will" resides in the rebels and by implication that there is no "legitimate" Gaddafi supporter, aside from regime "apparatchiks." This can be seen in Britain and France's highly symbolic and questionable recognition of the Libyan national council (the major opposition) as legitimate leaders in Libya.

Published in The Transnationalist
Thursday, 10 March 2011 10:29

Ivory Coast: Another Failure of Morality?

There was a very good point in reaction to my last post, on a no-fly zone in Libya, arguing that the West could not claim to be the moral arbiters for the world. Even though this is not entirely what I aimed at, there are plenty of examples to support this comment. Ivory Coast, a former colony of France, is just the latest example.

Despite regaining some media attention at the moment, the Ivory Coast has been largely ignored since the election last year. The former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara won the elections in a process that the UN called "free and fair" and is internationally recognised as president of Ivory Coast, but incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo refuses to leave office. Reports now claim that supporters of Gbagbo shot at protesters with live ammunition, killing hundreds, maybe up to 1,000 since the elections took place in December.

Unlike Libya's case, which is being broadcast 24 hours a day, Ivory Coast's position is considerably weaker. If you consider it's geopolitical position in comparison to Libya, it does seem to make a difference whether your main export product is cocoa or oil, (and possibly illegal migrants). It may not be surprising then that despite trade sanctions against two Ivorian ports, the European response has been limited to 'concern' over escalating violence (Germany) or hollow calls to the UN to investigate the violence (France). As in the wider Middle East, Europe has once again missed the opportunity to make a bold statement in promoting democracy and liberal values.

The International Crisis Group warns that the rapidly worsening violence "is a serious threat to peace and stability in West Africa" and that the African community needs to prevent an "all-out war". Rather than supporting African attempts to settle this situation, Europe shrinks from pushing this topic firmly onto the international agenda. The time in which Europe can (re-) claim moral righteousness has once again moved further away.

Published in Beyond Europe
Wednesday, 09 March 2011 13:34

No No-fly zones?

The demand for a no-fly zone over Libya appears to be particularly prominent in Europe. In demanding it, however, one should be aware of the consequences.

The current situation in Libya is certainly difficult for European observers: people are fighting a dictator – seen by many (and probably rightly so) as a just cause. The European reaction, and West in general, has so far only reacted by getting its citizens out and, in Britain's case, a team of special forces, intelligence personnel and diplomats in, probably for consultations with protestors. The general perception of "we have to do something" remains unsatisfied. In that light, the idea of a no-fly zone over Libya appears to be an attractive solution: stopping Gaddafi's air strikes on his people, as well as preventing fresh mercenaries from coming into the country.

However, as the German weekly Die Zeit correctly argues, talking about no-fly zones also needs to involve talking about war. While imposing a no-fly zone over Libya is generally within NATO's capabilities, one needs to be clear that such action would first include air strikes against all defensive installations. As the head of the US Central Command, James Mattis, argued:

'You would have to remove the air defense capability, in order to establish the no-fly zone. So it — no illusions here, it would be a military operation. It wouldn’t simply be telling people not to fly airplanes.'

Europe needs to ask itself if it really is capable and willing to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. Would Europe send fighter jets to attack targets within Libya and – in the worst case – even accept casualties from airplanes being shot down? At the very least, dangerroom’s David Axe notes that Libya has Africa's largest surface-to-air missile network. Thus, even as Britain and France drafted a resolution imposing no-fly zones Europe should first ask itself: do we really want to take that risk? Or does demanding a no-fly zone imply that the United States is doing the dirty work again? Furthermore, it appears questionable what the imposition of a no-fly zone would actually do to prevent the killings that are going on on the ground.

It is therefore unsurprising that the United States are more reluctant on the topic than European states. Not only are they further away from the scene, which means having to think less about migrants, economic dependency, and oil, but it was clear from the beginning that they would be a key player in imposing such a mechanism. Being involved in Afghanistan and Iraq already brings a heavy burden, getting involved in a third theatre of war therefore appears to be an option for last resort. Therefore, it can probably be seen as a rebuff if the White House chief of staff, William Daley, said:

'Lots of people throw around phrases of 'no-fly zone,' and they talk about it as if it's just a ... videogame or something. Some people who throw that line out have no idea what they're talking about.'

A no-fly zone should still be on the table, but if Europe speaks of it they should also make sure that everyone is aware of the consequences. Being morally right does not seem to be enough in this case. Only if those raising their voices are willing to agree to fight a war and only if this war can be assured to do more good than harm can this be considered a viable option. Currently, it appears, none of this is the case.

Published in Beyond Europe
Wednesday, 23 February 2011 13:59

European crisis response

After watching the coverage of Libya over the last days, it might be time to have a closer look at Europe's crisis response. As previously outlined in this blog, the response to secure the EU borders was to keep all those who suffer out. This seemed already somewhat strange. Still, I wonder if there's appropriate coordination between European capitals.

Those who contribute to Wikipedia's 2011 Libyan Protests article have done a superb job in bringing together the different reactions by the various states throughout the world, among them the rescue efforts by the European Union. In that respect, it is quite remarkable that at least five EU nations – Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Greece – have all sent aeroplanes (and a ship in the case of Greece and the UK) to Libya to evacuate its own and other EU citizens.

Given the fact that the Maltese airport is just one hour's flight away from Tipoli, its makes you wonder why there is not one central "shuttle" that is constantly getting citizens out of Libya to Malta and from there throughout the EU. Without having any more than the publicly available knowledge, to me this would seem to be a truly European approach that ensures that EU citizens are extracted from Libya on a regular basis. It would also be cost-efficient and show a united European response.

Published in Beyond Europe
Tuesday, 22 February 2011 15:26


While Al Jazeera has an amazing coverage of the events happening in Libya at the moment (see the live blog or the live stream), the reaction from some parts of Europe is quite horrific. Just hours after reports emerged from Libya that civilians were attacked by helicopters and other aircraft, the German politician Hans-Peter Uhl from the conservative CSU demanded strong EU coastal guard forces to keep European borders closed to Libyan refugees. I wonder if politics can ever be more inhumane...

Published in Beyond Europe
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