North Africa LibyaBlog Analysis

Libyan crisis. All military options are on the table. Which?

training of the Austrian elements of the European battlegroup in medical evacuations (credit: Austrian Army)

(BRUSSELS2 / Analysis) Three major options are currently planned by the military of the European and Atlantic General Staff. The work has already started but it is far from finished. And this is the whole meaning of the “prudent planning” decision adopted by the EU as well as by NATO, and of the “detailed planning” decision taken by NATO.

As one expert told me, so far we have options, but quite vague, i.e. a general view of “what we can or plan to do », a few lines per option, describing the objectives, the advantages and disadvantages, and the main political and military conditions. " It is now a matter of going further, of specifying in detail ". That is to say to give in front of each option, the necessary means, the required staff, the cost, the implementation time, the risks… In terms of “paper”, we go from a few paragraphs per option to a few dozen pages.

Please note that, according to our information, the two organizations are continuing “separate” planning. Both processes are “independent and autonomous”. They are different political organizations (which do not bring together quite the same member states). Political formula to be weighted by a phenomenon: there are numerous bridges, structural and human, in particular via the representatives on the military committee (everyone talks to each other). Although there is no exclusivity or specialization of tasks, a boundary can nevertheless be drawn. The EU focuses more on humanitarian work, NATO has exclusive aviation rights, maritime issues are addressed by both organizations but with objectives that may be different (migration in one case, arms embargo in the other). The only difference between the two organizations: if NATO has decided to push forward with planning, no decision seems to have been taken in this direction by the EU. “ There is no political impetus in this direction explains a connoisseur of these files.


1. Thehumanitarian : assistance to refugees, humanitarian corridors, “safe area”…

This involves preparing military support to welcome a significant wave of refugees in neighboring countries (Tunisia, Egypt, even Niger or Algeria – if they so wish). Classic logistical support (transport, communication, etc.) but also medical support (field hospital, etc.). Support which could also be extended to the “liberated” territory of the Libyan opponents. Ships like the British Cumberland and the Italian Libra have already practiced it. There may also be security for WFP “civilian” ships or evacuation ferries.

Specialists recall that there were between 1,5 and 2 million foreigners in Libya, many of whom come from Bangladesh and Pakistan. Only a little over 200.000 crossed the border (at least they were counted that way), mainly Egyptians.

It is also a question of preparing stronger actions such as the imposition of humanitarian corridors or “safe areas” (as in Bosnia-Herzegovina) to regroup civilians, if the civilian population is caught in a vice (a model which does not has not always proven its effectiveness). This is the meaning of the Franco-British letter in particular.


2. The maritime

Maritime surveillance can be in international waters or territorial waters, loose or tight. In addition to surveillance, control of ships can be added: right of visit exercised within the framework of the law of the sea, or by special authorization from the United Nations Security Council, with if necessary seizure of the cargo, the vessel or arrest of its occupants (in this case, as with pirates, the question of the competent jurisdiction arises, since we are within the framework of the exercise of universal jurisdiction). In the ultimate case, it will amount to a blockade which will have to be authorized by the United Nations.

We must also not forget that action at sea is also justified for reasons of monitoring illegal migration (operation Hermes launched by the Europeans under the cover of Operation Frontex).

3. The aerial

There are several options. Aerial surveillance of Libyan territory, or the surrounding area, which has already begun, with the Awacs. A " surveillance which also aims to monitor possible migrations » (illegal), confirmed Gérard Longuet, the French Minister of Defense. Surveillance supplemented by satellites currently strafing Libyan territory (the European Union satellite center has been mobilized for this purpose in particular).

This surveillance can be supplemented by aerial action, more or less strong, on a more or less extensive basis. At the geographical level, we can choose to protect certain sites (partial no fly zone): “safe areas” bringing together civilians or oil sites, to protect all inhabited areas, to intervene throughout the territory (total no fly zone ). At the action level, we can decide to intercept planes or helicopters which leave certain trajectories or are heading towards certain places, by “diverting them from their place of action” and if necessary by shooting them down.

We can also carry out two or three targeted strikes, to destroy the Libyan fighter, the helicopters, the landing strips, the arms depots if the use of these forces by Gaddafi becomes more intensive. Or target all anti-aircraft defenses more extensively, which requires more resources. Finally, electronic neutralization means can be used.

NB: in all cases discreet means of intelligence are needed, remotely but also on land, on site, in Tripoli, in Benghazi as well as in the desert...

Impossible, complex?

A 'No fly zone' therefore does not necessarily require prior and systematic destruction of ground installations. This was not really the case during Northern Watch surveillance over Iraq or Yugoslavia in the first phase.

The arguments of complexity or difficulty of a military operation in Libya now raised by the Americans and also put forward by the Germans (the German Minister of Foreign Affairs highlighted Gaddafi's firepower “and his considerable air assets ” may or may not be justified depending on what the objective of the operation is. In fact, the harshness of the European and Western response will be “. depending on the evolution of the situation » as explained by J. Martonyi, the Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs. “ If there is massive bloodshed, action will have to be taken.".

Difficult or easy? Agreement or disagreement?

If we want to send a signal,
which means 'don't piss off', it can be easy.

Technically, as clarified by the French Minister of Defense, Gérard Longuet; “Depending on what we decide, more or less significant resources are required. If we do something limited on the territory that's fine. If we want to cover the entire Libyan territory, 24/24, this requires major resources (NB: 30 devices = 3 x 8 + additional reinforcement). « If we want to send a signal, which means 'don't piss off', it can be easy. A neutralization of the tracks is a warning shot, it is not final. » So it all depends "of the degree of excellence set in the mission" and its duration.

Whether the French and British can take military action on their own, it all depends. But in a low option, it is possible according to G. Longuet. “ The French and the British can do it on their own. They don't want it. Our role is not to replace what exists, it is to lead, to bring to life what exists ».

Politically, as summed up the Hungarian Foreign Minister, János Martonyi, "iThere is agreement on the general objectives but not on the technical aspects. We have a consensus on the conditions: authorization from the Security Council, agreement from the Arab League, and evaluation according to the evolution of the situation.not. » But there is no consensus on the need to act on the situation. You must first “exhaust all other possibilities” before moving on to the military.

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Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).