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Libya ? “Of course, we will do nothing”

It was the sentence of Claude Cheysson, then French Minister of Foreign Affairs, a bit cynical, about the proclamation of martial law (the state of war) in Poland in December 1981. “ Of course we won't do anything ". This sentence, Maciej Popowski, who was in commissioned service, did not have the good fortune to pronounce it in the European Parliament on Tuesday (read: “Frustrated” MEPs desperately demand (re)active High Representative). But it was just like. The diplomatic service and the High Representative, Cathy Ashton, had no intention of acting and even less of reacting to the Libyan conflict with the instruments of the PeSDC. The lack of ambition is obvious. Because if the divisions of the Member States are real, action would nonetheless have been possible. But there is worse…

No political impetus

The words " careful planning » poorly hide an absence of preparation and above all of political impetus. As summarized by Arnaud Danjean, MEP and chairman of the defense subcommittee, and explained by several MEPs, “ there is no careful planning. There is careful planning and decisionss”. According to our information, several options were submitted to the High Representative. They are still on his desk, or another, and awaiting a political decision. The High Representative did not therefore request detailed planning on one or more options, as is customary. She didn't really ask the different floor working groups anymore.

Europe has the capabilities

The sacrosanct formula " Avoid duplication » hides badly the desire not to act on the missions which found the Europe of defense: the maintenance of peace, the intervention, the observation… And the difference « the number of planners » invoked – Europe only has a dozen there are “ several thousand at Shape » hardly hides the fact that there is an absence of political orientation in this planning. Europe has proven in the past that it can plan an operation – whether it is the anti-piracy operation EUNAVFOR Atalanta or the EUMM Georgia observation mission.

It is obvious that when it comes to European Defense, we must always play with room for maneuver, get around blocking points, and force consensus. The PeSDC files are rich in these blocking points — the neutral countries for the operation in Chad, the Baltic countries for the operation in Georgia, the United Kingdom for the Atalanta operation, Germany for the operation EUTM Somalia… — which were skillfully resolved.

Finding Consensus Action

Member States are therefore today divided whether on the need for military action or a 'No Fly Zone'. It is a fact. But it's not the first time. And there is no point in trying to find consensus where it does not exist. On the other hand, we can force consensus on other areas. It is therefore surprising to see that we have not sought an action which could precisely mask these divisions, an option that unites rather than divides.

It is therefore strange to see that none of the military options with humanitarian aims – secure zones, humanitarian corridors (as the UNHCR has just requested) – are mentioned. Likewise, no option of supporting an Arab League operation is mentioned or the deployment of an observation mission. Even limited action, in support of Niger's forces, such as a small airlift between Niger's border with Libya and the capital, Niamey, to repatriate refugees is not mentioned. Let's not talk about the maritime option which could have been explored further. The EU has the means for this. And, on site, off the coast of Libya, several ships from the anti-piracy operation Atalanta were present, starting with the Dutch ship Tromp.

The reality: Lady Ashton wants to bury European defense

It is now useless to hide behind her little finger (from the Arab League, from the UN resolution, from the necessary unanimity of member states, etc.), the High Representative has no intention and does not want to use the instrument of European defense. It's not that Cathy Ahhton is “bad”, “incompetent”… as we often hear. This is an insult to the intelligence and political talent that she has demonstrated in the past. No, Cathy Ashton doesn't want to do anything. And if defense Europe sinks, that is the least of its worries. She believes that if there is a peacekeeping or interposition operation, it is the role of NATO or the member states. But not from the European Union. This is a serious strategic and political error. Because in the Libyan affair, NATO is just as much, if not more, paralyzed than the European Union, quite simply because two “heavy” states in the Alliance (the United States and Turkey) do not want such a commitment. Europe has precisely a card to play in the Libyan affair that NATO cannot fulfill.

In doing so, the High Representative is at odds with her mandate, which gives her all the tools " to conduct a security policy ". It is neither in the letter nor in the spirit of the Lisbon Treaty. The role of the High Representative, President of the Foreign Affairs Council, Vice-President of the European Commission is not, is no longer, that of an ambassador of goodwill. This may have been the case in 1999 or 1991, but it is no longer possible today. The reality is there, stark: Cathy Ashton missed a major opportunity to prove her worth.

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).

2 thoughts on “Libya ? “Of course, we will do nothing”"

  • Belisarius

    Ms. Ashton probably works for the United Kingdom, which above all does not want European defence.

  • Was it necessary to be naive to believe that an Englishwoman was going to fight for Europe!
    Remember Churchill's sentence in June 1944: "Know this well, each time we have to choose between Europe and the Grand Large, we will choose the Grand Large"

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