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Towards a humanitarian CSDP mission near Libya. Details of a new kind of operation

A Swedish C130 prepositioned in Malta for evacuation (credit: Swedish Ministry of Defence)

(BRUSSELS2/Exclusive) It's a green light, timid, but a green light all the same. The 27 EU foreign ministers agreed on Monday (21 March) to “in-depth planning” for a CSDP (military) operation of “ support for humanitarian assistance and civil protection operations » carried out on the borders of Libya. After hesitating for a few weeks, the 27 now seem determined to move quickly enough. All the details of a new type of operation…

Quick decision expected

If the 27 refused on Monday to approve a CMC – crisis management concept – as it stands, they nevertheless seem determined to act quickly from now on. Because the situation on the ground could deteriorate quite quickly. But also, and above all, because it seems important to show that the European Union remains united enough to carry out a major operation, despite divisions over the appropriateness and extent of the military action (carried out with the Americans) .

In-depth planning must therefore be done urgently to be able to make a decision by the end of the week. It is above all the agreement of third countries (Egypt and Tunisia), an essential condition for the launch of a CSDP operation, which is necessary. The High Representative’s services have thus received the mandate to “make contact”, “ urgently, with the UN General Secretariat and countries in the region, including Egypt and Tunisia ". Contacts already exist in fact, it is now a matter of formalizing them with a formal invitation letter. The objective is to be able to have a Council decision by the end of the week (by the European Council in fact).

Target objective: air/naval bridge and humanitarian support

The situation at the Libyan borders can, in fact, quickly get out of hand with the arrival of large numbers of refugees. Not to mention those who have already arrived. There are still a number of people in transit camps in Tunisia. As well as a number of people stranded at the border between the two countries, in Egypt.

The objective of the mission is quite specific. It is about “ support humanitarian efforts carried out by the international community, essentially by ensuring the safe transfer of refugees and displaced persons to their countries of origin, by air or by sea. This air or naval bridge would be particularly oriented towards the poorest countries such as Bangladesh or sub-Saharan countries. A need observed and regularly recalled by the UNHCR/IOM.

The European mission could also provide the United Nations with certain specialized capabilities that address gaps on the ground, for example engineering, communications, hygiene and running water (purification, etc.).

A priori, there is currently no question of management or security of refugee camps or displaced persons which are provided by local authorities (Egypt or Tunisia). Likewise, there is no question of protecting civilians inside Libya. But nothing prevents us from thinking about an extension of this mission, if the Gaddafi regime were to open up or fall...

Similarly, the possible evacuation of European nationals remains within the domain of the consular system (of the Member States) and the coordination of civil protection resources ensured at European level by the MIC.

Device of the mission and rules of engagement

This mission would be placed in close coordination with United Nations agencies, in particular that responsible for humanitarian aid (OCHA). The Europeans would act in this way at their request. And the scope of their action, like the dimensioning of the necessary means, would thus be adapted to the request of the United Nations. A small EU-UN coordination unit should be set up. The mission will also have to respond to the needs observed on the ground by the humanitarian system deployed by ECHO, the European Humanitarian Aid Office.

Rules of engagement for military assets should be drafted in accordance with the UN Guidelines on the Use of Military and Civil Defense Assets (MCDA). In terms of securing the personnel sent on site, this could be ensured firstly by the means of the host countries (Egypt or Tunisia).

The financing of the operation will be borne mainly by the States participating in the operation. A small part – the common costs of command, logistics, communication – will be financed by all member states (except Denmark) through the mechanism Athena (share calculated in proportion to GDP). It is not currently supported by the European Commission's ECHO or MIC system. But, a priori, nothing prohibits it.

Participation of Arab League countries

The participation of third countries, in particular countries of the Arab League, is not only explicitly envisaged but also desired, whether to provide additional means of transport, logistical support, intelligence, etc. The presence of Arab countries would also provide Europeans with a certain legitimacy on the spot, but also a certain knowledge of the terrain.

It should be noted that the United Arab Emirates have already made known their availability to provide resources, including air, for a humanitarian operation.

Resources committed : variable according to demand

The headquarters of the mission could be located in Rome. Italy having proposed its OHQ. What would be the first use of this device. A logistics FHQ would be installed as close as possible to the field, at a port or airport, in Egypt or Tunisia.

The mission would include between 600 and 1500 people and a number of planes and boats to be determined according to demand. Both strategic (Airbus A330, C17, etc.) and tactical (Hercules C-130, Transall C-160) aircraft may be required depending on the destination. Ships may also be used to transport refugees and displaced persons.

It would also include medical support, of the Role 2 type (field hospital), and sufficient logistical resources to be autonomous over a period varying from one to several months. The objective of this support is not to rely on the forces sent on local or international resources which will be focused on the refugees.

Rapid deployment, or even use of a battlegroup

The deployment time for such a mission can be quite rapid. Because air and sea resources can be brought together quite quickly. They have already been deployed, in fact, without a PeSDC operation in the operations called Pegasus I (evacuation of EU citizens) and Pegasus II (evacuation/repatriation of non-EU citizens). If necessary, these means can be drawn upon, or accomplished by one of the permanent battlegroups at European level, as confirmed to 'B2' by a national diplomat belonging to a country which is not involved in the military operation.

Comments : A new kind of PeSDC mission

If this operation is confirmed, it would foreshadow a mission of a new type from several points of view: by the objective of the mission – with a humanitarian and non-security aim –; through the participation of third countries, the Arab League; by its location in the Maghreb (first mission in this region of this PeSDC); by the possible involvement of battlegroups; through its close liaison with the United Nations system or ECHO.

The advantage of this mission is to be able to offer EU Member States, notably neutral States, as well as those which criticize or do not participate in the military coalition, an “active” way of involvement in the resolution of the Libyan crisis.

The difficulty is not of a practical or logistical nature, this time, but rather of a political, administrative and ethical nature. It is a question of finding the right level of intervention with the action already carried out by other European structures (ECHO and MIC). It is also necessary to ensure good coordination between these different European elements with the United Nations system and the efforts led by local entities. Finally, it is a question of finding a way not to mix military action itself with action to support humanitarian aid. Italy's pivotal role is, on this last point, particularly delicate since it serves both as an important support for the military operation Odyssey Dawn through its bases, and for Frontex's Hermès operation (with the proximity of Lampedusa ) and by proposing the command headquarters for the humanitarian operation.

This operation will be, finally, a test for the crisis management structures resulting from the Treaty of Lisbon (European diplomatic service in particular) as well as their ambition in terms of European defense policy.

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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).