Blog AnalysisMediterranean seaMissions Operations

A Lords torpedo on EUNAVFOR Med. Whose failure?

(BRUXELLES2) The latest report published by the House of Lords a few days ago is about the failure of the EUNAVFOR Med Sophia operation. But when one reads not just the press release, but the report in its entirety, the view of failure put forward by the Lords turns out to be somewhat different. And the report is light to say the least, apart from a few "original" reflections...

A European failure points to a Lord...

The operation would not have achieved its objectives in the fight against business model smugglers from Libya to Europe, thunders the chairman of the sub-committee for European affairs, Lord Tugendhat. A name that will speak only to the oldest (and wise) of our readers. Christopher, his first name, was European Commissioner for the Budget under the Commission ... Jenkins (1977-1981!) (1). But at 79, the guy still has guts … especially when it comes to slaying Europe. Almost second nature to a Brit.

“This mission saved lives. This is an important consideration. But it failed to stop or interrupt the flow of immigration from the Mediterranean, and destroy the business model. (...) The problem is the absence of a stable state in Libya. When you have a stable state, like in Morocco, there is little movement of people across the Mediterranean. »Lord Tugengdhat

A failure, but what failure?

This observation can, in a certain way, be shared. Nearly a year after its launch, the operation has still not reached full operationality. The flow of immigrants continues. And Libya is still an unstable country. But it is very easy to demand results from an operation that is only in its first year. In terms of the fight against piracy, it took 3-4 years before seeing the first tangible results. Above all, we must ask ourselves the question of the origin of the Libyan failure. A more delicate question than the report avoids...

What does this report bring? Rather conventional general considerations

In substance, the report does not in fact provide any new information. When you read the report in its entirety, it is much less critical than the press release. And the recommendations of the Lords overlap, to a large extent, with the roadmap drawn up by the European Union.

An operation that does more rescue at sea than deterrence

On the merits, the report points to a fundamental problem of the operation: to be more of a rescue operation at sea than an operation to deter smugglers. It is a fact ! No need to go around in circles. The dozens of smugglers "noted" and arrested on their descent from the boat in Sicily are generally second knives. And, in the absence of wooden boats, the traffic operators opted for rubber dinghies. The traffic may have been disrupted, slowed down a bit, but it continues.

The destruction of the business model can only be done in Libya and with the Libyans

The report highlights a fact, which is obvious to everyone: a real destruction of the business model smugglers can only take place in the ports of embarkation of the traffic, on the shores and on land. This is a reality that is already taken into account for phases 2b and 3 of the operation. These phases are subject to a political obstacle: their acceptance by a legitimate Libyan government. For that, you need a legitimate government recognized by everyone inside the country, starting with the recognized legitimate assembly, the Parliament of Toubrok. And nobody, or almost, plans to override this condition.

Do not confuse the remedy with the cause

Putting this impossibility at the expense of Operation EUNAVFOR MED is rather anachronistic, especially coming from a Briton. Because the Libyan instability is perhaps more the fact of the military intervention, carried out together by the United Kingdom and France, in 2011, than of the European operation. EUNAVFOR Med is trying, in fact, somehow to mitigate the effects of this instability. Indeed, treating cancer with aspirin tablets is not very effective. But in the absence of other treatments and X-rays, what can be done?

An evolving operation

The report is, in fact, somewhat dated. Because for several weeks an evolution has emerged. The countries that have been campaigning for a more robust operation (2) for several months — the United Kingdom and France in particular — are in the process of winning their case. Even if there is some resistance, the discussion is well underway on the evolution of the mandate since the April meeting. And the green light in principle has already been granted (Read: Two new tasks for Operation SOPHIA. Green light from 28).

... and one or two proposals ... original (wacky?)

In the report, on the other hand, there are a few "nuggets" which reflect a presupposition that is more ideological than operational.

Privatize the means of rescue?

Listening to an eminent expert on Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), former commander of the Royal Navy, it would be necessary to resort to " private commercial means for rescue at sea, instead of too expensive military means!

  • NB: the British experience of the privatization of rescue at sea is indeed such a model that it is urgent... not to adopt!

Use more suitable aerial means?

This RUSI expert also criticizes the aerial means used - facts “ to detect submarines in the Arctic » he underlines.

  • NB: I don't have a great deal of aeronautical experience and of course I wouldn't venture to question this assertion. But, until further notice, I had the impression that a plane of the type Lockheed P-3 Orion (used by the Portuguese or Spanish), a CN-235 Vigma (Spanish) or a Luxemburg Merlin III, which are on duty in the area, are rather well suited to maritime patrol and surveillance.

In any case, we can note that the British lesson givers were careful not to highlight a notable point. If the British Navy has been present since the start of the operation with a ship in the area, the air resources with the red-white-blue cockade are rather a rare commodity. Zero maritime reconnaissance or surveillance aircraft either from the Royal Air Force or the British Navy. As for the helicopter ... based in Malta (!), it went home or stayed on the tarmac. Hush...

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) Christopher Tugendhat is also the only European commissioner to have been the target of an attempted attack, at the end of 1980. In front of his residence, opposite the Ixelles ponds, armed men had burst in, firing at judgment and missing the Briton, as my colleague Quentin Dickinson from Radio France (who was already in Brussels) rightly reminded me. An attack attributed to the IRA in reaction to the determined policy of the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher. He was not the only one on Belgian soil (read the article by Alain Lallemand, Eddy Surmont, and René Haquin, in Le Soir, who return in 1990 to this dark period). This was also the time of hunger strikes by IRA prisoners in Northern Ireland prisons.

(2) They were pretty lonely in general. Many countries - such as Germany, Ireland or Sweden - were quite satisfied with an operation that is confined to rescue at sea

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).