Blog AnalysisMediterranean seaMissions Operations

A very difficult Irini operation. Member States poor in means (v2)

(B2) The European operation to monitor the arms embargo off the coast of Libya suffers from a chronic lack of means. An abyss between saying it and doing it, more than disturbing

All agree to do something

The Member States of the European Union are (almost all) in agreement: the Libyan disorder is one of the worst factors of instability for Europe; there is no military solution to the conflict, only a political solution; we must strengthen the control of the embargo on arms in Libya, and so on. So they all applauded with both hands when Europe regained the initiative at the Berlin conference, putting a process of political and military dialogue back on track (read: The eight key points of the Berlin conference on Libya). This process had an armed arm: a maritime control operation of the arms embargo, called EUNAVFOR Med Irini. Only then, the old European demons returned as soon as this operation was launched, officially started on April 1st.

Sluggish force generation conferences

First of all, the successive force generation conferences have been painful. There were not the minimum means desired (read: EUNAVFOR Med Irini operation without ships, for now. Force generation continues). The Chairman of the European Union Military Committee (Read: Operation Irini must have the necessary means to carry out its mandate (General Graziano)) like High Representative Josep Borrell (read: Everyone who wants peace in Libya must support Operation Irini (Josep Borrell)) said it, in all tones, especially in our columns, at that time. This made it possible to mobilize Member States to start the operation. But not enough.

A lack of obvious means

During the first weeks of the operation (until today in fact), only one ship was present in the area: first of all the French frigate Jean Bart, then the Greek frigate Spetses. The Italian flagship St. George has not yet reached the area of ​​operation (contrary to what Josep Borrell claimed), even if it seems imminent. Either un ship and three planes. " It's not sufficient. We need more. I appealed to Member States to provide all the necessary means to strengthen the operation. I hope my call will be heard said High Representative Josep Borrell on Tuesday (June 16), recalling that Operation Sophia had five ships and as many planes. In other words, a minimum according to him.

Internal squabbles

On this subject, which is rather recurrent in military operations (both by the EU and NATO (1)), has been added a small internal squabble between Athens and Rome to have the head of the operation or the force. This marred the meetings for several weeks. Question settled by a judgment of Solomon: dividing in two periods of six months the command of the force (read: A force commander for Operation Irini. Finally !). A fairly standard solution in this type of discussion. But this delayed the arrival in the area of ​​the Greek and Italian ships accordingly. To this must be added the decision taken by Malta to hold the operation hostage to obtain a little more solidarity from its colleagues in the face of the arrival of migrants on its shores. The island threatened to block the operation, but above all withdrew one of the promised boarding teams (read: Dark cloud over Operation Irini. Malta brandishes the threat of a veto).

Paris Berlin and Rome in minimum service

The Franco-German duo, yet the driving force behind the Berlin process, is doing the minimum service for the time being. Germany did not promise a ship until August. The German navy did provide a surveillance plane. But this one based nearly 3000 km from the area of ​​operation. Suffice to say that this limits the field of action (read: The German maritime patrol aircraft P3 Orion C enters the dance… far from the area of ​​​​operation). As for France, a frigate, the Jean Bart, held the course for a short month, opening the ball, before returning to port. Nothing since at least at sea level. Paris certainly provides a lot of information (via its national reconnaissance flights and other information systems), but no means of direct boarding, at least officially under Irini. Italy provided only one ship, the St. George, which was not yet in the area at the time of the incident with the Turkish vessel, and is in the process of arriving. While at the time of Operation Sophia, it often provided two or even three ships and a plane or a drone.

The rest of Europeans with absent or almost absent subscribers

One could of course overwhelm these three countries. But the others, at least those which have a maritime force, do not do better. Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands, Sweden for example, or Portugal, have remained very silent. The same is true of Romania or Bulgaria. It is true that for these two countries, one would almost forget that they are in the European Union as they participate very little in CSDP missions and operations. And almost never to maritime operations.

A completely predictable incident

What had to happen has happened. The incident that occurred last week with the aborted control of the Cirkin (read: Turkish-escorted freighter suspected of violating arms embargo) was quite predictable. The opportunity was indeed too good for the Turks who provide military support, assumed in an open manner, to the government of national unity in Tripoli (recognized by the international community and by Europe). Ankara wanted to inflict a little lesson in strategy on the Europeans, humiliating its Greek neighbor and rival in the process. Without any risk, since he had both international law and force on his side.

The Greeks alone in line against the Turks: a mistake

By having this cargo ship, suspected of transporting weapons to Misrata in Libya, accompanied by its military ships, Ankara gave it the necessary protection both on the legal level (sovereign immunity which prevents the inspection of any ship assuming a mission of a State's public service) and at the military level. Letting a single ship control the Mediterranean field was a big mistake. Giving this role to Greece was even more so. A military and political mistake...

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. With a major difference between the European Union and NATO. The United States often plays the role of bogeyman reminding states of their duty.

Updated on the arrival of the St. George

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).