The recent actions perpetrated by ISIS in the Southern Mediterranean have placed the security alert higher on national and international institutions’ political agendas as the threat is just a few miles away from Europe.
The Libyan crisis has reached its current level of criticality due to actions and responsibilities lying mostly on “our side” of the Mediterranean.
The military intervention of France, the persistent divisions of the European Union, the reluctance of the United States to play its role in the region, and the consequent lack of strategic vision, are all components that prevented the stabilization of Libya after the NATO operations in 2011. As a consequence, the plan for the stabilization of the country along with a process of democratic, economic and social development was not successful despite Operation Unified Protector.
Today, the Euro-Atlantic community is called once again to face a dramatic situation in Libya which represents a dangerous threat, could destabilize the Mediterranean region and international security, while challenging the core values of our society, namely, freedom and democracy.
In order to provide an effective and credible international response, the following 15 basic elements must be included into the analysis of Euro-Atlantic policy-makers.
1. Regional Perspective – The strategic importance of an intervention in Libya goes well beyond the geographical boundaries of the country and must be considered within a regional perspective. Currently, Libya is key to the security of the whole Mediterranean region. If the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seizes control of the country, it would undermine the stability of neighboring countries such as Tunisia, Algeria, Mali, as well as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which support the fight against movements linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. ISIS militias in Iraq and Syria would expand more into the territory and this will bring the entire Mediterranean into a profound crisis. The new scenario would be very dangerous, as this political uncertainty would create a link with the unstable situation in the Caucasus, Afghanistan and Ukraine.
2. Partnerships – An intervention in Libya is not possible without renewed and strong partnerships with countries in the region such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia and others. In this respect, the advance of ISIS has narrowed the interests of different countries in the region, thus making their cooperation easier.
3. Strategic Interests – Apart from ensuring the stability of Libya and the region, the Euro-Atlantic community must define the strategic interests to be pursued. However, the lack of a shared and coherent strategy among the European countries makes this process difficult and the strategic objectives difficult to be defined and pursued.
4. Energy – Unlike in the past, the energy interests must be set in a broader strategic vision. Ensuring a continuous energy supply from Libya is one of the key objectives because of the frequent blocks of oil terminals throughout the world. Italy is the largest importer of Libyan crude. However, in 2014 the imports of crude oil dropped by 64%. Moreover, due to the damage Liquefaction Plant in Marsa- al-Brega, the Greenstream pipeline linking Mellitah to Sicily remained the only supply channel in operation (although partial), making Italy the only recipient of Libyan gas.
5. United Nations – The political agenda of stabilization in Libya conducted by the UN must be fully supported with the aim of achieving a UN Resolution with a strong mandate and clear rules of engagement. To this end, we can also recall the recent Security Council Resolutions such as UNSC 2098 (2013) and UNSC 2147 (2014) concerning the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO). These resolutions have authorized the formation of an Intervention Brigade to strengthen the peacekeeping operation, protect civilians, prevent the expansion of all armed groups, as well as neutralize and disarm these groups. These measures, if applied to Libya, should help to reduce the threat posed by armed groups to the state authority and strengthen the security of civilians while facilitating stabilization activities.
6. Troops – Any mission must be very well equipped and flexible to intervene rapidly. The geographic characteristics of Libya should allow for an easy control of the territory by the deployed forces. However, it should be remembered that in Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose surface is much less than one third of that in Libya, NATO came with 60,000 soldiers. After twenty years, the EU Mission Althea is still in the Bosnian theatre with 600 military personnel.
7. NATO – Italy could convene the Atlantic Council in order to start consultations on the security scenario as well as to adopt possible measures such as the deployment of Patriot missile batteries with the aim of strengthening the allied solidarity and to defend the southern shores from any missile launches. This procedure is based on Article 4 of the Atlantic Treaty and has been applied twice in Turkey. However, a direct attack against Italy, would automatically engage the mechanism of collective solidarity stated in the Article 5 of the Atlantic Treaty.
8. Mediterranean – Operation Active Endeavour, NATO’s ongoing counter-terrorism mission in the Mediterranean, should be reinforced. This maritime operation must remain in the context of Article 5 on collective defense and should not be downgraded to a simple operation of collective security.
9. DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration) – Apart from a possible military intervention, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of all armed groups should be listed among the top priorities on the agenda. This plan could be successfully led by the Italian Carabinieri and should be based on the NATO Training Mission model, adopted in Iraq and Afghanistan, which aims to rebuild the democratic process and the Security Forces.
10. Reconstruction – In order to make the stabilization process sustainable, a robust plan of reconstruction and development in Libya must be implemented as well. This will be easily carried out through the use of energy and financial resources Libya possesses. It is estimated that Libya has foreign exchange reserves amounting to $119 billion with sovereign funds amounting to $50 billion.
11. Peacebuilding Commission – The assistance of a Peacebuilding Commission, the intergovernmental advisory body of the United Nations that supports peace efforts in countries involved in recent conflicts, should be also considered.
12. Cooperation – The Libyan crisis offers the opportunity to reshape the partnerships system of the Euro-Atlantic institutions according to new and more effective cooperative rules. The crisis scenario surrounding Europe to the East and South have certified the failure of various partnerships and “neighborhood” policies conducted by the European Union in the aftermath of the enlargement processes. Over 15 billion Euros have been spent in the last decade by the EU in cooperation programs.
13. Immigration – A mission in Libya should also aim to stop the flow of uncontrolled illegal immigration in Europe by conducting monitoring activities and asylum procedures on site.
14. Comprehensive Approach – The above elements should be applied according to the Comprehensive Approach doctrines of the European Union and NATO. This approach combines civilian and military instruments in order to provide coherent answers to the various dimensions of modern security challenges.
15. NATO-EU – The Libyan crisis offers an extraordinary opportunity for cooperation between NATO and the European Union. 22 out of 28 countries are both NATO and EU members. However, NATO and EU have never been able to find the ground for a full cooperation. In this perspective, the new NATO Secretary General and the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy can play a decisive role.
In conclusion, while the crisis in Libya constitutes a dangerous threat to national and international security, it represents also a unique opportunity to renew partnerships and strengthen the role of the Euro-Atlantic Institutions in the Mediterranean region.