When in May 2011 folks from the German Left made the statement that ‘the war in Libya marks a turning point in world politics,’ there were very few commentators who grasped the gravity of the military intervention and the impact on Europe. In February 2011, the then French President Nicholas Sarkozy had taken the lead to mount the diplomatic and political offensive to give legitimacy to a military intervention in North Africa. This energy of Sarkozy was in part a response to the new uprisings that had swept autocratic leaders from power in Egypt and Tunisia.
Differences between France and Germany
From the academic experts on Libya such as Dirk Vandewalle, this narrative of success was promulgated through journals with titles such as, "After Qaddafi: The Surprising Success of the New Libya.” What was intriguing about this success narrative by Vanderwalle was that it continued the view that the Libyan intervention had been a success even after the death of the US Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, had been reported internationally.
Western military journals and specialists also trumpeted the idea of success and sought to draw lessons from this spectacular achievement. This idea of success had been part of the information necessary to present the NATO intervention as a victory for the people of Libya. This view of victory had been loudly proclaimed from inside Libya by the Chairperson of the National Transitional Council. On October 23, three days after the execution of Gaddafi, the NTC leader declared that the Liberation of Libya was complete. A few days later the Secretary General of NATO, General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced the end of the NATO mission, declaring that the NATO mission to Libya had been “one of the most successful in NATO history.” Despite these celebratory statements, throughout the period after these announcements, the conditions for the peoples of Libya were deteriorating daily. A more sober assessment came from scholars of international relations who queried, "Libya as a Paradigm Shift: CSDP as Effectiveness or as Irrelevance.”
For the citizens of the United States and for many in Western Europe, the extent of the insecurity only came to life after the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya on September 11, 2012. It was in the aftermath of his passing when it was revealed to a wider audience that in the year June 2011 to June 2012, there had been 230 security incidents in Libya. These incidents were reported to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee of the U.S. Congress. It was during one hearing before the panel of this Committee that we learned that there had been daily battles all across Libya, with the levels of insecurity unprecedented in the history of Libya with over 1,700 militias operating. It can now be understood that the stories of success had been part of the military disinformation campaign that had been so central for the prosecution of the NATO military intervention. Ostensibly, because there had been “no boots on the ground,” the absence of western casualties had lulled the citizenry of the West; the intervention had depended on intelligence agencies, private military contractors and armed militias.
The existence and depth of the militias inside the society was revealed when citizens of Europe and United States learned of the levels of insecurity of the people of Libya on September 11, 2012. This was exactly eleven years after the attack on the World Trade Center. Militias that had been mobilized by the West to fight Gaddafi in Benghazi turned on the sponsors of the “successful intervention.” Every day the insecurity inside Libya endangers the lives of Libyans. Only last week, April 23, a car bomb destroyed the French Embassy in Tripoli, heightening the pressures on France to withdraw from Libya. The price of military intervention was being exposed in military, humanitarian, financial and economic terms.
The unending economic crisis in Europe has been reinforced by the diminution of European influence all across Africa and the non-aligned world. The past ten years have witnessed a considerable shift of international trade with the center of gravity shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific. When the idea of the establishment of the EURO had been floated, it had been explicitly argued that Europe needed to be independent of the US dollar. As one component of this independence, France and Britain made an agreement at St. Malo in 1998 to develop an independent military capability. This was the basis of the Common Security and Defense Policy of the EU to challenge the new US military footprint in Africa. For decades the French franc had been backed up by the wide ranging economic activities of French imperialism in Africa. France had understood that the US military engagement with Africa would undermine European hegemony in Africa. However, what France and Britain could not see was that the challenge to the EU in Africa was not coming from the United States but from China.
If this crisis is worse than the 1930s, does that mean that the militarism will be worse? This question should engage younger scholars and intellectuals who are following the rise of racism and xenophobia in Western Europe. One of the results of the Libyan intervention has been the existential crisis inside Europe in relation to the European ideation system. This crisis at the intellectual level is reinforced by an alliance with the neo-conservative forces inside the United States. Together, these elements promote austerity at the economic level and jingoism at the popular level. Throughout Africa and the Middle East there is a new generation of intellectuals who are interrogating the basic ideas of politics and society emanating from European and US universities.
Samir Amin, the Egyptian scholar called for boldness in conceptualizing alternatives. This presentation is based on that spirit of offering alternatives to militarism, exploitation and the ravaging of Africa. The fallout of the failure of Europe in Libya and the blowback ought to be the subject of detailed research and investigation. Ultimately, the triggers of war that spun out of the NATO intervention in Libya were having a tragic effect on all of the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa.
Adrian Johnson and Saqeb Mueen, Short War, Long Shadow: The Political and Military Legacies of 2011 Libyan Campaign, RUSI, 2012.