Anonymous asked: Hi Ari - I keep reading that the US continues to support its NATO allies in Libya, even without it possessing "vital interests" there. Do you have a link or direct info to explain Europe's specific, vital interests in Libya and why they decided to side with the rebels? Thanks in advance.
GR Bud West
There are a number of “strategic interest” stories to be told about Europe; I’ve quickly linked, below, to three pieces from back in March, when there was a great deal of debate in Europe about military action in Libya. There’s also one piece below from the end of May.
First, here are some possible reasons behind France’s involvement:
Sarkozy’s enthusiasm for action rested not only on his interest in protecting Libyan protesters from slaughter at the hands of Moammar Khadafy. It also reflected his desire for complete regime change, and the rest of the world has been catching up ever since.
France has a strategic interest in what happens in Libya. Geography matters, and a Mediterranean crisis, which would impact European access to Libyan oil and gas, poses a tangible security threat to the French. Already coping with immigrants from other Mediterranean nations like Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, France was facing another wave of North African refugees.
For Sarkozy, the action in Libya also represents an opportunity to redeem his government’s missteps in the revolution in Tunisia. Sarkozy, after all, recently fired his foreign minister because of allegations she was too close to Tunisia’s deposed president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Most importantly, events in Libya represent a perfect moment to redefine France as the center of Europe. For years, France has competed with, and essentially lost to, Germany for attention of the European Union and its newer members. Central Europe, and not southern Europe, was where the real action resided and Sarkozy found it difficult to shift that orientation away from his main competitor.
There is also, of course, Sarkozy’s heavy investment — of political capital, especially — in the idea of a Mediterranean Union:
During his second year in office, French President Nicolas Sarkozy initiated the formation of a Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) as part of a strategy to promote stability and prosperity in the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa.
Under Mr. Sarkozy’s proposed UfM, European, Middle Eastern, and North African countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea would form a loose economic community. It would promote political and economic liberalization and also address immigration, energy, and security issues. Sarkozy’s initiative reflects the concerns that France, Italy, and the rest of the European Union (EU) have in securing their interests in a region that is in their geographical neighborhood – and is the source of 40 percent of EU oil imports.
While oil and gas are certainly important concerns for Europe, the issue of North African immigration ought not to be downplayed:
The European strategic interest in the Arab Spring is immense. If North African economies take off now that they are no longer at the service of ruling families and their coteries, the flow of desperate immigrants into Europe will diminish.
And here, finally, is some info on the rift that opened up between European countries on Libya:
One of five nations to abstain at Thursday’s UN vote, Germany reiterated its objections to the London-Paris move to enforce a no-fly zone.
“We remain eminently sceptical on the option of military intervention,” said Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. “We see in it considerable risks and dangers… German soldiers will not take part.”
But Westerwelle sought to reassure, saying Germany “had respect and understanding” from its partners for its position, “even from those that voted in favour.”
Italy, Libya’s former colonial ruler and top trade partner, also took a softly-softly approach to the possibility of military action, but finally said it would allow its air bases to help enforce a no-fly zone if a decision were approved at the United Nations.
“In reality, the conduct of a foreign policy is how you see your strategic interests. Are the strategic interests of European countries the same?” said Brady.
Malta too has been cautious, Sweden is dragging its feet, and Austria predictably is sticking to its neutrality.
In the end, then, there are critical oil and gas issues for Europe. But this doesn’t give us the full picture of why the ouster of Gaddafi became a goal for some members of the EU. After all, there’s no reason for France and Italy to assume that siding with the Libyan rebels will mean better terms or undisturbed access to resources; siding with Gaddafi, on the other hand, might have been a better bet on this single issue. There’s the immigration issue, of course, which is a central one for Europe. And, perhaps most interestingly, there’s the idea of France — and perhaps Italy, which has long had a role in Libya — attempting to be assertive about reclaiming a role as an important actor on the world stage, especially with regard to issues affecting the Mediterranean.
Any one of these things is probably insufficient to motivate action that risks angering allies and voters, but taken together they’ve added up to the kind of vital interest that puts planes in the air.