Time for Canada to take action in support of Libya

As Libya descends into what could become another all-out civil war, it is important to take stock of the worsening situation. But first let us recall the devastating role that NATO played in turning that country into a failed state in the first place, with Canadian General Charles Bouchard commanding the 2011 NATO air campaign, ostensibly to protect Libyan civilians on the ground from attacks by their then government.

General Bouchard appears to blame the UN for the ensuing chaos. See: NATO’s Canadian commander in Libya ‘disappointed’ with the lack of progress (Susana Mas, cbc.ca, 29 July 2014):

Once the mission was finished we handed over the mission to a very limited UN organization which was limited in scope, limited in its mission, and limited in numbers — which certainly I would have assessed as insufficient to accomplish the stability objective that we set for ourselves.

He was right, of course, to criticize the weakness of the UN mission but failed to mention the reason for its limited mandate — the lack of Russian cooperation in the UN Security Council. This, in turn, was a direct result of NATO’s clear violation of the UN Security Council mandate to which Russia had previously agreed, for humanitarian protection of civilians in Libya and not for coercive regime change.

In the blunt words of Canadian journalist and former soldier Scott Taylor, in a 2017 article:

It quickly became evident that what NATO achieved was not regime change — in the absence of a replacement administration, we plunged Libya into a state of violent anarchy….

And it is to the UK, and not the Canadian, parliament we must turn for a detailed accounting of this abject failure in coercive state building:

In March 2011, the United Kingdom and France, with the support of the United States, led the international community to support an intervention in Libya to protect civilians from attacks by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi. This policy was not informed by accurate intelligence. In particular, the Government failed to identify that the threat to civilians was overstated and that the rebels included a significant Islamist element. By the summer of 2011, the limited intervention to protect civilians had drifted into an opportunist policy of regime change. That policy was not underpinned by a strategy to support and shape post-Gaddafi Libya. The result was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL in North Africa.

So reads the devastating summary of the UK’s House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Report on NATO 2011 Libya Intervention.

Current situation in Libya as fighting intensifies again

On Thursday, 17 April, mortar bombs crashed down on a suburb of Tripoli after two weeks of an offensive by the eastern Libyan forces of Khalifa Haftar. This notorious warlord has his sights firmly fixed on the Libyan capital, which is currently held by the internationally recognized Government of National Accord.

“We say to the United Nations and the Security Council: listen. Listen to the bombing… Rockets are coming down on us….” said Youssef Salem, a displaced man from al-Suani.

Incredibly, after all the damage we have done, western allies are still backing rival factions and even breaching the UN arms embargo in the process*.

“We’re tracking reports of all kinds of weapons or systems coming in. We have seen multiple reports of weapons flowing in,” Stephanie Williams, the deputy head of the UN mission to Libya, said in an interview from Tripoli on Monday.

What can be done?

The International Crisis Group, in its latest report on how to avert another full-blown war in Libya, believes that the international community has a huge role to play in preventing further escalation and getting a reconstituted peace process back on track.

Accordingly, they make the following proposals:

  • Members of the UN Security Council should call for an immediate cessation of hostilities, and impose sanctions on political leaders and military commanders seeking to escalate further instead of standing down;
  • Regional powers should refrain from militarily backing the offensive, and reaffirm their support for UN-led negotiations;
  • The U.S. should call on Arab capitals to refrain from fuelling the war, and redouble efforts to persuade both sides to accept a previously proposed compromise agreement that would see military command in the hands of a national security council.

See: Averting a Full-blown War in Libya (Crisisgroup.org, 10 April 2019).

Whither Canada?

Our country having played such a direct role in the destruction of Libya, it is fitting we end this commentary with the question:

What is Canada doing NOW to support the Libyan peace process, including ensuring strict enforcement of the UN arms embargo?


Photo credit: Aljazeera.com (Soldiers of General Haftar)

*The link to the UK Independent newspaper article may take some time to load due to the fact that it also includes a video. Apologies for the delay, but it is worth the wait.

Tags: France, General Khalifa Haftar, International Crisis Group (ICG), Italy, Libya, Libyan Government of National Accord, Libyan National Army (LNA), Muammar Gaddafi, NATO, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, U.N. Security Council, UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, UK’s House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Report on NATO 2011 Libya Intervention., UN arms embargo, UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), United Arab Emirates (UAE)