Cyber Security and Emerging Threats Expanding Community Vanita Thind

The Military Intervention in Libya and the CSDP: Optimism vs. Reality

A multifaceted challenge that initiated in Tunisia became a revolutionary fervour in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. This movement became well-recognized in the international community as the Arab Uprising. To elaborate, the revolutionary fervour that began in one state had a wider impact on the rest of the MENA region, and on international peace and security. Libya is an example of this. The Libyan case elucidates how civilians have encountered life-altering changes as a result of initiating an uprising within an authoritarian state.

Protests in Libya transformed into a non-international conflict (NIAC) that urgently called for international support. Due to the regime’s failure to abide by International Humanitarian Law (IHL), EU member states implicitly adopted Resolution 1970, which resulted in the implementation of sanctions against the Libyan regime. As the conflict unravelled, further sanctions were implemented against specific individuals and corporations. The conflict continued to persist, which left the international community with the obligation to implement the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine. In accordance to the R2P doctrine, Resolution 1973 came into effect and it allowed NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. What is crucial to take away from this is the failure of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) to take an active role in this regard. Overall, EU members managed to agree on sanctions, but it still remained fragmented when it came to military force. At this point, any assurance of reaching a collective decision on Libya became hopeless. The military intervention in Libya demonstrates how the CSDP crisis management operations remain more of an aspiration than something attainable, thus their fundamental purpose cannot become a reality. In simplest terms, its contribution to international peace and security is limited because of an implementation discrepancy that stems from incoherence.

CSDP: Defining Military Intervention

The EU defines military intervention by incorporating it within a limited camp. They are limited in scope and are restricted to specific cases such as dire humanitarian situations. Most importantly, a specific military intervention must be for the common good. As a result, military interventions should coincide with international peace and security. The CSDP is meant for the following types of missions, which are known as the Petersberg missions: “evacuation, humanitarian, peacekeeping, and crisis management.” The correct categorization for these specific missions is “small wars, limited wars or low-intensity operations.” The ultimate objective for explaining the circumstances in which the CSDP is willing to intervene is to emphasize the fact that it remains optimistic. However, the unwillingness to intervene militarily in Libya, and the CSDP’s ambitious objective to counter humanitarian catastrophes via crisis management operations, shows a disparity between what the CSDP has been built for and what it actually does.

Incoherence: The National Policies of France and Germany

EU members could not agree on military intervention, but they nevertheless agreed on executing small-scale operations that fall outside of the military interventionist camp. Supporting Libyans via humanitarian support was the only mission that EU members could agree on; therefore, they unanimously voted for the creation of EUFOR Libya. EUFOR Libya stood by idly for UN approval. Due to the deteriorating circumstances within the conflict zones, it was unable to carry out its limited mission. Acquiring a unanimous vote for missions that are limited in scope is what ultimately depicts the CSDP. The fundamental issue that will continue to hinder any prospects for unilateral CSDP-initiated interventions is diverse national policies. Higher Representative, Catherine Ashton, stated that the respective positions taken by all EU members are understandable because of their sovereign right to make decisions.

It is the basis of state sovereignty that continues to fragment collective decision-making processes. For example, the argument pertaining to Germany as a “normal ally” is strong because the state was not convinced of the necessity of military intervention, as has been voiced by Ambassador Wittig. Rather than acting under international pressure, Germany argued that it was not in its national interest to intervene because the costs would override the benefits. Contrastingly, France took an active stance and its reaction to the turmoil in Libya is understood by dissecting some aspects of its foreign policy. France has procured a specific role that is considered to be proactive in the sphere of “liberal internationalism.” The state uses the UNSC as a tool for advancing its European integration and liberalist agenda. It is important to note that France promotes itself as an actor of “natural grandeur,” springing into action during humanitarian catastrophes.

The EU’s performance in Libya provides an overall understanding of why the CSDP remains inadequate. German and French perceptions on when military intervention is necessary have frequently clashed. Germany wishes to see military intervention used as a last resort, whereas France is willing to use force for the sake of protecting civilians that are directly affected by the conflict. This means that large-scale military operations will not be initiated by the CSDP. Instead, smaller scale operations dedicated to simple tasks such as humanitarian-related assistance will prevail. Since a cohort of states consisting of multiple interests will only fragment the military branch of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), unanimously voting for limited scope missions is an easier process.


Vanita Thind
Vanita completed her MA in International Conflict and Security at the University of Kent, Brussels School of International Studies. Prior to that, she received her Honours BA in International Studies from Glendon College, York University. In her final year at Glendon College, Vanita was invited to be a Junior Research Fellow for the European Union Centre of Excellence at York University for her role as a coordinating member of a conference on contemporary Germany. During Vanita’s year abroad, she was actively involved in organizing a conference on the international implications of the Arab uprisings, and she has also worked with the Home Government Department for the Model NATO Youth Summit (MoNYS 2013). Vanita’s research interests are broad, but her main focus relate to conflict resolution, international relations, the Syrian non-international armed conflict, NATO’s security policies, and international humanitarian and criminal law.