As the British-French led coalition organised through the Atlantic Alliance reaches an endgame in Libya – with the removal of the regime of Colonel Gaddafi in Tripoli – the time is right to consider some preliminary ‘big’ and geopolitical consequences of the war, as well as potential futures and options:
1. The United States has moved from a position of ‘empire by (European) invitation’ to ‘hegemony through (American) reluctance’ in the European continent and its wider proximity. President Obama’s call on Europeans to help themselves captures well America’s shifting strategy towards the broader European neighbourhood. That is to say, Washington is no longer prepared to undertake military operations in or around Europe, particularly if its own interests are not directly at stake – much to the chagrin of Europeans. If the truth be known, Europeans actually liked American imperial power, so long as they had a say in its application. Today, however, and increasingly, this imperial power is being pulled in other directions: confronted by a progressively more complicated geopolitical situation in the Asia-Pacific region, Washington is no longer willing to put Europeans first, and will only help facilitate a European operation if Europeans are willing to step up and sit in the driving seat.
2. In the face of victory, the paradox is that the Atlantic Alliance has been irrevocably weakened. Only a small handful of the allies assisted with operations in Libya, not because they necessarily did not want to help, but because they simply did not have the military resources for the challenge. The Atlantic Alliance is now a two-tier alliance, centred on Washington on one side of the Atlantic, and a London-Paris axis on the other. Without American support or a common enemy to hold it together, its future looks far from bright.
3. Unfortunately, the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy, and to a large degree, the Common Foreign and Security Policy, are both dead in the water. In fact, they have sunk to the bottom of the lake. They will remain there until true leadership can be found. For the next few years, European military co-operation will take place primarily through bilateral agreements, or small groups of countries collaborating in niche areas. Meanwhile, European military spending will continue to decline, even in the United Kingdom – and European power will fade with it (while countries in Asia invest ever more heavily in their armed forces, particularly on equipment to project power over long distances).
4. The British-French alliance has been strengthened and consolidated – indeed, the alliance is rumoured to be closer than at any time since the end of the Second World War. The two allies have shown that, irrespective of military cuts, they still have, if they work together – with 130 million people and almost ten percent of world military spending – the means to enforce their will. They have undertaken over half of all strike sorties against forces loyal to the former Tripoli regime and have provided the political support necessary to remove it from power. Both London and Paris seem to have finally realised that closer co-operation is the only option, unless they want to sink together.
5. Berlin’s stubbornness and lack of support – almost voting against the United Nations Security Council resolution to sweep Colonel Gaddafi from power and its subsequent decision to remove naval assets from the Mediterranean during the British-French led air campaign – suggest that Germany may be departing from both the Atlantic and the European mainstreams. It is still uncertain where this might lead.
6. Britain’s strategic defence review, undertaken last year, has been shown to be a farce. It did not foresee the Libyan crisis, and threatens to remove further assets which made the operation possible. If David Cameron does not increase British military spending in 2015, a key component of London’s international reach, power and authority will almost certainly be lost forever – with serious implications for the future of the British military-industrial base; Britain’s equal position vis-à-vis France in the British-French alliance; or Britain’s ability to meet a potential new threat from Russia, not least if the Russians ‘elect’ Vladimir Putin back as president in 2012 and/or if Moscow continues to reinvest heavily in its armed forces.
7. Turkey is positioning itself as an increasingly important force in the southern European Neighbourhood and the Middle East. Mr. Erdogan has been recently welcomed by large crowds in Libya, after a successful public relations tour in North Africa (including stops in Egypt and Tunisia). Particularly important in this regard has been his warning about the dangers of ‘external’ (European) meddling in Libya. Further, Ankara’s denunciations of the Damascus regime and calls for Bashar al-Assad to step down illustrate a co-ordinated effort by Turkey to portray itself as the main supporter of democracy in the broader Middle East. And Turkey’s growing assertiveness and appeal in the Arab world is compounded by an increasingly bellicose attitude towards the State of Israel, which was until very recently a close Turkish ally.
8. Despite recent European inroads in Libya, the evolution of the country is far from settled. Internal strife and penetration by other foreign powers – not least Turkey, but also China – threaten its stability and future democratisation. Only the European Union can marshal the resources (financial, political and military) necessary to guarantee enduring stability. Brussels’ financial resources and know-how in the area of security sector reform must be urgently put at the disposal of the Transitional National Council. Given the likelihood of pockets of resistance within Libya, any European effort to contribute to that country’s stability might also need to include military elements. Crucially, the European Union must work to develop a comprehensive political and economic relationship through the fast-tracking of the European Union-Libya framework agreement and Tripoli’s full participation in the European Neighbourhood Policy. This will help to ensure the young democracy’s prosperity – as well as a friendly relationship with the European Union.
9. Beyond Libya, the broader European Neighbourhood is still in play. Europeans must develop a more strategic and forward-looking approach towards their Southern Neighbourhood, including the Middle East. Those regions, not least the Levant – along with the Eastern Neighbourhood – are of critical importance to European security. Against the backdrop of ongoing turmoil and instability, animated by great demographic pressures and a strong feeling of dispossession among many young Arabs, the best way for Europeans to ensure their lasting influence in their Southern Neighbourhood is to constitute themselves as the leaders of democratic transition. Brussels must lead the charge in support of constitutional government and economic prosperity; stability and free markets will generate prosperity, improving living conditions in countries in the European Neighbourhood and feeding back into the system in a virtuous circle. What this means in terms of ‘concrete policies’ is still uncertain: at the very least, it will mean retaining a high level of control over whatever governments emerge out of the ashes of the revolts by encouraging their integration into the European Neighbourhood. Brussels must think harder about how to constitute a new geography of European power – and fast.