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Of Libya Criticism and Fears of European Armies By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

cameronSo, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee has chosen to severely criticised the intervention by Britain and France that led to the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. So be it and while I can agree some points made in the report there are others that I do not.

It would of course be ridiculous to suggest that, with the benefit of hindsight, when the international coalition led by Britain and France launched a campaign of air and missile strikes against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces back in March 2011, following the regime’s threat to attack the rebel-held city of Benghazi, that it would have been far better to have follow up plans in existence too. But I would suggest that with the best will in the world when, just three weeks before the decision was taken that Thursday afternoon by the Government with the apparent support of most on the newly formed National Security Council, we had absolutely no idea that we might be involved in Libya, it is just not always possible to have a forward political and infrastructure plan of what would need to be done post the military action part of ‘Op Ellamy’.

Listening to BBC World Service earlier this morning there was a reported comment that the then Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, had some reservations about the Libya plan. He probably did and rightly so which is why I find it rather surprising that the then highest ranking military officer in the land was not interviewed by the foreign affairs select committee during its investigation into Libya. The Committee’s report has also questioned whether the National Security Council for which ‘Op Ellamy’ was actually the first military operation that they had been asked to look at and sanction, had worked well enough and there appears to be an auto suggestion from this that then Prime Minister, David Cameron, had forced the matter through to the conclusion he wanted.

While Mr. Cameron was undoubtedly in full support of UK forces being involved in Libya alongside our French NATO allies I find it difficult to believe that even though this was on his watch that he alone should be singled out. It was in my view absolutely right that Britain should play the role in Libya that it did. Yes, it would have been very much better had their also been a long term reconstruction and support plan along with better realisation of the political consequences of what we were doing but when faced with a situation that required a fast response these things are , as we witnessed in Iraq, not always possible.

I am in no way wishing to criticise many of the conclusions that the foreign affairs select committee arrived at but I do take issue with any suggestion that the National Security Council did not do its work properly. Indeed, the House of Commons Defence Select Committee itself concluded the following year when it looked at operations in Libya that the National Security Council appears to have worked well in respect of the situation in Libya, particularly in coordinating the response of Government Departments.

At its peak, some 2,300 British servicemen and women were deployed on Op Ellamy the UK deployed 32 Royal Air Force aircraft including 16 Panavia Tornado GR4s using weapons that included Storm Shadow and Brimstone air-launched guided missiles, six Typhoons, five Army attack helicopters, VC-10 refuelling tankers plus a range of specialist surveillance aircraft and helicopters. Over the course of the operation which had begun on the 19th March 2011 and ended on the 31st October that year, the UK had also deployed eight Royal Navy warships and attack submarines. In total the Royal Air Force flew 3,000 sorties over Libya of which 2,000 had been strike sorties. Total NATO sorties conducted (26,281 sorties and 9,646 strike sorties as of 23 October 2011) the UK’s contribution totals approximately 11% of overall sorties and 20% of strike sorties.

In reply to Select Committee criticism the Foreign Office said that it [Libya] had been an international decision to intervene and that the actions had been called for by the Arab League and authorised by the UN Security Council. This is of course correct and I would also question the criticism that the intervention in Libya had not been “informed by accurate intelligence”.

But I can hardly disagree with criticism that because we had no forward plan of what to do after Muammar Gaddafi was toppled, that Libya was allowed to descend into violence, the formation of rival governments together with allowing the formation of hundreds of militias and that this played into the hands of another enemy that is against freedom, Daesh.

I would also take issue that, with the formal backing of the National Security Council, accusations that the Committee makes that “the Government failed to identify that the threat to civilians [in Libya and particularly in Benghazi] was overstated and that it [HMG] had “selectively taken elements of Gaddafi’s rhetoric at face value”. However, there is some truth in the accusation that the limited intervention to protect civilians may have drifted into an opportunist policy of regime change. Understandable to a point though this is, the real weakness of government policy on Libya, as the Committee makes plain, was that once again the Government had failed to learn the lessons of history and very quickly underpin the military elements of Op Ellamy with a strategy to support and shape a post-Gaddafi Libya.

In saying what I have I am not suggesting that the former Prime Minister and the Coalition Government always got it right in defence and security matters. Far from it in fact as SDSR 2010 later provide but I do take the view that the reasons why Mr. Cameron and his then Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Liam Fox, fully supported our going into Libya was taken for all the right reasons. Unfair comments this morning suggesting that Libya is in terms of legacy to Mr. Cameron what Chilcot has been to Tony Blair leave me cold.

Of European Armies

When the head of the European Commission says that the European Union (EU) lacks unity and faces the danger of an unprecedented rise of “galloping populism,” the hope in Brussels is that all member states are listening and that they will, in a post Brexit environment, all come together.

Delivering his annual “State of the Union” address, Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, said that there was still “a lack of union” in the EU and that “this has something to do with the crisis in the EU”. “There are” he said “too many areas where the scope in which we cooperate together is too small and national interests are brought to the fore. European integration cannot be left or bow to the interests of individual members states”. Whilst failing to mention the specific words ‘European Army’ the Commission President went on to say that terrorism was also a threat and that a “collective approach” was needed to tackle it. “We need to show terrorists that they have no chance when they try to attack (European) values.”

There remains a lingering belief by some that with Britain setting out on a long journey to leave the EU that this will increase the impetus for forming a European Army. True, integrating defence in the EU has been a long held dream of federalists but if my judgement is correct there is little if any mood within EU member states to hand over more sovereign power and decision making to Brussels. But the message from me is forget it – it just won’t happen as there is neither sufficient political will, reason nor finances available to do it. Quite simply, whatever Germany and France might want, the days of passing more sovereign control to Brussels are over.

While there can be little doubt that amongst a small handful of member states the ideal of integrated defence policy and strategy along with forming the so-called European Army remains. But note that since the UK decided to leave the EU while Germany and France have been talking about deepening defense links and closer European military cooperation they have seemingly dispensed with the term ‘European Army’.

German, French and some other proponents of closer defence cooperation suggest that this is needed to reduce costly duplication of defence capability production. The French would of course love to see themselves as being prime suppliers of defence equipment across the future 27 EU member states. Some in both France and Germany would still like to see integrated foreign and security policy as well but with little mood for more integration I don’t expect that idea will see the light of day any time soon.

While the formation of an EU Army is unlikely to see the light of day, in my view, we could yet see more sharing of military assets amongst EU member states. France and Germany are in a very good position to do this and interestingly, even though the UK will be out of the EU in four or five years, French/UK cooperation on defence capability, action and support is unlikely to change whether the UK is a member of the EU or not.

Nevertheless, as I wrote UK Defence 257 back in late June, the central issue here is that all European countries need to spend more on defence. Without Britain as a member of the EU to argue that NATO is and should remain the overriding military force in terms of maintaining peace and stability, any talk of more defence integration occurring in Europe can and will damage the status quo of NATO. , would be foolhardy. Indeed, one may naturally be concerned as to the soon to be silent impact of the UK’s intended departure as a member of the EU.

The European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC), an in-house think-tank of the European Commission, highlighted last year that a divided Europe fails. We can all agree with that and in regard to defence it is in very large part due to NATO that, from a military perspective, peace and stability has been maintained in Europe since the organisation was founded in April 1949. NATO remains a formidable military force and it does not need internally based obstacles to further progress.

But, as I said earlier, all countries in Europe including each and every EU member state must spend more money on defence. As a whole, note that between 2005 and 2014 spending on defence in Europe declined by 9% whilst that of spending on defence in the US over the same period had declined by a mere 0.4%. Note too that Russia all but doubled its expenditure on defence over that same period whilst China increased spending on defence by a massive 167%. These are messages that should not be allowed to be lost in and silly notions that the EU may have of military integration that is meant to be a challenger to NATO. Neither, from a defence spending aspect, must the same point be lost in the UK or by any of its NATO allies.

For countries such as Germany and France that are both top ten leading world economies to suggest that sharing resources may be the only way to sustain adequate military forces and capability makes little sense. Yes, I get the message about industrial strengths that can sometimes occur when, from capability research, development and investment, point of view that pooling together of the missile systems companies of France, Italy and the UK to form MBDA really has worked. But sadly, I see too few other possibilities for defence industrial cooperation and fewer still for military cooperation outside of the NATO Command structure.

To tamper with the notion that NATO remains the only organisation able to maintain the long held peace and stability of Europe and to provide the peoples of Europe with genuine security is foolhardy. As East of England MEP Geoffrey Van Orden who is the Conservative Party’s defense spokesman in the Brussels parliament is quoted as saying earlier today, “Creation of EU defense structures, separate from NATO, will only lead to division between transatlantic partners at a time when solidarity is needed in the face of many difficult and dangerous threats to the democracies.”

CHW (London – 14th September 2016)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS


Tel: 07710-779785


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