Libya and the Challenges to International Organizations

Nuova immagineThe Libyan crisis is emblematic of the need for a modern system of international organizations able to face the interconnected threats and challenges of the present globalized world in a timely manner. Notwithstanding the dramatic gesture by Mohamed Bouazizi – a young Tunisian vendor, who in December 2010 not only set himself on fire, but also the hearts and minds of the new generations throughout the greater Middle East – the response of international organizations to the unrest in the Arab-Muslim countries revealed a lack of vision and leadership in managing the crisis.  The uncertainties at the European and transatlantic level, and the consequent slow pace of the political decision-making process, do not keep up with today’s rapid development of international events, as reflected by the Libyan crisis.

Although from the very start of the clashes in Libya NATO had declared its readiness to act as part of a broad international effort in support to the UN, the EU, and the Arab League, one month has passed before the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 establishing a no-fly zone over the Libyan air space. In the meantime, Muammar Gaddafi’s forces have been given the chance to regain control over most of the national territory. Consequently, the implementation of the no-fly zone has turned out to be much more demanding and costly than had it been established earlier. Now that a new NATO-centered coalition launch “Odyessey Dawn” to protect Libyan civilians, it has committed itself to at least forestalling the advance Gaddafi’s forces, if not outright regime change. How well the coalitions holds together should give us an idea of how far we still need to go in creating a cohesive humanitarian rapid-response effort.

As such, Resolution 1973 represents a cornerstone consolidating a modern concept of “human security” and of “responsibility to protect” civilians that provides member states with a strong legitimacy to act nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements to “take all necessary measures” to “protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack” in the framework of a no-fly zone.Accordingly, regimes and dictators can no longer shield their brutal and systematic violence against citizens behind the confines of national sovereignty and the principle of non-interference in internal affairs.

Resolution 1973 definitely overcomes the old notion of national security by confirming that the proper referent for security is today the individual rather than the state. The concept was concretely applied for the first time by NATO on the occasion of the 1999 intervention in Kosovo. Afterwards, the General Assembly Sixtieth Anniversary World Summit Outcome 2005 officially declared: “Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” UN Security Council Resolution 1973 reinforces state responsibility to protect civilians against Gaddafi and constitutes the legal basis for future intervention in similar cases.

The people-centered view and the human security concept at the basis of Resolution 1973 should be considered by the coalition of the willing and by the international organizations as an extraordinary opportunity to re-think their strategies in the greater Middle East and to open a new phase of engagement in the area. It is where the future role of international organizations will be to the test.

The turmoil across the region disclosed the limits of the present system of international organizations, whose various programs in the area proved to be inadequate to assure security and stability and to promote good governance and economic and social development. At least 15 programs and institutions are active in the region but lack a coordinated strategy and offer the partner countries a confused menu.

As outlined by the new NATO Strategic Concept, the future action of the international organizations must be guided by a modern “cooperative security” concept and based on a comprehensive and coordinated approach capable to effectively undertake higher responsibilities in order to cope with the new threats and challenges. This is particularly true in the greater Middle East. Although terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction remain the highest priority threats, the unrest in the Arab countries indeed illustrates that most of the instability factors to be comprehensively addressed are political, economic, and social in nature rather than military.

In order to tackle them, the US Administration proposed a Greater Middle East Initiative to the G8 Summit of Sea Island in June 2004. The set of proposals was not adopted, because of the transatlantic rift over the US-led military intervention in Iraq. And yet, it had merit of urging key international organizations to re-think and reinforce their engagement in the broader region stretching from Marrakesh to Bangladesh. Therefore, parts of the initiative were split and adopted in other international fora, such as the UN Alliance of Civilizations program or the NATO Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI), which was launched a few days after the G8 Summit. Moreover, the G8 proposed a Partnership for Progress & Common Future, involving the Arab League countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey, while the OSCE attempted to recover its Mediterranean Partnership dating back to 1975.

The EU tried to improve its regional outreach by complementing the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EUROMED) and the Barcelona Process with two other mechanisms: the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), which also extended to the southern Mediterranean countries, and the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM). Actually, these programs were confined mostly to the public diplomacy dimension and large amounts of funds were committed without a proportional outcome.

The case of the Barcelona Process of the European Union is illustrative. Sixteen years later, the EUROMED economic and politico-security “baskets” remain empty. Both the free trade area, which was expected to launch in 2010, and the Euro-Mediterranean Charter for Peace and Stability are far from coming to fruition. Furthermore, Gaddafi and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan were the only non-EU leaders from the Southern Mediterranean who attended the 2005 celebration for the tenth anniversary of the Barcelona Process. The cultural “basket” achieved a better record, primarily in the educational field, but it is not enough to fulfill EUROMED ambitions and, above all, funding. The same applies to the ENP, whose financial support of € 12 billion for the 2007-2013 time frame in non-strategic sectors has raised arguments among the EU southern Mediterranean countries. On the other hand, UfM, despite a sensational opening ceremony in 2008, appears to lack leadership and operational structure.

In this context, NATO constitutes an exception. Its focus on security and defense helped in identifying issues of common concern with partners in the greater Middle East, thus allowing an increase in dialogue and practical cooperation within the Mediterranean Dialogue (MD) and the countries of the Gulf participating in the ICI. To date, numerous programs and activities are underway encompassing relevant areas such as training, security sector reform, modernization of armed forces, joint exercises, intelligence sharing, crisis management, and public diplomacy.

NATO’s action and vital interest in the Greater Middle East is complemented by the leading role of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, as well as the NATO Training Mission in Iraq and the Active Endeavor’s counter-terrorism operation in the Mediterranean Sea.

Moreover, NATO has been playing since the start a crucial role in support of the international efforts in the ongoing Libyan crisis. Its air and maritime assets ensure an increased situational awareness, including surveillance and monitoring with regard to the arms embargo the UN Security Council endorsed in Resolution 1970. Readiness for humanitarian assistance has been declared by Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, as well as planning for appropriate action to implement the Resolution 1973.

In the management of the Libyan crisis, NATO is undoubtedly playing a key role and translating into action the indications of the new Strategic Concept which lists among its core tasks a “cooperative security” model and reinforced partnerships. Relations with the UN, the EU, the Arab League, and the African Union should be enhanced and should be complemented by a new NATO approach with partners participating in the Mediterranean Dialogue and in the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. It is by a system of “interlocking” and “mutually reinforcing” institutions, as envisaged by the Rome Declaration issued on occasion of the 1991 NATO Summit, that a new synergic and more effective approach of the international organizations towards the greater Middle East must be based.

On the contrary, a cautious approach should be considered with regard to the relations with those national authorities and representatives, who are sometimes the real cause of the lack of economic and social reforms. In these cases, cooperation and programs agreed on a bilateral basis could provide an official acknowledgment and could reinforce the authoritarian regimes the programs intend to change.

A careful balance should also be sought between the multilateral and the bilateral approach of the programs in the area. While the bilateral initiatives are usually more suitable to strengthen North-South relations, they might also raise suspicions in neighboring countries. On the other hand, while a multilateral approach can better promote South-South cooperation, it has proven to be particularly difficult to launch in the framework of the NATO Mediterranean Dialogue, due to the presence of Israel delaying for over 10 years the possibility of a multilateral meeting.

Finally, a new higher level of ambition should be set for future programs of the international organizations that, until now, have never addressed the major security issues of the region, such as the Arab-Israel and the case of Iran.

To meet these challenges, the major constraint to dialogue and cooperation with and among countries in the greater Middle East might be fading away because of today’s turmoil. Although the ongoing instability might facilitate radicalism, a new and better order has the opportunity to emerge from this volatile scenario. Should positive change prevail, the international organizations could establish a dialogue and cooperation with new actors willing to carry out structural reforms opposed by previous rulers. As stated by NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in addressing the Libyan crisis, “Democracy is the only solid basis for long-lasting stability,” thus calling upon the United Nations, the European Union, the Arab League, and the African Union to support “the democratic movement that is sweeping the region.”

A failure to achieve a stable and prosperous greater Middle East would constitute a major setback for the international organizations as legitimate and authoritative institutions of global governance. Their future is at stake and depends on how effectively they will tackle the challenges of the current volatile scenario, including nuclear proliferation. For the security of the international community, success is not just an option due to the distressing signs of political, economic, and social malaise that are also being sent from the heart of the African continent, from the South of the South. Fulfilling our responsibilities in the greater Middle East will prepare us and our partners to face what comes next.

(Longitude – The Italian Monthly of Foreign Affairs, n. 3, April 2011)