Military Intervention in Libya: The Renewal of the Tuareg’s Self-Determination

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The history of the Tuareg is the one of a population deprived of its resources, land and identity. Originally from the Sahel, the Saharan part of Mali, Niger and Algeria, the Tuareg have often been left without any source of subsistence. The rampant desertification of the Sahel has affected their capacity of survival in their homeland: droughts and excessive heat have made the region infertile. Colonialism was not beneficial for the Tuareg either. In fact, the creation of borders in the Sahel limited their nomadic lifestyle, on which their sustainment was based, through trade and the protection of trans-Saharan caravans. Their traditional identity has been challenged for decades, and has led them first to rebel, unsuccessfully, and then adapt to the new circumstances emigrating to neighboring states. Gaddafi offered them as an alternative the possibility to enroll in his army, which seemed the best solution to keep the group away from hunger and revolts. However, the events of 2011 proved that the arrangement between Gaddafi and the Tuareg was volatile, and susceptible to the changing power dynamics in Libya.

The NATO intervention in Libya, driven by reasons that we discuss in the next sections, is argued to have had unexpected effects not only in the country, but also in the region. The Tuareg, who seemed to have stabilized under Gaddafi’s rule, were unleashed when his regime fell, and their strive for the self-affirmation of their identity was reignited when their responsibility in Libya’s army came to an end. Aiming to create their own nation in northern Mali, they formed the NMLA, and started their way back to their homeland, armed with the old regime’s weapons.

Several other groups surged from the intervention, but we focus on the case of the NMLA because of its peculiarity. In fact, its creation did not merely affect the dynamics of Libya, but it also had an impact on neighboring countries, especially on Mali, where a civil war was sparked following the NMLA’s arrival. Moreover, because external intervention has influenced their existence at various points in history, the Tuareg offer an emblematic case, substantial to examine the relation between foreign intervention, the development of rebel groups and their consequent spillover. Through an analysis of this relation, we aim to identify the faults of military intervention in Libya, and which actions or decisions led to the formation of the NMLA. Examining the case of Libya, with a special focus on the post bellum period, we try to recognize the errors committed by NATO and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), in order to present the parts of the intervention that would need to be revisited in similar future occurrences. Throughout the essay, when referring to the term ‘intervention’, we are speaking of the use of force as a means to stop or prevent gross abuses of human rights in a state unwilling or incapable to protect its own citizens. Intervention is considered to violate a state’s sovereignty, while pursuing humanitarian objectives (De Waal and Omaar, 2015).

To assess the extent of the influence of foreign involvement on the creation and fortification of the NMLA, we employ both theoretical approaches regarding the effectiveness of external intervention, and empirical and historical analyses concerning the Tuareg as an ethnic group. First, we review past humanitarian interventions to understand how they have been related to the development of rebel movements. Have there been any visible patterns linking foreign intervention and the creation of dissenting groups? Based on findings confirming our question, we start the analysis of our case study in the second section. The historical background of the Tuareg is examined, with a specific emphasis on the effect that colonialism had on the group, and on the reasons leading to its strong tie with Gaddafi’s regime. The third part concerns the most recent history of the Tuareg, related to NATO intervention in Libya. UNSC resolutions are analyzed, in order to present an evaluation of the discourse that led to the intervention and the consequent rise of the NMLA. In the fourth section, we deconstruct the Libya intervention, identify its faults and, lastly, we propose a better approach to crisis and intrastate conflicts, preferring more peaceful and less militarized approaches.

Foreign Intervention and the Emergence of Rebel Groups and Social Movements

After years of indecision and inertia, a new momentum for humanitarian intervention had finally arrived. In February 2011, a multi-state coalition led a military intervention in Libya, following the 1973 Resolution of the UNSC. President Gaddafi was killed in October, after a seemingly effective and swift action, and part of the international community rejoiced for the success. The events were considered a ‘triumph’, a ‘spectacular step forward’ for the politics of intervention (Hehir, 2013: 139). Even though optimism pervaded the majority of commentatorsad bellum and in bello, what happened after the 2011 events left the international audience more perplexed about the consequences of Gaddafi’s fall. A power vacuum fed the aspirations of several rebel groups, one of which being the NMLA, a movement led by Tuareg ex-militaries of Gaddafi that, well-trained and armed, went back to their land in northern Mali, to create a new state. The NMLA’s return sparked an actual civil war in the country, proving that humanitarian intervention can lead to unwanted consequences. To understand the extent of external influence in the reinvigoration of the NMLA, we examine different theories supported by case studies of past interventions. First, we analyze the theory that humanitarian intervention can prevent civil wars and rebel groups’ spillovers; then, we study how the lack of foreign intervention can spark rebel movements; and lastly, we prove how foreign intervention is mostly a cause for the emergence of rebel and social movements in the world.

Foreign Intervention Can Prevent Civil Wars and the Spillover of Rebel Groups

Several studies have proven that a third party intervention can prevent the spillover of civil wars and rebel groups in neighboring countries. If the intervening state has ties with other actors in the region, or if the conflict poses a threat to its population, it is useful to interfere with the conflict and maintain regional stability (Kathman, 2011). An example of a third party’s intervention caused by the possible proliferation of a civil war is represented by the case of Kosovo. It can be argued that the United States (US) and NATO’s deliberations over intervention in the conflict between the Serbs and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) were mostly inspired by a struggle to contain the quarrel and prevent it from expanding it to the whole Balkan region (Garamone, 1999). In fact, the US and NATO had several regional interests: the maintenance of trade relations with neighboring states, the expansion of NATO memberships into Eastern Europe, and the protection of the US’s reputation as a provider of peace in Europe, among others (Kathman, 2011: 851). The US/NATO intervention in Kosovo fulfilled its objective of preventing the spread of rebel clashes and it was considered a success (Solana, 1999). Another case is the one of Somalia in 2007. Following a dramatic escalation of violence, Ethiopia decided to intervene there to reduce the violent clashes. While the fighting did not cease, the Ethiopian military managed to establish a government and defeated the rebellious Islamic Courts Union, decreasing the chaos and the risk of spillover (Kathman, 2011: 852). Kosovo and Somalia seemed to be successful examples of external intervention.

However, some criticize the theory that foreign intervention can prevent or end civil wars. Paradoxically, they believe that the same existence of intervention, especially for humanitarian reasons, can support the creation of rebel groups. Alan Kuperman (2008: 219) argues that the norm of humanitarian intervention ‘resembles a social insurance policy to protect ethnic groups against genocide and ethnic cleansing’, which can lead minorities to stage moral hazards. Some groups may rebel ‘despite the risk of provoking state retaliation, because they expect any resulting atrocities to attract intervention that facilitates their rebellion’ (Kuperman, 2008: 219). In the case of Kosovo, the KLA initiated a risky rebellion hoping for a brutal response of the Serb government that would have led the international community to intervene in their favor (Nzelibe, 2008). Their call was heard, but it might have not. Igniting your own oppression may not be enough to convince states to intervene, as the case of Darfur has shown.

The Lack of Foreign Intervention Can Spark Civil Wars and the Creation of Rebel Movements

The possibility of attracting humanitarian intervention inspired rebel leaders to ‘escalate their provocative behavior against the dominant group’ (Nzelibe, 2009: 35) in Kosovo as much as in Darfur. The main difference between the two cases is that, in the latter, no intervention occurred. The struggle of Darfur’s rebel movements to provoke international attention about the discrimination perpetuated by the Sudanese government against non-Arabs did not succeed. The government of Sudan was not halted when it supported the Janjaweed, an Arab ethnic militia, to suppress the rebellion (Udombana, 2005). No Responsibility to Protect (R2P) rhetoric was implemented in Darfur, even though the violence committed by the Janjaweed had been defined a crime against humanity, a genocide (UN News Center, 2007). The mere existence of humanitarian intervention as an international norm did not protect the rebel movements, who refused to bargain with the Sudanese government, hoping for a foreign support that never arrived.

Darfur is the most significant evidence of the deleterious consequences deriving from a lack of intervention. Humanitarian intervention as a norm encourages insurgent movements to retaliate even if the international community has not yet committed to intervene, risking to spark a full-blown civil war (Kuperman, 2008). The lack of foreign intervention in countries witnessing brutal genocides can be explained by inconsistent and inefficient responses of the UNSC to intrastate crisis, hijacked by its Five Permanent Members (P5) and the role played by their national interests (Hehir, 2013). The UNSC inconsistency and inefficiency can be found also in cases when intervention actually occurred.

Foreign Intervention Can Spark Civil Wars and the Creation of Rebel Movements

Our research thesis supports the idea that rebel movements and civil wars can be stirred by foreign intervention. In fact, the two statements analyzed previously do not seem to be truthful, especially if applied to Libya, the case study that we examine in the upcoming sections. We can identify two reasons for the inconsistency of the first statement: first, the Kosovo intervention, considered the most successful by the majority of commentators, can be dismantled using Kuperman’s (2008) theory affirming that the KLA escalated its own oppression in order to attract foreign support; second, Ethiopia’s intervention in Somalia to defeat the Islamic Courts Union and reestablish stability was just momentarily effective. The two examples actually showed little support for the effectiveness of intervention as a preventive measure for civil wars and rebel groups’ creation. The second statement is not useful for our research either because the causes of a crisis like Darfur were not the lack of intervention per se, but the reliance of oppressed groups on the inconsistent and controversial norms of humanitarian intervention.

Since the previous statements were discarded, we analyze the way foreign intervention has led to the creation of rebel movements and conflicts providing evidence from the past. We examine two factors, already introduced by Aidan Hehir (2013), for the failure of intervention: its inefficiency post-action, and its inconsistency through time.

The debate about the inefficiency of foreign intervention especially regards the jus post bellum and the intervening countries. How much should they be involved in state-building in the post-conflict period (Pugh, 2008)? The R2P Report stresses not only the importance of the responsibility to prevent and protect, but also the responsibility to rebuild, last but not less vital part of any intervention (ICISS, 2001). States should reconcile warring parties, promote security for every citizen and stimulate development in the post-conflict country (ICISS, 2001). However, it could be argued that this pillar of humanitarian intervention has often been underrated, and that intervening states have often not expressed any serious commitment to help rebuild a state and its stability (Murray, 2013). Not implementing the responsibility to rebuild robustly and effectively can result in a failure of the whole intervention.

Various cases have proven that a weakly executed jus post bellum can actually reinforce rebel social movements and spark even longer civil wars. US intervention in Somalia in 1992-3 is an example: before leaving, the US failed to disarm the warlords that were oppressing the country to avoid American casualties, consequently sparking further guerrilla warfare (Kaldor, 2001: 120). In Afghanistan, after the overthrow of the Taliban, the population found itself divided between different ethnicities struggling for power (Saleh, 2012). Interventions in Somalia and Afghanistan seem to have intensified and prolonged the conflict. Iraq is another controversial case because of the weak measures taken post bellum. Since the Persian Gulf War, the US and the West have failed to deal correctly with the country. In 1990, Iraqi Kurds and Shiites, incited by Bush, rebelled against Saddam Hussein, believing that the US would send military forces to assist them. Unfortunately, ‘Bush decided to end the war just 100 hours after the ground invasion had begun’ (Valentino, 2011: 65) allowing Saddam to kill perhaps 20,000 Kurds and 30,000–60,000 Shiites. It is believed that the US interventions in Iraq actually deepened the Sunni/Shia divide that continues to afflict the region (PeaceBrief, 2013). 2003 was for Iraq the beginning of an even darker era, since the West-led intervention left the country divided into sectarian groups, all hoping to occupy the power vacuum that the US had barely tried to fill. Not only inefficient post conflict strategies have led to the strengthening of rebel movements and ethnic divides, but also lack of uniformity through time.

The inconsistency of foreign intervention can be identified analyzing the gap between rhetoric and practice of the UNSC P5. In fact, when higher values have been mentioned by the P5, less noble interests have often been hidden behind their rhetoric. This has led to disastrous consequences. Taking the 2003 Iraq intervention as an example, the reason driving it was the removal of Saddam, who had ties with Al-Qaeda, weapons of mass destruction and was about to start a civil war; none of these reasons were founded, but oil and geopolitics turned out to be the hidden interests of the intervention (Cohn, 2013). Since the intervention lacked of serious post bellum commitments, and the humanitarian values were a mere façade, the mission was a failure that had several repercussion on the country. The intervention in Libya had a similar origin. Justified by concerns for the Libyan population and real stability, at a closer look the intervention was driven by the West’s interests in oil and by its frictions with Gaddafi’s administration; moreover, China and Russia did not veto the intervention not to deteriorate their relation with the African Union (AU) and the League of Arab States (LAS), both against Gaddafi (Hehir, 2013). The P5’s interests seemed to lie behind Libya’s intervention, especially because their commitment to protect the population was missing when it was time to rebuild and develop the country, after the conflict.

Iraq and Libya have followed somehow similar paths because of the inefficiency and inconsistency of foreign intervention. After the conflict, they both were characterized by sectarian divides and by the rise of rebel groups, with various objectives. Iraq has been infamous for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), surged from the country’s disgruntled Sunni minority, which lost plenty of power after Saddam’s fall (Hashim, 2014). The ISIS has aimed to create a Caliphate under Sharia law, and has extended all the way to Syria, in two countries torn apart by civil wars. In Libya intervention had similar consequences. After the overthrow of Gaddafi, who was actually promoting the stability of minorities in the region, different rebel movements were strengthened: from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, to the Toubou Front for the Salvation of Libya, to the NMLA (Vlad, 2011). Just like in Iraq, the intervention in Libya ended up causing more conflict and sectarianism. As much as the P5’s rhetoric has proven not to be consistent, their mistakes have.

In the next sections, we analyze the extent to which the intervention in Libya has influenced the creation of the NMLA. We study the history of Tuaregs in Libya, their ties with the Gaddafi’s regime and the main objectives of the NMLA. Taking the NMLA as a case study, we aim to unveil the dynamics that allowed intervention to affect the creation of the rebel movement.

The Tuareg: Self-Determination as a Historical Struggle

The historical background of the Tuareg must be examined to understand the complex origin of their present identity. The Tuareg are a semi nomadic group, divided into independent federations and sectioned into diverse tribes. They live in southern Algeria, southwestern Libya, Mali,Nigerand, to a lesser extent, in Burkina Faso and Nigeria ( 2012). According to Arab historians, the center of dispersion of the Tuareg was from the south of Morocco, with secondary poles in Fezzan, and Cyrenaica in eastern Libya. ‘For centuries, the Tuareg controlled trade routes by providing security services to trade caravans in most Sahelian parts of today’s Mali, Niger, and Southern Algeria […]. Every merchant in eastern Sahel attempting to reach the Mediterranean coast by crossing the desert had to entertain some relationship of protection with one of the many Tuareg clans’ (Kiasing,2012:68 ). This ancient nomadic group is referred at times as ‘the masters of the desert’, for its ability to cope with the harsh desert environment, at a professional and personal level. However, because of the extensive desertification of the Sahel, the lack of resources both for subsistence and trade, the fixed boundaries imposed by colonial powers and the expanding population in the region, the Tuareg’s survival has been challenged. Since the pre-colonial period until today, their status quo has been hindered by different factors.

The Tuareg’s Struggle Pre- and Post- Colonization

Since the pre-colonial time, the Tuareg society has been independent, run by an order based on a hierarchical system (Bøås and Tortheim, 2013:1282). They have been known as a rebel group even since before the arrival of the colonizers: for centuries, they have been fighting for recognition, inclusion and the conservation of their identity. During the scramble for Africa this group continuously resisted colonial conquerors and even defeated some French expeditions. However, the entire federation decided to surrender to the new colonial order in the early 20th century (Lecocq and Klute, 2013: 425).

During the colonial period, the Tuareg were given some privilege by the French. For instance, they were exempted from forced labor, military conscription and from western education; they were also allowed to continue their nomadic life within the French territory (Kisangani, 2012:69).

However, in the 1960s, while different independence movement were happening in Africa, the Tuareg once again saw their autonomy and existence endangered as Mali became an independent state itself. The Tuareg society ended up being excluded from the political and social affairs of Mali and, as a result, it first rebelled against the Malian state between 1962 and 1964 (Bøåsand  Tortheim, 2013: 1282). The second Tuareg rebellion started in 1990. Many scholars refer to this revolt as a resource conflict caused by food and water scarcities after the droughts of the 1970s and 1980s. Nonetheless, instead of joining the uprising, many Tuareg opted to leave Northern Mali, in search of a more fertile land or headed to more promising countries, like Libya (Kisangani, 2012:71). The Tuareg who decided to stay in the area kept demanding the recognition of their identity through separation movement even after the democratization of Mali, in 1992 (Lecocq and Klute, 2013). They continued to deal with a lack of representation and consequently persisted to pursue separation, and the creation of their own self-controlled and independent state (Lecocq and Klute, 2013).According to Kisangani (2012), the Tuareg have so far occupied close to 2.5 million square kilometers of land in the Sahel, and between 1.8 and 2.3 million of them are estimated to live in the region. Due to their historical complexity and their extended presence in the region, we are going to focus on the portion of Tuareg that moved to Libya, taking into examination the period during and after Gaddafi’s regime. This group has had a significant impact on the dynamics of the Sahel and the stability of Mali.

The Tuareg’s Role in Gaddafi’s Libya

Following the 1970s and 1980s droughts, Libya became one of the most important Tuareg’s host state. Under Gaddafi’s regime, unlike minorities such as the Berber or the Tebu, the Tuareg were allowed to speak their language, the Temajegh, since it was considered a dialect of Arabic. It was one of the many signs of the cooperation that the Libyan dictator was willing to endeavor with the Tuareg. In fact, Gaddafi welcomed them not only because of his respect to his nomadic family background, or to solve a problem that had for long worried the AU: he also aimed to reinforce the Islamic Legion, a Libyan-sponsored pan-Arab paramilitary force. The Tuareg were given the opportunity to train and join the Islamic Legion, and shortly gained experience fighting in countries like Afghanistan, Chad, Palestine, Iraq, and Western Sahara (Kisangani, 2012). This occasion, which at first protected them from hunger and unemployment, resulted into their quick armament and their increased fighting abilities. Even though the Tuareg were instrumental for Gaddafi’s own political goals, and served him loyally until its fall, they ended up employing their warring capacities and fighting equipment in defense of their own cause. After the Libyan dictator’s overthrow, they realized that, with their acquired skills and weapons, their fight for self-determination in Mali had just been made easier.

Libya: From Foreign Intervention to the Rise of the NMLA

The Tuareg’s increased military capacities was not facilitated merely by their enrolment in Gaddafi’s Islamic Legion. Other factors helped them develop as a militarized insurgent force. For instance, a preeminent leader of the Tuareg’s movements in Mali, Ibrahim Ag Bahanga, was exiled in 2009 to Libya, where he had the opportunity to meet others from his tribe and discuss revolutionary ideas (Atallah, 2012). The Tuareg’s forces in Libya were further strengthened in 2011, when Gaddafi recruited more mercenaries to fight against the rebels that rose up during the so-called Arab Spring (Lecocq andKlute, 2013). In the next section, we examine how the tense situation Libya in 2011 affected the Tuareg, focusing mostly on the impact that NATO intervention had on the group.

The International Response to Libya’s Crisis

In 2011, Gaddafi violently repressed various revolutionary groups, in response to their sudden unrest. The threat that the dictator’s actions posed to the people of Benghazi convinced the UNSC to pass a resolution to intervene and stop the repression (Hehir, 2013). On February 26th 2011, the UNSC ratified resolution 1970,supported by the LAS, the Islamic Conference and the AU, and regarding the government violence in Libya against civilians. The resolution referred to Chapter 7 of the United Nations (UN) Charter, which allowed NATO to intervene to ‘maintain or restore international peace and security’ and institute an arms embargo, a travel ban and asset freeze for particular individuals and institutions (, 2011a).  On March 17th 2011, the UNSC passed resolution 1973,‘allowing all necessary measures’(, 2011g) to end the continued increase of government violence against the Libyan population. The resolution demanded an immediate cease fire, instituted a No-Fly Zone and reinforced the previous limitations from resolution 1970 (, 2011b). The 1973 resolution was perceived by many as a benchmark toward a new stage of humanitarian intervention, since it permitted to intervene even against a functioning state. Additionally, it was in conflict with Article 2.7 of the UN Charter, which prohibits intervention in absence of the host state’s consent (Hehir, 2013).

On March 22nd 2011, an immediate support of resolution 1973 was shown through the creation of Operation Odyssey Dawn (OOD), under the lead of the United States via the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) (NATO, 2015). All of the allies in NATO participated to the operation indirectly or directly, with additional support from Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates. Nonetheless, there were not any NATO troops on the ground in Libya, but only concentrated airstrikes and naval enforcements of the arms embargo (NATO, 2015). Confident of the success of the operation, on September 16th 2011, the UNSC passed resolution 2009 in order to create the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), restore security for the civilians and help re-establish state functions (, 2011c). On October 27th 2011, four days after a declaration of liberation by the National Transitional Council, the UNSC ratified resolution 2016 to modify the arms embargo, cancel the asset freeze, flight bans and the No-Fly Zone (, 2011d). On October 31st 2011, eleven days after the death of Libya’s dictator, NATO ended its OOD mission (NATO, 2015). The UNSC created resolution 2017, pressuring the Libyan state to control the arms proliferation that resulted from the fall of Gaddafi’s regime (, 2011e). On December 2nd 2011, the UNSC released resolution 2022 to extend the UNSMIL for three additional months (, 2011f). Despite the apparent success of the operation, it is estimated that the peaceful protests that started in February 2011 resulted in 1000 deaths from the NATO intervention in Libya (Kuperman, 2015), a number largely overshadowed by the death count of 25,000 caused by the consequential civil war (, 2015).

NATO Intervention Unpredicted Effects on the Tuareg

When it was clear that Gaddafi would have been removed from power, mixed perceptions surged regarding the effects that it would have had on the Tuareg. On one hand, the international community soon realized the danger that they would have posed to regional security, if they had taken possession of the weapons of the old regime. On the other, the Tuareg leader Bahanga viewed his removal as advantageous, since it would have allowed them to reignite their struggle for self-determination (Atallah, 2013). The fears of the international community and the hopes of the Tuareg’s leader were soon confirmed. As a matter of fact, after Gaddafi’s death, the ex-Libyan Tuareg military had to leave Libya not only because threatened by the revolutionaries as supporters of the ex-regime, but also because, having accessed weapons on their departure, they were ready to fight the Mali government (Lecocq and Klute, 2013). They went back to northern Mali, fully armed and trained, accompanying other returning Tuareg with them, all hoping to establish their own state (Lecocq and Klute, 2013).

Once the repatriated Tuareg reached Mali, there was a uniting effect between different groups that had never occurred before, because of the tribal and nomadic aspect that had until then characterized their life-style. Through the convergence of various groups, the NMLA was created: it was the first officially recognized separatist movement led by the Tuareg (Lecocq and Klute, 2013).

The NMLA has differed from previous movements because of its ability to unify the Tuareg tribes, its new organizational skills, and its ability to seek outside support from the international community (Atallah, 2013; Lecocq and Klute, 2013). In October 2011, the NMLA resulted from the convergence of the Tuareg returning from Libya, logistically and militarily equipped, with local intellectuals and Malian military deserters. In order to create the NMLA, two movements merged together: the Mouvement National de l’Azawad (MNA) and the Mouvement Touareg du Nord Mali (MTNM). The new NMLA integrated temporarily with the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) too, regardless of their religious political goals, but because of momentary circumstances and shared objectives in the region (Atallah, 2013). In fact, the NMLA poses itself as a secular, non-islamic movement. Another remarkable feature of the NMLA was its unique ability to organize a proactive political structure, unlike previous movements that proved to be fractured and uncoordinated (Atallah, 2013).  This allowed them to ultimately control an area larger than France (Atallah, 2013).

Despite the advantageous abilities acquired by the movement, concerns about the counterproductive relation between the NMLA and the AQIM have surged, regarding the strict implementation of Islamic law by the AQIM (Atallah, 2013). The AQIM is Algerian based and has been actively recruiting 11-12 year old Tuareg boys for strict radical Islamic indoctrination and weapons training, contrary to the moderate traditions of the Tuareg (Atallah, 2013). This factor, together with the occasional merging of the NMLA with Al Qaeda, could hinder the future of the movement. Foreign intervention might affect again, and negatively, the struggle of the Tuareg, while attempting to eliminate groups linked to terrorist networks. For this purpose, there has already been international interventions from France and some of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) members (Lecocq andKlute, 2013). These intercessions have not only fought terrorism, but also contained the conflict sparked by the Tuareg to the Malian boarders, and kept it from becoming an interstate war (Lecocq andKlute, 2013).

The Effect on Mali

The social movement that started in Libya in 2011 has moved on to affect northern Mali. The root causes of the conflict that spilled over to Mali can be found analyzing some UNSC hazardous decisions and errors committed during the NATO operation. For instance, the UNSC was not concerned with arms gained by the Tuareg until they had already formed the NMLA.  Moreover, it committed the mistake of charging Libya, a fragile state, to control arms proliferation after the NATO intervention, a decision that proved to be ineffective. The UNSC resolutions finally resulted into the renewal and spillover of an armed social movement, producing a new security issue in another state.

In fact, the UN involvement in the region did not end with resolution 1973. On the 5th of July 2012, the UNSC issued resolution 2056, delegitimizing the NMLA, discouraging its affiliation with the AQIM and encouraging regional cooperation to aid Mali (, 2012a).  On October 12th 2012, the UNSC responded to the ECOWAS request for intervention, aiding the existing forces through resolution 2071 (, 2012b). Later, on December 20th 2012, the UNSC ratified resolution 2085, which deployed an African-led International Support Mission in Mali for a minimum duration of one year, continuing to call upon the aid of the ECOWAS and the AU, among other actors (, 2012c). The Malian conflict persisted to be a concern for the UNSC through 2014, encouraging continuing support from the ECOWAS, the AU and France (, 2014). This confirms that the situation is not merely a persistent Malian security issue, but an international one as well.

The results of the UNSC and NATO intervention in Libya have sparked new conflicts in northern Mali, which continue being unresolved.  The decision of the UNSC to intervene without control on the ground of the arms that were to be dispersed after the fall of Gaddafi’s regime proved to have unwanted consequences. Because of the counterproductive effects that the intervention had on Libya and its neighboring countries, in the next section we aim to identify the miscalculations of the interveners, and to present an alternative framework of action to be used in intrastate crisis.

Rethinking Libya’s Intervention

As the previous sections clearly demonstrated, the foreign intervention in Libya has had a severe systemic impact on the country and has given opportunities for insurgency from minority groups in search for self-determination, such as the Tuareg. This section takes a step away from the Tuareg’s case study and focus instead on military intervention, its flaws and its alternatives. In the first part, we expose the situation of Libya after the intervention; in the second, we look at the issues with military intervention strategies, mainly in relation to the case of Libya; finally we attempt to provide some alternatives focusing primarily on other non-violent means.

In October 20th, 2011, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton quipped in regards to Gaddafi’s death: “We came, we saw, he died” (Hillary Clinton, 2011). What Mrs. Clinton may not have realized is that many more would continue to die even after NATO’s intervention in Libya in March 2011. While some have considered the intervention a success, deeper analysis reveal serious flaws. The situation in Libya since the intervention has taken a critical turn. Instead of evolving into a democracy, the state is deteriorating into a failed state, filled with violent deaths and human rights abuses. It has become a haven for radicalism and militias affiliated with terrorism (Kuperman, 2015). After Gaddafi was ousted from the government and killed, the rebels who took power engaged in reprisal killings along with torturing, beating and arbitrarily detaining thousands of suspect Gaddafi supporters (ibid). In addition, 30,000 mostly black residents were ousted of their home and their houses burnt down for the supposed motive that they were mercenaries (ibid). Moreover, the government has been incapable of controlling the violence and arms spread within the country, and it came close to losing its Prime Minister, Abdualah al-Thinni, when the latter recently escaped from an assassination attempt led by gunmen (Associated Press in Benghazi, 2015). It is worth mentioning that Libya has had seven prime ministers in less than four years and that, besides an assassination attempt, one may remember that its first prime minister Mustafa Abu Shagour only lasted one month in office or that Ali Zeidan, was held hostage in October 2013 (Kuperman, 2015).Taking into consideration the political climate in Libya, there is enough reason to believe that something went wrong with the intervention. The following part will focus on this line of interrogation.

Military intervention is understood here as the “use of force in violation of sovereignty and in pursuit of humanitarian goals” (De Waal and Omaar, 2015). Due to the high number of controversies in this form of humanitarian intervention, it is essential to mention that military intervention shall be employed as a last resort strategy. This means that when a state decides to intervene, a history of diplomacy, negotiation, peacekeeping and relief program can be traced (ibid). Yet, in the case of Libya, such strategies were employed with little effort, if any at all.  As a matter of fact, three days after the bombing campaign had begun, the Obama administration unilaterally decided to end peace negotiations between the US Africa Command and the Gaddafi regime despite Gaddafi’s military leaders’ proposal for a peace plan (Chollet, Fisherman and Kuperman, 2015). In addition, Gaddafi had accepted an AU proposal for an immediate cease-fire followed by a national dialogue; the resolution was rejected by the rebels, who declared that no cease-fire could be agreed until Gaddafi was out of government (Chollet, Fisherman and Kuperman, 2015). The unilateral negative attitude from the West regarding Gaddafi’s apparent willingness to accept peaceful solutions demonstrates that military intervention rhetoric suffered from a lack of genuine interest in civilian protection and humanitarian aspirations. Instead, it truly sought regime change through the removal of a political leader. As Nicholas Wheeler and Justin Morris (2006, 448) observed: “[i]n no case have states intervened when there were no vital interests at stake”. It is Obama who admitted in 2011 that “when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act” (The White House, 2011). Mats Berdal (2003 cited in Hehir, 2013: 156) also observed that each member of the Security Council has the ability, through its power to veto, to promote its interest in the world.  Even though the UNSC P5’s national interests were evidently high on the agenda, they would have not been enough to act. As Hehir (2013:156) points out, what caused the military intervention in Libya was “a combination of factors, including events on the ground; the favorable regional disposition; Libya’s geostrategic importance; and Qaddafi’s pariah status, reputation for violence and exceptional public declaration of murderous intent […] combined to induce the leaders to push for action”.

The Need of Process Standards to Prevent the Consequences of Premature Interventions

Leaving national interests aside, if one state genuinely wishes to intervene militarily to avoid a genocide, it must be certain of the situation of the country in crisis. De Waal and Omaar (2015) argue that before an intervention takes place there must be ‘an accurate and independent evaluation of the scale and nature of humanitarian needs [because] humanitarian crises are rarely as severe as the relief agencies and media make out’. As a matter of fact, the case of Libya proves this point. When uprising started in eastern Libya, Human Right watch has reported only 233 deaths in the first day of the fighting while the Saudi news channel Al Arabiya was claiming 10,000 deaths (Kuperman, 2015). Moreover, Human Right Watch (HRW) also found that of the 949 people wounded during the rebellion in Misurata, the third-largest city, only 30 were women or children (ibid). This demonstrates that Gaddafi’s forces were not purposely targeting civilians. Consequently, verifying the accuracy of information is essential because, as the case of Libya demonstrates, the military measures adopted by NATO appeared to be excessive if one takes into account the number of casualties reported by HRW.

Military intervention, as it can be observed in Libya as well as other countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia, has too often been based on a lack of understanding of the surrounding context and has often been designed for purposes other than solving the problem of those intervened upon (Gelot and Söderbaum, 2012: 131). Many authors such as Duffield (2001), Keen (2005), Kostic (2007), Richmond (2011), and Sorensen (2009) agree that intervention can exacerbate the inequalities in the targeted state that give rise to conflict. The military intervention in Libya only had the reverse effect of what was intended officially, bringing stability and protecting civilians. It is fundamental that states rethink their approach to military intervention. A first step should be to change the power relation that exists through military intervention. As a matter of fact such a strategy tends to have a strong hierarchical apparatus. To quote Pouligny (2006: 34-35, cited in Gelot and Söderbaum, 2012: 144) on that matter “if interveners took the time to understand better the context into which they were entering, if they were prepared to negotiate interaction more frankly, and with more respect, interventions would have better impact overall”. In the case of Libya, success seems to have been understood by the rapidity of the action and the low number of casualties from the interveners. Yet, account of the intervention should have been broadened and question on the short-term and long term consequences; local, national and regional impacts should have been taken more seriously. In response to the practical limitation of the military intervention strategy, we now present alternatives and focus on bottom-up strategies and non-violent oriented mechanisms.

According to Regan and Aydin (2006: 754) “diplomacy as a form of intervention [is] critical to conflict management, and […] the timing of the diplomatic attempt is just as important as diplomacy itself”. In fragile and multi-ethnic states, diplomacy efforts should be strengthened and employed long before violence starts. Violence does not emerge suddenly, but through a long process, with which it is necessary to deal. As mentioned previously, the international community did not deal with this process in Libya, and negotiations at the start of the intervention were terminated rapidly.

Alternative Measures to Violent Interventions

When a violent conflict emerges, three tasks are essential: to restrain or de-escalate violence  (peacekeeping);  to negotiate and find a political solutions (peacemaking); to work on the causes of the conflict and to change the negative attitudes and hate that often accompanies conflict (peacebuilding) (Schweitzer, 2004-2005). Although Libya did not employ any relevant measure apart from a bombing campaign, one may easily notice the inherent contradiction between the claimed intention to protect civilians and the use of missiles to achieve this objective. In Libya and in other similar situations, such as in Syria or in Yemen, conflict management strategies should instead focus on peacekeeping, peacemaking and peacebuilding. Although peacemaking and peacebuilding can be handled by civilians and NGOs, peacekeeping is often a military task. In regards to Libya’s intervention, military troops should have been deployed on the frontiers of the country in order to avoid violence and weaponry from leaking outside the country. Libya’s violence should have been contained within the territory and the AU could have been mobilized for this purpose.

In addition, civilian peace-keeping forces can also be used as strategy for de-escalating violence. Among these methods are: protective accompaniment, international presence, witnessing/ monitoring and interposition. Protective accompaniment of human right activists seek to inhibit attacks from violent groups that do not want their activity to attract international attention by accompanying ambulances, demonstration, civilians. International presence is understood as the establishment of peace worker villages in frontier areas or zones of conflict, which acts as an accompaniment for a whole community. Witnessing/monitoring also discourages groups’ who use violence because a nonviolent activist sends the signal that the whole world is watching them. Finally, interposition describes peace workers positioning themselves between warring parties in order to try to avoid violence and create a no fight zone where reflection and solution to conflict can take place which is usually effective in situation of communal violence (Schweitzer, 2004-2005).

Mediation too, although being still marginal, can be a useful tool. Rifkind (2014) advances that the advantages of mediators are that they “work behind the scene, [can] be nimble and responsible, quietly building significant and sustainable relationships with parties”. As she argues, mediators, in contrast with policy makers, do not suffer from the need to score political points and do not seek media attention: this makes their approach more honest and neutral. She further proposes that an international institution, similar to the International Criminal Court could be created and dedicated to mediation. Her idea is the creation of an International Institute for Mediation (IIM), which countries would accept to join as part of treaty justifying the practice as a preventive measure (ibid).

In addition, regarding the number of conflicts that emerged in the MENA region since the beginning of the Arab Spring, the international community and some Western NGOs should create partnerships and initiate dialogue with Muslim-affiliated groups, as they tend to be more easily accepted by the parties involved in a conflict (Lischer, 2007: 111). Focusing on local strategies to reduce violent conflict is primordial. Strengthening ways of managing disputes between individuals and groups fairly and speedily through village peace monitors or village mediators, for instance, could reduce violent conflict (DFID, 2006: 16) Securing and protecting civilians is a priority: other means rather than military interventions, and in particular bombing campaigns, can achieve this goal. Strong cooperation at local level must be created, diplomacy and mediation efforts both at the local and national level must be reinforced, and a focus on non-violent prevention strategies must be further developed.

We do not aim to deny military intervention completely, but rather to encourage the use of alternative methods for the resolution of conflicts. Military intervention has, in the great majority of cases, produced more negative than positive effect with economic, political, and human costs too often exceeding initial estimations. Libya has clearly highlighted the consequences, internal as well as external, of military intervention. Although a regime was removed, a door has been opened for groups in pursuit of their own agendas. The situation of the Tuareg confirms this assertion.


Our analysis supported the thesis outlined in the first section of this paper: foreign intervention can affect the creation and spillover of rebel groups. The case of the Tuareg is emblematic to understand the possible detrimental consequences of foreign military intervention. Even though the renewal of the Tuareg’s struggle for self-determination could have been predicted by the UNSC, this possibility was underestimated by the international community. Past experiences, such as Afghanistan or Iraq, did not teach the international community to avoid the igniting effect that power vacuums caused by interventions can have on rebel movements. NATO’s involvement in Libya had not merely affected the revival and evolution of the Tuareg separatist movement, but also the outburst of a civil war in Mali.

In our study, we assert the need to measure more efficiently the gravity of a crisis ante bellum, and to estimate the repercussions that an intervention could have on neighboring countries. Moreover, we believe that the success of an operation must be evaluated not in terms of duration or loss of life by those intervening, as done in Libya, but of the actual ability to reduce conflict and promote peacebuilding post bellum. Deeper evaluations could prove that military intervention does not necessarily represent a ‘last resort’. Mediation and diplomacy could be used first, and might show to be more effective than militarized operations. This approach could have relevance on the resolution of future conflicts in the region.

Regarding future research on the topic, it is necessary to keep monitoring and analyzing the rise of social movements following foreign interventions, and their spillover in neighboring states, considering whether these consequences were taken into account before and during a military operation. As the case of Libya has demonstrated, there is an urgent need to design new practices of non-military action. New approaches to diplomacy and peacekeeping should be developed, to create valuable alternatives to violent interventions.


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Written by: Sofia Bianchini, Guillaume Chambellan, Stephanie Hoppert, and Kris Reiser
Written at: Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona
Written for: Ferran Izquierdo Brichs
Date written: May 2015

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