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Opinion

Libya should be Europe's problem – not America's

European powers can no longer act as casual bystanders expecting the US to resolve strategic challenges in Libya and the Middle East. Washington should tell Europe to put its own money – and troops, if necessary – where its own strategic interests lie.

By Leon T. Hadar / March 16, 2011



Washington

During his second year in office, French President Nicolas Sarkozy initiated the formation of a Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) as part of a strategy to promote stability and prosperity in the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa.

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Under Mr. Sarkozy’s proposed UfM, European, Middle Eastern, and North African countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea would form a loose economic community. It would promote political and economic liberalization and also address immigration, energy, and security issues. Sarkozy’s initiative reflects the concerns that France, Italy, and the rest of the European Union (EU) have in securing their interests in a region that is in their geographical neighborhood – and is the source of 40 percent of EU oil imports.

The recent upheavals in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya demonstrate the impact of political instability in that region on the EU’s Mediterranean flank – and why Europe should take the lead in any international resolution to the problem. It is well past time for the European powers, whether through the EU, the UfM, or some other entity, to be more than casual bystanders that expect Washington to resolve strategic challenges in the Middle East.

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More than 7,000 North Africans have already fled to the Italian island of Lampedusa since the Tunisian uprising began. The continuing fighting in Libya, a country that supplies a tenth of Italy’s gas and a third of its oil, threatens the country’s energy supplies. Italy’s foreign minister has warned of a possible influx of 300,000 North African refugees into Italy because of the unrest in the region, further exacerbating the demographic tension in Europe from a growing Muslim population.

Europe’s response to a crisis so close to its shores has been anemic: bombastic rhetoric with little show in terms of diplomatic engagement or substantive measures to support it. While the EU did join the US and other governments in adopting sanctions against the Libyan regime, it failed to take a leadership role.

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