Both sides of Libya's conflict attempt to woo a divided Europe
Muammar Qaddafi sent envoys to Europe ahead of an EU summit Friday on the Libyan conflict. Libyan rebels are also courting European support and won recognition from France.
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For now though, the EU is “paralyzed,” he says. “Libya has been smart the past few years building relations. Italy and Malta depend on Libya. Malta is the Libyan Trojan Horse of the EU. And Portugal is a mediator,” says Mr. Torreblanca.Skip to next paragraph
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The unilateral French decision to recognize the rebel government pins Qaddafi in an all-or-nothing scenario that could backfire. “He knows that with this we have passed a point of no return,” referring to the lack of legitimacy that the Libyan leader would face even if he holds on to power. “But it puts other EU member states that haven’t recognized the rebels in a bind,” Torreblanca said. “It’s very hard to keep both sides.”
“The danger is that differences between EU member states are being played out in public,” says Richard Youngs, director of the Madrid-based think tank International Relations and Dialogue Foundation and an expert in EU-North African relations. He described the French decision as “precipitous.”
“These are delicate question that need far better consultation, and not governments making national policies on the hoof," he says.
Little appetite for no-fly zone
NATO defense ministers remain cautious on Libya. In the meeting in Brussels, countries decided to move more warships to monitor Libya’s coast, but cold feet remain on implementing a no-fly zone.
"We considered ... initial options regarding a possible no-fly zone in case NATO were to receive a clear UN mandate; ministers agreed that further planning will be required," Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said following the meeting, according to Reuters.
Europe’s big powers have 1,700 fighter jets that could be deployed against Libya, according to Torreblanca.
But NATO powers agree that a broad international consensus must precede any military operation, which would be risky and not necessarily effective in containing Qaddafi. Middle Eastern states would need to support it, along with NATO member Turkey, which remains unconvinced.
“We saw over last 10 days that there is little appetite to implement no-fly zone,” Mr. Youngs said. As Qaddafi reasserts his control though, the pro-democracy window could close, not just in Libya, but elsewhere in the region. “It could sap momentum of reform. It would be worrying that the lesson to deal with pro democracy reform is to clamp down brutally.”
For Torreblanca though, Qaddafi’s military success could translate into his downfall. “A military victory is his diplomatic defeat. As he takes the initiative, diplomacy against him is invigorated. The more it appears he’s rebuilding his forces, the stronger the international coalition will get.”
The French decision to recognize rebels could be a catalyst.
If other countries join France, which Torreblanca expects, momentum could build to allow rebel leaders to directly request a no-fly zone, which would make it a lot easier for NATO and the Security Council. “If Benghazi authorities get more recognition, and they request the no-fly zone directly, then China and Russia will have to abstain,” Torreblanca said.
“Qaddafi has the force, not the reason,” he added. “But if nothing happens, force could win.”
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