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Libyan intervention based on erroneous assumptions; David Cameron ultimately responsible

14 September 2016

The Foreign Affairs Committee has published a report examining the intervention and subsequent collapse of Libya.

2011 intervention

In March 2011, the UK and France led the international community to support an intervention in Libya to protect civilians from forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.
The inquiry, which took evidence from key figures including Lord Hague, Dr Liam Fox, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, military chiefs and academics, concludes that decisions were not based on accurate intelligence. In particular, the Government failed to identify that the threat to civilians was overstated and that the rebels included a significant Islamist element. 

A policy which had intended to protect civilians drifted towards regime change and was not underpinned by strategy to support and shape post-Gaddafi Libya. The consequence was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal welfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations and the growth of ISIL in North Africa.

National Security Council

Libya was the first test of the National Security Council (NSC), a Cabinet Committee established by David Cameron to oversee national security, intelligence co-ordination and defence strategy and intended to provide a formal mechanism to shape foreign policy decision making. In contrast to the relatively informal process used during Tony Blair's Premiership, since criticised by Sir John Chilcot's Iraq Inquiry, every NSC meeting on Libya was minuted, documenting David Cameron's decision-making process.

Chair's comment

Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Crispin Blunt MP, commented:

"This report determines that UK policy in Libya before and since the intervention of March 2011 was founded on erroneous assumptions and an incomplete understanding of the country and the situation.

Other political options were available. Political engagement might have delivered civilian protection, regime change and reform at a lesser cost to the UK and Libya. The UK would have lost nothing by trying these instead of focusing exclusively on regime change by military means.

Having led the intervention with France, we had a responsibility to support Libyan economic and political reconstruction. But our lack of understanding of the institutional capacity of the country stymied Libya's progress in establishing security on the ground and absorbing financial and other resources from the international community.

The UK's actions in Libya were part of an ill-conceived intervention, the results of which are still playing out today. The United Nations has brokered an inclusive Government of National Accord. If it fails, the danger is that Libya will sink into a full scale civil war to control territory and oil resources. The GNA is the only game in town and the international community has a responsibility to unite behind it."

Further information

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