NATO's Intervention In Libya Deemed A Success

Originally published on October 21, 2011 5:32 am
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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News, I'm Ari Shapiro.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

There was jubilation, relief and not a little self-congratulation in Europe and the U.S. on news of the death of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi. After holding a tight grip on his country for 42 years, Gadhafi's death leaves many questions about the future of Libya, including what will be the role of the international community and NATO. To help us answer some of those questions, we've called up former British ambassador to Libya, Oliver Miles.

Good morning.

OLIVER MILES: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, Britain and France took the lead in military action against Libya, starting with a no-fly zone. Now that he is dead, are European leaders claiming a military victory?

MILES: I think victory. I'm not sure they've used that word, but certainly a great success. Yes. You have to remember, it's against the background in Europe of great doubts about other interventions in the Middle East, particularly in Britain over our role in Iraq and in Afghanistan. So, quite a lot of people were concerned. I was concerned about whether it was wise to go into Libya. I think most people are convinced, now, that it was good and the result is good. But not everybody.

MONTAGNE: You know, it's interesting, though, you were not the only person concerned. What were you worried about?

MILES: I was worried about three things. I was worried about whether it was legal. I was worried about whether it was going to be effective. And I was worried about what the political effects would be.

The legal point was settled to my satisfaction by the United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The effectiveness point I think was a very curious one, because my first reaction when I heard about the no fly zone was this is really irrelevant to Libya, because there's no reason to believe that air power is going to play an important part in whatever happens in Libya.

And indeed it didn't, except in the sense that the NATO intervention, once they'd established air superiority, they were able to prevent something quite different. They were able to prevent the movement of armor and heavy weaponry. So Gadhafi faced an impossible task. As soon as the NATO intervention was established, there was no way that he could attack Benghazi, because the only way he could've done it would be by moving his tanks and artillery. And if he'd done that they would've been destroyed by NATO.

The political consequences we still live with. At the moment, they're good. At the moment, the Libyans are telling us absolutely loud and clear that they're grateful for what we've done. Let's hope that lasts.

MONTAGNE: This is certainly the case that thousands of Libyans died in this revolution, and you could say they now own it. Does that mean NATO can basically clear out?

MILES: I hope so. If you read what our prime minister has been saying, he's been saying very, very clearly, that the future of Libya must be in the hands of the Libyans. And I think we've had the same message, in slightly different words, both from President Sarkozy and from Washington.

Now, we have a situation, that the Libyans have some very, very difficult problems to face. They must face them themselves. If they need help, they must ask for it and we must be ready to give it.

MONTAGNE: And in your opinion, having been ambassador to Libya, what does the international community and certainly Europe and the U.S. owe Libya, if anything?

MILES: It's not really a question of owing them anything. Don't forget Libya is, not right at this moment, but will shortly, once again, be a cash rich country. And they will pay for the assistance that they need. They will be asking us for help on a wide range of subjects. Everything from clearing mines to medical assistance to constitution building, and so on. We have to wait and see what their priorities are and respond to them. But we won't have to pay out of our own pockets.

MONTAGNE: And, of course, because there - Libya's got a great amount of oil.

MILES: Correct, yes. And also it's very well placed. It's in the right place, because its main market is southern Europe. And, of course, that's just across the Mediterranean. So it's very hard to imagine, regardless of politics, that Libya will not continue to supply oil to Europe and Europe will continue to pay for it.

MONTAGNE: Ambassador Miles, thank you very much.

MILES: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Oliver Miles is a former British Ambassador to Libya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.