Libya lessons

Libya lessons

The series of developments in Libya that are entering its last act with Col. Moammar Gadhafi leaving the scene contains many eye-opening messages on what kind of a world we will be living in in the 21st century and what dimensions and what kind of sanctions will be features of international relations.

No doubt, the most significant consequences of the Libya file are the reflex that the international community has demonstrated as well as the adaptability of NATO to the new era.

A military alliance that was formed, as a starting point, to circumscribe the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact is demonstrating that it has gained the flexibility to respond very well to the threats and crises that have emerged in different regions in the post-Cold War era.

From Bosnia to Libya

NATO went through bitter experiences at the beginning of the 1990s during its first test in Bosnia; it suffered a serious loss of prestige as it, to a great extent, just watched as an observer while huge massacres took place in the middle of Europe, right next to it. It was much more proactive in the Kosovo crisis and did not repeat its mistakes in Bosnia. Afghanistan, though, is a very special situation that cannot be included in these comparisons.

After all these experiences, the alliance was able to – despite the blunder at the beginning – intervene on time with an organized effort and effectively obtain results in the Libyan crisis, which erupted in an “outside” region.

In a civil war that erupted between an unbalanced dictator who does not hesitate to use violence against his own people and masses that rebelled against him, NATO openly took the side of the rebels that demanded change and put all its military power and operational facilities behind them, paving the way to their success.

There is no other example in NATO history in which it has taken sides in a conflict that has erupted in a third country and has caused a changeover in power.

No doubt, the legal basis provided by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 adopted in March that allowed the use of force within limits facilitated NATO’s intervention to a great extent.

NATO passes prestige test

In the final analysis, the Libyan campaign was a step that possessed serious risks for NATO, as well as for the European allies behind it, including the United States and Turkey. The organization has passed this prestige test with renewed strength.

In this aspect, it is understood that NATO has not lost its functionality and that it is very capable of responding to new types of crises in the diverse international arena.

The test that has been successfully passed here is, in fact, in line with the targets present in the new strategic concept document adopted in 2010 at the Lisbon Summit, which set out a road map defining NATO’s future.

New obligation of international system

At the end of the day, the Libya intervention sets an example. In the final analysis, when a dictator has attempted to massacre his own citizens, he has been met with sanctions from the international community.

After this example, it is inevitable now that eyes will turn toward Syria. Because the reasons that prompted the Libyan intervention are also present in Syria’s conduct. In this framework, it should not be surprising that NATO, in order to maintain a consistent stance, will face increasing demands to apply pressure on Syria.

However, it is not realistic to expect that NATO will immediately launch a Libya-like campaign against Syria that stands at a very critical spot in Middle East geopolitics. Even so, the sanctions that first the U.N., then NATO adopted against Libya carry a message of deterrence also for Syria. The Bashar al-Assad regime should seriously take into account what has happened in Libya. The regime, by not softening its stance, may in a way invite an international reaction whose form we cannot predict today.

It is not Syria alone that needs to make this calculation. Today, every country lives under a global magnifying glass. Being tolerant and acting tolerantly toward the opposition and those opponents who use their right to assembly and not transgressing the boundaries of law and consciousness have now turned into obligations that need to be followed by all countries and all regimes.

Sedat Ergin is a columnist for Daily Hürriyet, in which this piece was published on Wednesday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff