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Government 'unwilling' to learn the lessons of Libya interventions

25 November 2016

The Foreign Affairs Committee has published the Government’s response to its report, Libya: Examination of intervention and collapse and the UK’s future policy options.

The Government accepts many of the Committee's recommendations relating to post-Gaddafi Libya, but disagrees with recommendations relating to the basis for the intervention.

Chair's comments

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

"The Committee accepts that, as the Government response suggests, UK policy in Libya was initially driven by a desire to protect civilians.  However, we do not accept that it understood the implications of this, which included collapse of the state, failure of stabilisation and the facilitation of Islamist extremism in Libya.

The Government response does not work through the logic of the detail supplied in evidence by key figures including General Lord Richards, Lord Hague, Dr Liam Fox, Sir Alan Duncan and academics, who suggested that decisions were not based on accurate intelligence or a full understanding. This suggests the Government has yet to appreciate the lessons from our experience in Libya, including our lack of country knowledge amongst those drafting and deciding policy.  This is troubling, because Libya should inform the development of future UK foreign policy.

The failure of the stabilisation, including an appreciation of the scale of the task, should have engendered a robust process of self-examination in Government to improve future performance.  I believe we are about to repeat the failure to have adequate plans and resources for stabilisation in Mosul. Libya should have taught us these lessons.

Finally, Libya was the first test of the new National Security Council (NSC) mechanism. We welcome the fact that the Attorney-General has now been made a full member of the NSC and that the make-up and structure of the sub-committees has been adjusted to ensure appropriate oversight by all relevant Ministers and experts.  However, a straightforward mechanism is still required for non-ministerial NSC members to request written Prime Ministerial directions to undertake actions agreed in the NSC, or at least to have their concerns minuted, rather than for these accounts to emerge in conversations with historians.  We urge the Prime Minister to reconsider this."

Key areas

  • In regard to policy which the Committee said had intended to protect civilians but then drifted towards regime change, the Government response states that its "objective remained clear at all times: to protect civilians and to promote stability in Libya." It added that its thinking only moved on to regime change once the Gaddafi regime had "lost all legitimacy" in June 2011.  However, former Prime Minister David Cameron's stated in April 2011 that the international community sought "a future without Gaddafi".
  • The Committee's Report highlighted how weapons and ammunition fell into the hands of Libyan militias following the collapse of the Gaddafi regime, while others were trafficked to destinations in North Africa, West Africa and the Middle East. The Government response states that the UK, UN and NATO "took action to track and secure" those weapons. However, Lord Richards told the Committee he could not remember the UK "doing anything" to secure those weapons.
  • The Government has rejected the Committee's recommendation to introduce a mechanism to allow non-political members of the National Security Council, such as the Chief of the Defence Staff, to request a written Prime Ministerial direction to perform actions contrary to their professional judgement. However, the Committee's proposals are equivalent to what already happens in the Civil Service.

Further information

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