The Libyan crisis has shown how a united Europe can be used as a force for common good
Could we leave Colonel Gaddafi’s victims to die in full view of our TV cameras? I think not. It is quite understandable that the UN‘s courageous decision to resort to force in Libya should upset our pacifist conscience. Instigated by the UK and France, and backed by the US and other countries, this decision, though necessary, raises major moral and political questions about European integration.
The moral issues relate to the use of violence by states. The question of a just war, which has bothered us since antiquity, may well be addressed with theoretical discourse and historical references, but it remains a source of hesitation and uncertainty that we cannot simply dismiss. These moral uncertainties obviously have a political impact. This is perhaps because European integration is far from complete. The Libyan crisis highlights the need for the EU to grow stronger and gain greater coherence, in keeping with the promise of the Lisbon treaty.
Cultural and economic co-operation between European countries has become commonplace. Indeed much has been achieved in these fields, as the people of Europe can judge for themselves. Though such co-operation clearly needs to go further, we may easily grasp its meaning and its method. But in matters of defence, our understanding of the European project is confused, even contradictory. This is, of course, due to the difficulty of convincing states with divergent traditions, historic wounds and ambitions to move forward together. But above all, I think, it is due to the European project itself.
Initiated in response to two world wars, this project derives its legitimacy from its guarantee of peace. How then can it be allowed to lend itself to an outbreak of violence? I see these theoretical difficulties as a good sign, provided they can be overcome and do not lead to deadlock: we all know there could be nothing worse than a warmongering Europe … except perhaps a powerless Europe. So our difficult but necessary task is to steer a middle course.
French doctors found a solution to this conflict. They started venturing across forbidden borders to treat the injured and sick of all communities, and from this eventually sprang Médecins Sans Frontières. It was a major political gesture which gave rise first to the duty and then to the right of interference, in order to avoid – or better still prevent – mass slaughter.
But how can we reconcile this duty with European integration? We must confront the need for debate and develop more efficient and responsive tools. Above all, Europe must define a doctrine to guide us through the contrary currents of European diplomacy, which are torn between universalism and isolation.
After several UN resolutions authorising the use of force to protect civilian populations – which at the time I defined as the international community’s right of interference in the domestic affairs of a state – the UN approved, with a unanimous vote by all its members in 2005, the responsibility to protect civilians, over and above borders and sovereignty. After Sarajevo, Kosovo and the conflicts in the Balkans, after Sierra Leone and Guinea, this framework allowed us to intervene over Libya. We should see the Franco-British initiative, subsequently backed by the US, and leading to resolution 1973, as part of this framework.
Fortunately, the UN, the African Union and the Arab League are here to provide us with a legal framework so that this momentary violence – under resolution 1973 – may serve to achieve real peace, surely preferable to a pacifism that would allow civilians to be slaughtered.
Working on this basis in international law, Europe must now engage in a thorough debate on its future and what it wants to achieve. In these times of doubt and adversity this may seem superfluous or misplaced, but I am sure it is more necessary than ever. Europe needs this to find a way out of the uncertainty that plagues its organisation. Is it a regional power with a corresponding reach, as is the case for the Arab League or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or on the contrary? Does it seek to offer the world a multilateral model in the service of the common good?
I am pleased to see that France and the UK have together mapped out a preliminary response to this essential question.
• Translated by Harry Forster