The Multilateralist

Did NATO Intervention Make Libya’s War Bloodier?

Did NATO Intervention Make Libya’s War Bloodier?

In the latest issue of International Security, Alan Kuperman makes the case [abstract only for those without access] that NATO intervention prolonged and made much more bloody Libya’s 2011 war (for a previous post on Kuperman skepticism about the efficacy of humanitarian intervention, see here). He argues that the conventional wisdom that the intervention stopped a massacre of regime opponents is almost certainly wrong:

Although the government did respond forcefully to the rebels, it never targeted
civilians or resorted to “indiscriminate” force, as Western media reported.
Indeed, early press accounts exaggerated the death toll by a factor of
ten….From March 5 to March 15, Libyan government forces retook
all but one of the major rebel-held cities, including Ajdabiya, Bani Walid,
Brega, Ras Lanuf, Zawiya, and most of Misurata. In none of those cities did the
regime target civilians in revenge, let alone commit a bloodbath.

While Kuperman doubts that the intervention prevented a bloodbath, he finds strong evidence that NATO’s role prolonged the war, increasing the overall death toll:

NATO intervention signicantly exacerbated humanitarian suffering in Libya and Mali, as well as security threats throughout the region. The only apparent benefit is that Libyans have been able to vote in democratic elections, but the elected government has little authority in a country now controlled by dozens of tribal and Islamist militias accountable to no one. NATO intervention increased the duration of Libya’s civil war by approximately six times, and its death toll by seven to ten times.

Even more broadly, he argues, the intervention produced instability in the region, including in Mali and even Syria:

It is possible that, in the long run, the intervention will turn out to have contributed indirectly to some beneficial consequences for Libya or its neighbors that cannot now be predicted. To date, however, the observable impacts on other interests—including human rights in Libya and its neighbors, regional stability, and international security—also have been decidedly negative. If this is a “model intervention,” as U.S. officials claim, it is a model of failure.