The Foreign Office is to face questions over Libya’s descent into a failed state, following the launch of an inquiry by an influential committee of MPs into Britain’s role in the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi and the troubled aftermath.
Launching the inquiry, the Tory chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, Crispin Blunt, told the Guardian that the intervention and subsequent breakdown of the state had proved disastrous for Libya and posed a global security threat.
He said: “It has turned out to be a catastrophe for the people of Libya. And now it is a growing problem for us, with our undoubted enemy Isis beginning to establish control of areas of Libya. Plus the migration crisis – any area where state authority collapses obviously poses problems for us all over the world.”
Blunt, a former government minister, said the inquiry will investigate Britain’s capacity to conduct the necessary post-intervention planning.
He said: “I want to examine the quality of the analysis that underpinned the decision to intervene in Libya. Had we reasonably thought through the consequences of the action? If we hadn’t, that begs questions about the scale of resources inside the Foreign Office to have that capability.”
Blunt asked: “We may wish to be a global player and as member of the P5 [of permanent UN Security Council members] think we have a duty to global security, but do we have the means?”
The former army officer voted in favour of the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya in 2011, but rebelled against the government’s threat to intervene in Syria two years later.
He said the inquiry would look at whether the intervention in Libya went beyond the mandate of UN security council resolution 1973, as many have claimed, including those in the Russian government.
He said: “The committee is going to look at how the UN security resolution was interpreted and implemented.”
Blunt pointed out that Moscow’s anger at how the resolution was interpreted has hampered diplomacy on Syria and Ukraine.
He said: “It has very strongly reinforced the sense in Russia of western exceptionalism, which has made negotiating with them on Syria and Crimea very difficult. When we say to them, you have got to stick to the rules of the road, they can point to areas where they think we have bent the rules. Have we created a much more difficult relationship with the Russians?”
The Libya inquiry will be the first under Blunt’s chairmanship of the committee and seen as statement of intent to ask to difficult questions. He said: “I hope all our inquiries will be awkward for the government – that’s rather the point of House of Commons oversight to the government.
“We could conduct inquiries into thoroughgoing success, but what would be the point? I’m not sure there is anyone who regards the intervention in Libya as a thoroughgoing success.”
Asked whether he regretted voting for the no-fly zone over Libya, Blunt said: “Only John Barron on our committee had the wisdom to vote against the no-fly zone over Libya. We need to look at that decision and circumstances facing people in Benghazi ... Faced with the imminent slaughter of a large number of people in Benghazi, what is the international community supposed to do?”
Earlier this month, Blunt criticised the government’s involvement in bombing Islamic State in Iraq as “unnecessary”.
Commenting on the Libya inquiry, Chris Doyle, the director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said: “It has the potential to be awkward, because Libya has not been a success and neither has the government’s policy in Iraq, Syria or Yemen. We are not in a good place in the whole region. So it is difficult not to be critical.
“I don’t think any MP would say they are happy with the way Libya has turned out. It is timely, because Libya is still potentially a failed state and it does pose security risks in Europe.”
This article was written by Matthew Weaver, for theguardian.com on Friday 24th July 2015 15.08 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010