The AU & NATO – Who is more irrelevant?
Within the NATO alliance, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned of a “dim future” for NATO if they do not step up and do their share of the fighting. Strong words from a powerful figure, but in Libya NATO is proving its capability in protecting civilians quite well, whereas the organisation that should be taking a lead role in this, the AU, has proven nothing but its ability to remain completely detached from the strategic reality in Gaddaffi’s former country.
The ICC have issued warrants for Gaddaffi’s arrest, alleging war crimes carried out under his orders. Not implausible given the good Colonel’s insistence on being supreme military overlord of his forces and widespread accounts of loyalist forces being ordered to target civilians. The AU, in its infinite wisdom, have decided to reject this warrant. Aside from this making zero sense from a moral perspective and enabling Gaddaffi an effective “get out of Libya free” card, the AU is simply adding to its already-established marginalisation away from the Libyan issue.
Secondly, when the AU propose a peace plan that does not have the explicit mention of Gaddaffi being removed from office, do they honestly expect the rebels, who have been fighting and dying for precisely this one thing, to accept it based on the goodwill of African politicians so far removed from the reality of Libya? It is almost as if the regional organisation is intentionally making poor decisions so as to be marginalised (Libya was the AU’s largest financial backer) from the process and avoid having to make any concrete policy choice which might incriminate them further down the line. Certainly contributing zero military assets to the No-Fly Zone would have done this already, but perhaps the AU is simply trying to make sure that it is not considered seriously at all in international politics.
It is entirely likely that Gaddaffi will be removed from office eventually by NATO forces, or more likely the rebels who are now preparing for a major offensive into Tripoli. What astounds me is how the AU have perhaps not considered what the consequences of their pro-Gaddaffi politics will be when a loyalist government is elected. I imagine a pro-NATO, anti-AU government, and the latter can certainly forget about the generous membership fees paid by Libya until now. South Africa can probably write off all the arms deals we had, as the rebels will almost certainly be approached by EU and American investors long before we are allowed a legitimate voice in the country. If the AU have not considered this, and are simply adopting this apologetic tone out of political cowardice, it is a damning indictment on the AU’s relevance in international relations.
So there are two questions occurring here. For NATO, the matter is more internal, where EU forces have proven a combat capability, but a complete deficit in other aspects of joint operations, such as intelligence networks and general surveillance equipment and training (something which the Americans have largely supplied). For the AU, it is a broader questioning of its legitimacy as a problem-solving organisation for Africa as a whole. If the AU decide on a policy, but nobody notices, does the policy still matter? Gaddaffi will go, whether the AU wish it or not, and NATO will have had a large hand in the end result, whereas the organisation ostensibly responsible for African Affairs would have had nothing to do with it, other than having chaired a few anecdotally-interesting meetings with the Colonel, where they have been intentionally misled, and remained largely ignorant of Libyan affairs as they are happening on the ground. It is high time the AU began to genuinely evaluate its relevancy in global politics, because the Libyan revolution has shone an incredibly exposing light on its inadequacies.
Image by the Embassy of Equatorial Guinea