NATO’s Intervention in Libya (2011): A Success or Failure?


Semanur Işıksoy*


I. Introduction


Humanitarian intervention basically means military intervention on the territory of a state to end large-scale human rights violations. It is possible to refer to many examples of humanitarian intervention experienced in the recent period.


This article will examine NATO’s military intervention in Libya in 2011. First, the process leading to military intervention in Libya will be briefly discussed, and then the success of this intervention will be evaluated in terms of its short-term and long-term consequences.


II. Towards Humanitarian Intervention in Libya


The popular uprisings, which began in Tunisia in 2010 and spread to Egypt termed by many analysts as the “Arab Spring” had also affected Libya and led to the start of protests in Benghazi on 15-16 February 2011 (Şentuna, 2019, pp. 225-226).


On February 17, 2011, security forces violently suppressed the large-scale civil demonstrations that started against the Libyan Leader Gaddafi’s government due to the public reform demand. Ultimately, the UNSC considered the situation as a threat to international peace & security which culminated in civilian casualties. Thus, the UNSC adopted resolutions 1970 and 1973 and prepared the grounds for military intervention against Libya (Şentuna,2019, p.215). By Resolution 1973, the Libyan airspace was declared a no-fly zone. This Resolution warned of an urgent ceasefire and an end to violence against civilians. Accordingto it if these were not ensured, the protection of civilians were to be provided by ‘taking all necessary measures’ (Sak, 2015, p.141). This intervention ended with the death of Gaddafi and the collapse of the regime (Behluli, 2017, p.76).


III. Consequences of the Intervention in Libya


a. Short-Term Outcomes


In terms of short-term success, this humanitarian intervention carried out by NATO in 2011 had stopped the brutal acts of the Gaddafi regime, such as killing civilians and torture. That is, the intervention provided protection for the residents of Benghazi in the short-term (Pattison, 2011, p.275). Therefore, it was successful in stopping the persecution of the Gaddafi regime against his own population (Behluli, 2017, p.73).


The most positive development for Libya was the arrival of a secular & moderate coalition government to power in 2012 with democratic elections, a major change after the protracted Gaddafi dictatorship (Behluli, 2017, p.70). However, despite this, the elected government had little authority throughout the country and there were many tribal and armed groups that need to be controlled (Karaoğlu, 2019, p.219).


b. Long-Term Outcomes


In terms of long-term success, although the Gaddafi government was overthrown as a result of the intervention, the Libyan society became polarised’ and thus internally divided. Additionally, the influence of radical groups such as ISIS and Ansar al-Sharia (Islamic radicalism) had increased as a result of a power vacuum that transpired at the end of NATO’s intervention. Hence, post-Gaddafi Libya has become a inflict ridden zone ruled by non-state actors and local armed groups. Moreover, human rights violations suffering had intensified in Libya, in addition to the prolongation of the civil war and the increase in the death toll. Along with these negative developments in Libya, weapons trafficking had also spread in Libya’s neighbors such as Mali (Kuperman, 2013). After the intervention, different armed groups emerged in the country and there was a serious problem in building peace as they came into conflict with each other to seize power (Sürücüoğlu, 2017, p.621).


In economic terms Libya’s economy, an oil-exporting country, was not healthy before the intervention because of the persistent authoritarian rule in the country and international embargoes, but after the intervention, oil production and export paused for a certain period of time. Additionally, unemployment had also increased (Güdekli, 2017, p.94).


Today, Libya cannot provide stability and security to its citizens, and violence is increasing in the region (Behluli, 2017, p.69). Therefore, this intervention without an exit strategy was a disaster for Libya for the long-term.


IV. Conclusion

In sum, procceding from the Libyan case, it could be argued that although interventions are generally more successful in stopping immediate killing, they are not designed to bring success in the long run. The end-result of  the intervention in Libya was a catalyst for preventing mass killings or helpful in protecting civilians in the first instance , but it subjected civilians to an almost constant state of conflict. Therefore, without a proper and well-thought design, interventions may prove more harmful than beneficial.



Behluli, M 2017, ‘Uluslararası müdahalelerin etkinliği: Libya ve Kosava için karşılaştırmalı bir analiz’, PhD thesis, İstanbul Medeniyet Üniversitesi, İstanbul.


Güdekli, D 2017, ‘Uluslararası Hukuk Bağlamında İnsani Müdahale: NATO’nun Libya Müdahalesi’, PhD thesis, Gazi Üniversitesi, Ankara.


Karaoğlu, AO 2019, ‘Libya’ya Askeri Müdahale ve Uluslararası Hukukta Yeniden İnşa Sorumluluğu’, İstanbul Medipol Üniversitesi Hukuk Fakültesi Dergisi, 6(1), pp.199-224.


Kuperman, AJ 2013, ‘Lessons from Libya: How Not to Intervene’, International Security.


Pattison, J 2011, ‘The ethics of humanitarian intervention in Libya’, Ethics & International Affairs, 25(3), pp.271-277.


Sak, Y 2015, ‘Uluslararası Hukukta İnsancıl müdahale ve Libya Örneği: Suriye’de Yaşanan ya da Yaşanacaklar için Dersler’, Uluslararası İlişkiler Dergisi, 11(44), pp.121-153.


Sürücüoğlu, O 2017, ‘Koruma Sorumluluğu: Darfur Krizi ve Libya Müdahalesi Çerçevesinde Bir Değerlendirme’, Dokuz Eylül Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Dergisi, 19(4), pp.603-628.


Şentuna, T 2019, ‘Libya Askeri Müdahalesinin Uluslararası Hukuka Uygunluğu ve Koruma Sorumluluğu Kavramı Çerçevesinde Meşruiyeti’, The Turkish Yearbook of International Relations, 50, pp.215-239.


*Semanur Işıksoy is a senior student at Hacettepe University, Department of International Relations. She is also doing a minor in the Department of Psychology. She is generally interested in International Law, European Union, International Security Studies, International Relations Theories and Foreign Policy.

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