Libya: Examination of intervention and collapse and the UK's future policy options Contents


United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973

17.France, Lebanon and the UK proposed Resolution 1973 in the United Nations Security Council with the support of the United States. On 17 March 2011, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Gabon, Lebanon, Nigeria, Portugal, South Africa and permanent Security Council members France, the UK and the United States voted in favour of the resolution. Brazil, Germany, India and permanent Security Council members China and Russia abstained. No Security Council member state opposed the resolution.40 Resolution 1973 authorised member states to establish and enforce a no-fly zone over Libya and to use “all necessary measures” to prevent attacks on civilians.41 It neither explicitly authorised the deployment of ground forces nor addressed the questions of regime change and of post-conflict reconstruction.


18.We were told that the political momentum to propose Resolution 1973 began in France.42 France sustained its push for international action in relation to Libya throughout February and March 2011. For example, former Defence Secretary Dr Fox MP explained how France accelerated progress towards Resolution 1973 by recognising the National Transitional Council as the legitimate Government of Libya in March 2011.43 Former French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, who introduced Resolution 1973, asserted in his speech to the Security Council that “the situation on the ground is more alarming than ever, marked by the violent re-conquest of cities”. He stressed the urgency of the situation, arguing that “We have very little time left—perhaps only a matter of hours.”44 Subsequent analysis suggested that the immediate threat to civilians was being publicly overstated and that the reconquest of cities had not resulted in mass civilian casualties [see paragraphs 31 to 37].

19.Looking beyond the arguments advanced in the United Nations Security Council, other factors in addition to civilian protection appeared to influence French policy. Libyan exiles based in France were influential in raising fears about a possible massacre in Benghazi. Visiting Professor at King’s College London, Professor George Joffé, told us that “the decisions of President Sarkozy and his Administration were driven by Libyan exiles getting allies within the French intellectual establishment who were anxious to push for a real change in Libya.”45

20.A further insight into French motivations was provided in a freedom of information disclosure by the United States State Department in December 2015. On 2 April 2011, Sidney Blumenthal, adviser and unofficial intelligence analyst to the then United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reported this conversation with French intelligence officers to the Secretary of State:

According to these individuals Sarkozy’s plans are driven by the following issues:

a. A desire to gain a greater share of Libya oil production,

b. Increase French influence in North Africa,

c. Improve his internal political situation in France,

d. Provide the French military with an opportunity to reassert its position in the world,

e. Address the concern of his advisors over Qaddafi’s long term plans to supplant France as the dominant power in Francophone Africa.46

The sum of four of the five factors identified by Sidney Blumenthal equated to the French national interest. The fifth factor was President Sarkozy’s political self-interest.

21.Intervention in Libya was initially popular in France. A poll by IFOP reported that 66% of the French public approved of the intervention in April 2011.47 Commentators have speculated about the extent to which possible electoral gains influenced decisions taken by the former French President in the year before his failed re-election campaign.48 One commentator argued that “Sarkozy’s main rival is not Gaddafi, but rather Marine Le Pen”.49 Another observed that President Sarkozy was eager to present himself as proactive in the Mediterranean and in addressing French concerns over illegal immigration to Europe from North Africa.50

22.The UK was the second country after France to call on the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians. Former Foreign Secretary Lord Hague of Richmond observed that “President Sarkozy and his Government were very determined about this from the outset”.51 Lord Hague confirmed that the new British strategy in relation to Libya was formulated as events developed “from the beginning of the fighting in Libya.”52

23.France led the international community in advancing the case for military intervention in Libya in February and March 2011. UK policy followed decisions taken in France.

United States

24.Dr Fox told us that “the US were quite reticent about getting involved militarily and tying up assets in a Libyan campaign.”53 Lord Hague added that “there were divisions in the American Government” and that the UK and France influenced the United States to support Resolution 1973.54 Before the United States joined the coalition of nations willing to intervene in Libya, France and the UK argued that the international community should simply impose a no-fly zone. Former US Ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, pointed out:

Cameron and Sarkozy were the undisputed leaders, in terms of doing something. The problem was that it wasn’t really clear what that something was going to be. Cameron was pushing for a no-fly zone, but in the US there was great scepticism. A no-fly zone wasn’t effective in Bosnia, it wasn’t effective in Iraq, and probably wasn’t going to be effective in Libya. When President Obama was confronted with the argument for a no-fly zone, he asked how this was going to be effective. Gaddafi was attacking people. A no-fly zone wasn’t going to stop him. Instead, to stop him we would need to bomb his forces attacking people.55

The United States was instrumental in extending the terms of Resolution 1973 beyond the imposition of a no-fly zone to include the authorisation of “all necessary measures” to protect civilians.56 In practice, this led to the imposition of a ‘no-drive zone’ and the assumed authority to attack the entire Libyan Government command and communications network.

The evidence base: intelligence

25.We questioned whether the UK Government had reliable intelligence on what was happening on the ground in Libya in February 2011 to inform its new policy. Former Ambassador to Libya Sir Dominic Asquith told us that “the database of knowledge in terms of people, actors and the tribal structure—the modern database, not the inherited historical knowledge—might well have been less than ideal.”57 Professor Joffé noted “the relatively limited understanding of events” and that “people had not really bothered to monitor closely what was happening”.58

26.Alison Pargeter, analyst and author, expressed her shock at the lack of awareness in Whitehall of the “history and regional complexities” of Libya.59 She argued that this lack of insight led to the failure to ask the key question why the rebellion was happening in Benghazi but not in Tripoli and to consider the significance of regional and tribal factors. For example, we noted that in a country with 6 million inhabitants, some 15,000 rebels were fighting around Benghazi and a similar number were engaged in the west.60 Our wider analysis and evidence gathering led us to conclude that the UK’s understanding of Libya before February 2011 was constrained by both resources and the lack of in-country networks for UK diplomats and others to draw on.

27.Intelligence on the extent to which extremist militant Islamist elements were involved in the anti-Gaddafi rebellion was inadequate. Former Chief of the Defence Staff Lord Richards of Herstmonceux confirmed that intelligence on the composition of the rebel militias was not “as good as one would wish.” He observed that “We found it quite difficult to get the sort of information you would expect us to get.”61 We asked Lord Richards whether he knew that Abdelhakim Belhadj and other members of the al-Qaeda affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group were participating in the rebellion in March 2011. He replied that that “was a grey area”.62 He added that “a quorum of respectable Libyans were assuring the Foreign Office” that militant Islamist militias would not benefit from the rebellion.63 He acknowledged that “with the benefit of hindsight, that was wishful thinking at best.”64

28.The possibility that militant extremist groups would attempt to benefit from the rebellion should not have been the preserve of hindsight. Libyan connections with transnational militant extremist groups were known before 2011, because many Libyans had participated in the Iraq insurgency and in Afghanistan with al-Qaeda.65

29.We asked Dr Fox whether he was aware of any assessment of the extent to which the rebellion involved militant Islamist elements. He replied that he did not “recall reading anything of that nature.”66 It is now clear that militant Islamist militias played a critical role in the rebellion from February 2011 onwards. They separated themselves from the rebel army, refused to take orders from non-Islamist commanders and assassinated the then leader of the rebel army, Abdel Fattah Younes.67

30.Lord Hague also acknowledged the lack of reliable intelligence. He argued in mitigation that Muammar Gaddafi’s intelligence service “did not understand the militias, the tribes, the movements and what was happening in their own country, so there is not much hope that a foreign intelligence service would have a more profound understanding.”68 However, Muammar Gaddafi’s actions in February and March 2011 demonstrated an appreciation of the delicate tribal and regional nature of Libya that was absent in UK policymaking. In particular, his forces did not take violent retribution against civilians in towns and cities on the road to Benghazi. Alison Pargeter told us that any such reprisals would have “alienated a lot of the tribes in the east of Libya” on which the Gaddafi regime relied.69

The evidence base: rhetoric

31.Given the lack of reliable intelligence, both Lord Hague and Dr Fox highlighted the impact of Muammar Gaddafi’s rhetoric on their decision-making. Dr Fox cited “Gaddafi’s 70-minute diatribe on TV against his own people—if you remember, he was talking about how he was going to repeat some of the crimes of history, praising Tiananmen Square, Waco and the destruction of Fallujah, and saying that he was going to visit this on Benghazi.”70 Lord Hague told us that

their stated intention, from Gaddafi himself, was to go house to house, room to room, exacting their revenge on the people of Benghazi…It would be a brave assumption, given the history of Gaddafi, the situation and the disposition of forces, that his army would drive into Benghazi and they would all behave like pussycats. A lot of people were going to die.71

The evidence base: our assessment

32.Despite his rhetoric, the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence. The Gaddafi regime had retaken towns from the rebels without attacking civilians in early February 2011.72 During fighting in Misrata, the hospital recorded 257 people killed and 949 people wounded in February and March 2011. Those casualties included 22 women and eight children.73 Libyan doctors told United Nations investigators that Tripoli’s morgues contained more than 200 corpses following fighting in late February 2011, of whom two were female.74 The disparity between male and female casualties suggested that Gaddafi regime forces targeted male combatants in a civil war and did not indiscriminately attack civilians. More widely, Muammar Gaddafi’s 40-year record of appalling human rights abuses did not include large-scale attacks on Libyan civilians.75

33.On 17 March 2011, Muammar Gaddafi announced to the rebels in Benghazi, “Throw away your weapons, exactly like your brothers in Ajdabiya and other places did. They laid down their arms and they are safe. We never pursued them at all.”76 Subsequent investigation revealed that when Gaddafi regime forces retook Ajdabiya in February 2011, they did not attack civilians.77 Muammar Gaddafi also attempted to appease protesters in Benghazi with an offer of development aid before finally deploying troops.78

34.Professor Joffé told us that

the rhetoric that was used was quite blood-curdling, but again there were past examples of the way in which Gaddafi would actually behave. If you go back to the American bombings in the 1980s of Benghazi and Tripoli, rather than trying to remove threats to the regime in the east, in Cyrenaica, Gaddafi spent six months trying to pacify the tribes that were located there. The evidence is that he was well aware of the insecurity of parts of the country and of the unlikelihood that he could control them through sheer violence. Therefore, he would have been very careful in the actual response…the fear of the massacre of civilians was vastly overstated.79

Alison Pargeter concurred with Professor Joffé’s judgment on Muammar Gaddafi’s likely course of action in February 2011. She concluded that there was no “real evidence at that time that Gaddafi was preparing to launch a massacre against his own civilians.”80

35.We were told that émigrés opposed to Muammar Gaddafi exploited unrest in Libya by overstating the threat to civilians and encouraging Western powers to intervene.81 In the course of his 40-year dictatorship Muammar Gaddafi had acquired many enemies in the Middle East and North Africa, who were similarly prepared to exaggerate the threat to civilians. Alison Pargeter told us that

the issue of mercenaries was amplified. I was told by Libyans here, “The Africans are coming. They’re going to massacre us. Gaddafi’s sending Africans into the streets. They’re killing our families.” I think that that was very much amplified. But I also think the Arab media played a very important role here. Al-Jazeera in particular, but also al-Arabiya, were reporting that Gaddafi was using air strikes against people in Benghazi and, I think, were really hamming everything up, and it turned out not to be true.82

36.An Amnesty International investigation in June 2011 could not corroborate allegations of mass human rights violations by Gaddafi regime troops. However, it uncovered evidence that rebels in Benghazi made false claims and manufactured evidence. The investigation concluded that

much Western media coverage has from the outset presented a very one-sided view of the logic of events, portraying the protest movement as entirely peaceful and repeatedly suggesting that the regime’s security forces were unaccountably massacring unarmed demonstrators who presented no security challenge.83

37.Many Western policymakers genuinely believed that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered his troops to massacre civilians in Benghazi, if those forces had been able to enter the city. However, while Muammar Gaddafi certainly threatened violence against those who took up arms against his rule, this did not necessarily translate into a threat to everyone in Benghazi. In short, the scale of the threat to civilians was presented with unjustified certainty. US intelligence officials reportedly described the intervention as “an intelligence-light decision”.84

38.We have seen no evidence that the UK Government carried out a proper analysis of the nature of the rebellion in Libya. It may be that the UK Government was unable to analyse the nature of the rebellion in Libya due to incomplete intelligence and insufficient institutional insight and that it was caught up in events as they developed. It could not verify the actual threat to civilians posed by the Gaddafi regime; it selectively took elements of Muammar Gaddafi’s rhetoric at face value; and it failed to identify the militant Islamist extremist element in the rebellion. UK strategy was founded on erroneous assumptions and an incomplete understanding of the evidence.

The shadow of Srebrenica

39.The Bosnian Serb Army killed more than 8,000 Muslims near the town of Srebrenica in July 1995. The international community’s inability to prevent that act of genocide influenced a generation of Western politicians and policymakers. Dr Fox told us that “a fear of…another Srebrenica on our hands…was very much a driving factor in the decision-making at the time.”85 Lord Richards observed that “it would be a stain on our conscience for ever if we allowed another Srebrenica; I remember a lot of talk about Srebrenica”.86 Lord Hague also cited the influence of Srebrenica on his thinking.87 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Tobias Ellwood MP, referred to “the horrific examples of Srebrenica, and Rwanda before, which we saw unfolding again before us in Libya in 2011.”88

40.In his analysis of the operation of the National Security Council in February and March 2011, Sir Anthony Seldon reported a generational split between the 40-something politicians, including the then Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, for whom Srebrenica had been a formative experience, and older officials, who highlighted the need to strike a deal with Muammar Gaddafi.89 Given the lack of reliable intelligence on which to build policy, British politicians and policymakers may have attached undue weight to their individual and collective memories of the appalling events at Srebrenica.

Supporting the rebels

41.The deployment of coalition air assets shifted the military balance in the Libyan civil war in favour of the rebels.90 Lord Richards explained that

air power is a facilitator, not a guarantee of victory…the role of the ground forces is ultimately critical. Therefore, while air power was vital … if the militias and our Arab allies had not been there playing a key role, I am not so certain that air power would have resulted in Gaddafi’s downfall in the way it did.91

42.The combat performance of rebel ground forces was enhanced by personnel and intelligence provided by states such as the UK, France, Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.92 For example, Lord Richards told us that the UK “had a few people embedded” with the rebel forces.93

43.Resolution 1973 called on United Nations member states to ensure the “strict implementation of the arms embargo”.94 However, we were told that the international community turned a blind eye to the supply of weapons to the rebels.95 Lord Richards highlighted “the degree to which the Emiratis and the Qataris…played a major role in the success of the ground operation.”96 For example, Qatar supplied French Milan anti-tank missiles to certain rebel groups.97 We were told that Qatar channelled its weapons to favoured militias rather than to the rebels as a whole.98

44.The combination of coalition airpower with the supply of arms, intelligence and personnel to the rebels guaranteed the military defeat of the Gaddafi regime. On 20 March 2011, for example, Muammar Gaddafi’s forces retreated some 40 miles from Benghazi following attacks by French aircraft.99 If the primary object of the coalition intervention was the urgent need to protect civilians in Benghazi, then this objective was achieved in less than 24 hours.100

The basis for intervention: did it change?

45.We questioned why NATO conducted air operations across Libya between April and October 2011 when it had secured the protection of civilians in Benghazi in March 2011. Lord Hague advanced the argument that “Gaddafi’s forces remained a clear danger to civilians. Having been beaten back, they were not then going to sit quietly and accept the situation”.101 Dr Fox stated that “the UN resolution said to take all possible measures to protect civilians, and that meant a constant degradation of command and control across the country. That meant not just in the east of the country, but in Tripoli.”102 Throughout their evidence, Lord Hague and Dr Fox stuck to the line that the military intervention in Libya was intended to protect civilians and was not designed to deliver regime change.103

46.We examined whether the UK and its coalition allies specifically targeted Muammar Gaddafi. Dr Fox was responsible for targeting in his role as Defence Secretary. He told us that

It was not within the UN resolution to specifically target individuals, but we did regard it as within our remit to target command and control centres. If some of the individuals whom we regarded as leaders of the regime happened to be there, that was their tough luck.104

Dr Fox advanced the argument that Muammar Gaddafi’s residence in Tripoli was also a “high-level command and control centre” and was therefore a legitimate target.105

47.We asked Lord Richards whether the object of British policy in Libya was civilian protection or regime change. He told us that “one thing morphed almost ineluctably into the other” as the campaign developed its own momentum.106 He expressed his concern about the strategic direction of the campaign in March 2011:

During Benghazi, an increasingly influential set of people started saying, “If we’re really going to protect civilians, you’ve got to get rid of Gaddafi.” That is when I said, “Well, is that really sensible? What are we going to do if he goes?” and all the things that I had learned through bitter experience. That was rather ignored in the majority view, which was, “We need to get rid of him, simply to make sure we meet the political aim of preventing large-scale civilian loss of life.”107

48.When the then Prime Minister David Cameron sought and received parliamentary approval for military intervention in Libya on 21 March 2011, he assured the House of Commons that the object of the intervention was not regime change.108 In April 2011, however, he signed a joint letter with United States President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy setting out their collective pursuit of “a future without Gaddafi”.109

49.The UK’s intervention in Libya was reactive and did not comprise action in pursuit of a strategic objective. This meant that a limited intervention to protect civilians drifted into a policy of regime change by military means.

The basis for intervention: were political alternatives explored?

50.Lord Richards told us that the British campaign plan included a pause after Benghazi had been secured to allow the international community to explore political options. However, the French military had not built such a pause into its strategy. The lack of international co-ordination to develop an agreed strategy meant that any potential pause for politics became unachievable.110

51.Lord Hague told us that the Government initially followed its Labour predecessor’s policy of reconciliation with the Gaddafi regime when it assumed office in 2010.111 The Government rapidly developed a new policy of intervention to protect civilians as Muammar Gaddafi’s forces approached Benghazi in mid-February 2011.112 It did not explore alternatives to military intervention such as sanctions, negotiations or the application of diplomatic pressure.113 In pursuing regime change, it abandoned a decade of foreign policy engagement, which had delivered some successes in relation to co-operation against Islamist extremism, improved British-Libyan relations, decommissioned weapons of mass destruction, collaboration on managing migration from North Africa and commercial opportunities for UK businesses. Bearing those points in mind, we examined whether it might have been possible to secure civilian protection and political reform through negotiation in early 2011.

Saif Gaddafi

52.Saif Gaddafi is the second son of Muammar Gaddafi.114 He was a member of his father’s inner circle and exercised influence in Libya. In 2009, the then US Ambassador to Libya described Saif Gaddafi as the “heir apparent” in a report to the US State Department.115 Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who knew the Gaddafi regime better than most Western politicians, confirmed that Saif Gaddafi was “the best, if not the only prospect” of effecting political change in Libya.116

53.We examined whether Saif Gaddafi might have been able to broker a settlement in Libya that included his father stepping down, the imposition of safeguards for civilians and the introduction of political reforms to resolve the crisis.117 Lord Hague told us that Saif Gaddafi had called him “as the trouble began”.118 He rejected the proposition that Saif Gaddafi might have facilitated the abdication of Muammar Gaddafi and a negotiated solution to the crisis. He argued that “it would have been unwise for the British Foreign Secretary to suggest an internal coup within the Gaddafi Administration, particularly as the successor might have been no better than the predecessor.”119 After speaking to Lord Hague, Saif Gaddafi “did not call back again.”120

54.It is ultimately unknowable whether Saif Gaddafi possessed the influence, character, judgment and experience to broker a ceasefire and to implement national political reform. He was, however, advised by and associated with reformists who subsequently delivered a democratic programme when they served in the NTC. For example, Mahmoud Jibril, who was NTC Prime Minister, had chaired Saif Gaddafi’s National Economic Development Board. And the NTC Chairman, Abdul Jalil, was selected by Saif Gaddafi to promote judicial reform as Libyan Justice Minister, a post he held before his defection to the rebels in 2011.121 Lord Hague told us that “the National Transitional Council was very experienced and respected—I certainly formed a very high opinion of them as I worked with them during the conflict—and included people such as Mahmoud Jibril and Abdul Jalil”.122 Whether engagement with Saif Gaddafi might have allowed Lord Hague to support Mahmoud Jibril and Abdul Jalil in implementing reform in Libya without incurring the political, military and human costs of intervention and regime change will never be known; such possibilities, however, should have been seriously considered at the time.

Muammar Gaddafi

55.Former Prime Minister Tony Blair provided a further example of contact with the Gaddafi regime. He told us that he spoke to Muammar Gaddafi on the telephone in February 2011.123 Mr Blair subsequently provided us with the notes of those telephone calls, which we placed in the public domain for the first time.124 The notes showed that Mr Blair attempted to convince Muammar Gaddafi to stop the violence and stand aside.125

56.Muammar Gaddafi might have been seeking an exit from Libya in February and March 2011.126 On 21 February 2011, for example, Lord Hague told reporters that he had seen credible information that Muammar Gaddafi was on his way to exile in Venezuela.127 Concerted action after the telephone calls conducted by Mr Blair might have led to Muammar Gaddafi’s abdication and to a negotiated solution in Libya. It was therefore important to keep the lines of communication open. However, we saw no evidence that the then Prime Minister David Cameron attempted to exploit Mr Blair’s contacts. Mr Blair explained that both Mr Cameron and former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were aware that he was communicating with Muammar Gaddafi. We asked Mr Blair to describe Mr Cameron’s reaction to his conversations with Muammar Gaddafi. He told us that Mr Cameron “was merely listening”.128

57.Political options were available if the UK Government had adhered to the spirit of Resolution 1973, implemented its original campaign plan and influenced its coalition allies to pause military action when Benghazi was secured in March 2011. Political engagement might have delivered civilian protection, regime change and reform at lesser cost to the UK and to Libya. If political engagement had been unsuccessful, the UK and its coalition allies would not have lost anything. Instead, the UK Government focused exclusively on military intervention. In particular, we saw no evidence that it tried to exploit former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s contacts and influence with the Gaddafi regime.

Decision making

58.The National Security Council (NSC) is a Cabinet Committee that oversees national security, intelligence co-ordination and defence strategy.129 It is chaired by the Prime Minister. The NSC was established by David Cameron in May 2010. It was intended to provide a formal mechanism to shape high-level decision-making.

59.Libya was the first test of the new NSC mechanism, which replaced the relatively informal process used during Tony Blair’s premiership. The Iraq Inquiry examined in detail the decision-making in government that led to the UK’s participation in the Iraq war in 2003.130 The inquiry, which was chaired by Sir John Chilcot, criticised the informal approach adopted by former Prime Minister Tony Blair:

Most decisions on Iraq pre-conflict were taken either bilaterally between Mr Blair and the relevant Secretary of State or in meetings between Mr Blair, Mr Straw [Foreign Secretary] and Mr Hoon [Defence Secretary], with No.10 officials and, as appropriate, Mr John Scarlett (Chairman of the JIC), Sir Richard Dearlove and Admiral Boyce. Some of those meetings were minuted; some were not.131

The Iraq Inquiry pointed out that “the purpose of the minute of a meeting is to set out the conclusions reached so that those who have to take action know precisely what to do; the second purpose is to give the reasons why the conclusions were reached.”132 In contrast with the informal process adopted by Mr Blair, every NSC meeting on Libya was minuted and the record circulated to Departments.133

60.The Iraq Inquiry criticised the way in which legal advice in relation to UK participation in the Iraq war was delivered in 2003.134 For example, it observed that the legal question whether Iraq was in breach of UN Resolution 1441 was resolved “in terms that can only be described as perfunctory” and that “no formal record was made of that decision and the precise grounds on which it was made remain unclear.”135 In contrast, the Attorney-General or a representative was present at all NSC meetings, which were minuted, where a legal opinion was required in relation to Libya.136

61.The Iraq Inquiry concluded that

where policy options include significant military deployments, particularly where they will have implications for the responsibilities of more than one Cabinet Minister, are likely to be controversial, and/or are likely to give rise to significant risks, the options should be considered by a group of Ministers meeting regularly, whether or not they are formally designated as a Cabinet Committee, so that Cabinet as a whole can be enabled to take informed collective decisions.137

On paper, the Iraq Inquiry’s recommendation described a committee with a function similar to that of the NSC.

62.The formal NSC mechanism is a clear improvement on the informal decision-making process utilised by Tony Blair’s Government. However, it is not perfect. For example, the operation of the NSC ensured that all the key political and military decision makers participated in a minuted discussion on the question whether to intervene in Libya, which was chaired by the then Prime Minister. Lord Hague recalled

the Prime Minister [David Cameron] summing up the meeting and saying, “The key question is this: is it in the British national interest, if this is about to happen in Benghazi and this conflict is happening in this way, for us to intervene? That is the question we have to decide.” And having taken opinions from all around the room, he concluded that it was.138

63.We asked Lord Richards whether he was convinced that military intervention in Libya was in the national interest in March 2011. He replied that “the Prime Minister felt it was in our national interest.”139 Former Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, Sir John Sawers, reportedly also doubted whether the intervention in Libya was in the British national interest.140 Lord Richards told us that he was unconvinced by the development of UK strategy in spring and summer 2011. With the benefit of hindsight, his concerns were well founded, but the NSC mechanism failed to capture them and bring them to the attention of the Cabinet when it ratified the NSC’s decisions.

64.The Iraq Inquiry highlighted “the important function which a Minister without departmental responsibilities for the issues under consideration can play. This can provide some external challenge from experienced members of the government and mitigate any tendency towards group-think.”141 The exclusive nature of the NSC membership limited the possibility of such constructive outside challenge in the development of policy.142

65.David Cameron commissioned the then National Security Adviser (NSA), Sir Peter Ricketts, to examine how the NSC functioned in relation to the Libyan intervention. The NSA’s review was published in December 2011, two months after the end of the Libyan civil war, which may have been too soon to assimilate lessons learned.143 In addition, the NSA serves as secretary to the NSC, so this review was not independent. Having rapidly marked his own homework, the NSA concluded that “the NSC sub-committee on Libya…successfully brought together key Ministers and officials and was an effective vehicle for driving the campaign.”144 Bearing in mind the political, economic and human state of Libya today, this judgment appears questionable.

66.We note former Prime Minister David Cameron’s decisive role when the National Security Council discussed intervention in Libya. We also note that Lord Richards implicitly dissociated himself from that decision in his oral evidence to this inquiry. The Government must commission an independent review of the operation of the NSC. This review should consider the merits of introducing a formal mechanism to allow non-ministerial NSC members to request prime ministerial direction to undertake actions agreed in the NSC. It should be informed by the conclusions of the Iraq Inquiry and examine whether the weaknesses in governmental decision-making in relation to the Iraq intervention in 2003 have been addressed by the introduction of the NSC.

41 United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1973, 17 March 2011

42 Q4; Q233 [Dr Fox]

45 Q4

46 US Department of State, H: France’s client and Q’s gold. Sid, 2 April 2011, C05779612

47 The New York Times, Libyan War Not a Sure Thing to Save Sarkozy, 11 April 2011

48 The Economist, Sarkozy relaunched, 24 March 2011

49 Gatestone Institute, Why France Was So Keen to Attack Libya, 23 March 2011

50 The Week, Why Sarkozy is so keen to bomb Gaddafi, 11 March 2011

55 Michael Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott, Call me Dave, p435

56 Q275 [Lord Hague]

58 Q3

59 Q5

60 Joseph Walker-Cousins (LIB0008) para 2

65 The New York Times, Iraq Then Libya Now, 13 March 2011. On a per capita basis, Libya provided more foreign fighters to the Iraq insurgency than any other part of the Arab world.

67 Q29; Joseph Walker-Cousins (LIB008) para 11

69 Q1

72 Q1 [Alison Pargeter]

74 Foreign Affairs, Obama’s Libya Debacle, Alan J. Kuperman, March 2015

75 Q1 [Professor Joffé]

76 Foreign Affairs, Obama’s Libya Debacle, Alan J. Kuperman, March 2015

77 Q1 [Alison Pargeter]

78 Q1 [Alison Pargeter]

79 Q1 [Professor Joffé]

80 Q1 [Alison Pargeter]

81 Q2 [Professor Joffé]

82 Q2 [Alison Pargeter]

89 Sir Anthony Seldon and Peter Snowden, Cameron at 10, p101

95 Q20 [Alison Pargeter]

98 Q29; Peter Cole and Brian McQuinn, The Libyan Revolution and its Aftermath, p73

108 HC Deb, 21 March 2011, col. 703 [Commons Chamber]

114 His full name is Saif al-Islam Gaddafi.

115 The New York Times, A Selection From the Cache of Diplomatic Dispatches, 19 June 2011

121 BBC News, Key figures in Libya’s rebel council, 25 August 2011

129 National Security Council, Structure of the NSC

130 Report of a Committee of Privy Counsellors, The Report of the Iraq Inquiry, HC264, 6 July 2016

131 Report of a Committee of Privy Counsellors, The Report of the Iraq Inquiry, HC264, 6 July 2016, Executive Summary, para 399

132 Report of a Committee of Privy Counsellors, The Report of the Iraq Inquiry, HC264, 6 July 2016, Executive Summary, para 400

133 FCO (LIB013) Libya Crisis: National Security Adviser’s review of central co-ordination and lessons learned,
para 23

134 Report of a Committee of Privy Counsellors, The Report of the Iraq Inquiry, HC264, 6 July 2016, Executive Summary, para 432

135 Report of a Committee of Privy Counsellors, The Report of the Iraq Inquiry, HC264, 6 July 2016, Executive Summary, para 436

136 FCO (LIB013) Libya Crisis: National Security Adviser’s Review of Central Co-ordination and lessons learned, Summary

137 Report of a Committee of Privy Counsellors, The Report of the Iraq Inquiry, HC264, 6 July 2016, Executive Summary, para 405

140 Sir Anthony Seldon and Peter Snowden, Cameron at 10, p101

141 Report of a Committee of Privy Counsellors, The Report of the Iraq Inquiry, HC264, 6 July 2016, Executive Summary, para 407

142 The membership of the NSC and NSC sub-committee that took decisions in relation to Libya is set out in FCO (LIB013) Libya Crisis: National Security Adviser’s Review of Central Co-ordination and lessons learned, Annex C, paras 6 and 7

143 FCO (LIB013) Libya Crisis: National Security Adviser’s Review of Central Co-ordination and lessons learned

144 FCO (LIB013) Libya Crisis: National Security Adviser’s Review of Central Co-ordination and lessons learned, Summary

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9 September 2016