International conflict analysis · Middle East & North Africa

Why was France so assertive in taking leadership to bring change to Libya in 2011?

In 2011 the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) demonstrated against their governments’ abuses and transformed the region’s policy. The leaders strongly opposed the reforms demanded by protesters and used their police and army to crush the rebellions with force. Despite leaders’ attempts to end uprisings and retain power, rebels managed to overthrow the government of Ben Ali in Tunisia, Mubarak in Egypt, Gaddafi in Libya and Saleh in Yemen. Western countries sought a diplomatic response that would allow them to find a balance between supporting both democratic values and allied repressive regimes that maintained regional stability. Economically, MENA has important oil reserves that provision Western economies and monitors shipping routes by which oil is transported internationally (ICG 2015), and strategically MENA is a key ally in the Western fight against terrorism. While the United States (US) and European Union (EU) backed the protesters’ democratic aspirations and rejected the governments’ violent responses to demonstrations, they also cared about the consequences of the fall of the leaders who had helped them achieve their diplomatic objectives in the region (Durac & Cavatorta 2009).

Reluctant to take unilateral position without considering all possible outcomes, including the likelihood of rebels’ success and the potential economic, diplomatic and strategic consequences, Western countries used intergovernmental institutions, like the pro-cooperation United Nations (UN) and EU, the judicial International Criminal Court (ICC) and the military North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), to find a response legitimated by the agreement of several countries and by international law (Bozo 2010). By working within these institutions’ framework, they were able to respond to these crises ‘without being held to account’ (Zambakari 2016, 56) for their traditional interventionist foreign policies. As a former major colonial power, France and its then-President Nicolas Sarkozy saw these uprisings as an opportunity to assert power in a strategic region. Since the beginning of his presidency in 2007, Sarkozy tried to strengthen French influence in the Mediterranean by creating the Union for the Mediterranean, promoting trade between French private companies and Mediterranean countries, normalizing Franco-Libyan relations and seeking a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Daguzan 2009), albeit with limited success.

This paper will argue that the French leadership in the international intervention in Libya is an attempt by Sarkozy to remind the international community that France is still an influential diplomatic and military power that can effectively manage 21st century major challenges (Bozo 2010). The issue of oil control will deliberately not be addressed in this paper as it is in itself the origin of a major debate about whether the whole Western intervention was motivated by oil. The first part will argue that the Libyan protests was an opportunity to compensate for the way France reacted to the Tunisian and, to a lesser extent, Egyptian uprisings and thus be back ‘on the right side of history’ (Behr 2011). In particular it will explain how the reaction was inappropriate especially from the then-minister of Foreign Affairs, before exploring Responsibility to Protect (R2P) official justification, and analysing the domestic politics (Sarkozy being in his last year of mandate, any action directly impacted the electorate polls). The second section will demonstrate that Libya was also an opportunity to re-establish France’s capacity for international leadership. It will examine the US retreat from decision-making characterising Obama’s administration, then the low-cost and secure nature of international intervention in Libya and finally the diplomatic means used to coordinate this response. Finally in a third part, the paper will outline some additional factors to the two main arguments, namely the impact of Sarkozy as an individual, the threat of migration and the cultural identification.


To situate the intervention in its historical context, not only must the Mediterranean policy of Sarkozy’s administration be scrutinized but also the snowball effect of the 2011 Arab Spring. Indeed, when considering the reasons underlying the intervention, Henry emphasises the compensation for the ‘inadequacies’ in Tunisia and Egypt and agrees with the widely-spread critique of Sarkozy’s ‘aimless freneticism’ (2013, 413). The Tunisian revolution began among young unemployed graduates and triggered a wave of protests in the country against high unemployment, lack of opportunity, media censorship, and government repression and corruption. President Ben Ali tried to suppress the revolts by force which continued to spread despite the increasing number of deaths. Thanks to new technology and social media the rebels managed to direct the world’s attention to their grievances and to police violence enacted by the president’s orders. On January 14th, almost a month after the triggering immolation of a young salesman, the government finally fell and Ben Ali fled Tunisia.

Undoubtedly, the strong relations derived from the colonial past between Tunisia and France influenced the French response to the Tunisian revolution. Indeed, France continued to publicly support Ben Ali’s regime which was both an ally in the fight against Islamism and an economic partner (Erlanger 2011). As the largest economic partner of Tunisia, France sells 18% of imports and buys 29% of exports, which is important for the 1300 French companies in Tunisia (Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs 2016) and therefore the traditional foreign policy promoted stability to minimize the risks and maximize business interests of French citizens.

Due to its relations with Ben Ali’s regime, France was reluctant to recognize or support Tunisian protesters despite their commitment to freedom and democracy. Although it asked the Tunisian government to end the violence, it was slow at condemning the repressive actions and even a few days before the regime was toppled, French ministers kept supporting their Tunisian ally. For example, the then-minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Michèle Alliot-Marie, was challenged for her personal links with corrupt Tunisian officials. Paradoxically, the minister responsible for implementing foreign policy and representing France abroad was blamed for having close relations with the dictator’s family accused of human rights violations. In addition, she even offered to help the regime to restore peace even after Ben Ali used force against the demonstrators (Henry 2012, 411). After the rebels’ success and the collapse of Ben Ali’s regime, Sarkozy finally acknowledged that France underestimated the significance and the scope of the Tunisian upheaval (Hellman 2016, 38). He had to justify the lack of support for the rebels and for the values they claimed. At the same time, he tried to compensate by promising to help implementing democratic elections, to return the corruptly accumulated wealth of Ben Ali’s family to the public, and to refuse to give asylum to the former president or his family (Erlanger 2011). Sarkozy reorganized his ministers and replaced the Minister of Foreign Affairs by Alain Juppé. However, this U-turn came too late; French government’s support to Ben Ali had tarnished the country’s reputation as a protector of human rights and democracy.

In a different manner the revolts in Egypt from January 25th onwards were not as unexpected as those in Tunisia and France and the international community responded faster albeit still carefully. The US and European states, most of which were Mubarak’s allies, closely analysed the progress and likelihood of the revolts’ success to position themselves accordingly (Byman 2013, 290). When, for the first time since he was in power, Mubarak appointed a vice-president, it became clear that his regime would fall. Although the international community took a stronger position towards Mubarak than towards Ben Ali, it did not directly ask him to resign even though he proclaimed he would stay in office until the next elections. It only reacted to events caused by Egyptian actors rather than influence the revolution’s direction, in a logic of non-interference or a ‘wait-and-see approach’ (Henry 2012, 412). It was only after the rebels revealed the weaknesses of the government and Mubarak himself acknowledged that his fall was inevitable that Sarkozy and the other heads-of-state tried to speed up the transition process in a more peaceful manner.


On February 15th, protests began in Benghazi, the second Libyan city, against the repressive regime of Colonel Gaddafi, who seized power in a coup in 1969. According to NGOs, Gaddafi’s forces attacked peaceful demonstrators, killed at least 200 people during the first six days of the revolt and arrested hundreds of people suspected of involvement in anti-Gaddafi protests (Human Rights Watch 2012). Despite the government’s attempts to end the rebellion, rebels began to organize militias to defend themselves against Gaddafi’s forces. A growing number of Libyan ministers, generals and diplomats, including the ambassador to the UN, condemned the disproportionate force used against the Libyan people and withdrew from the government. As a result, they created the NTC to manage the crisis and territories under rebel control. The conflict in Libya quickly became a violent civil war between rebels and Gaddafi forces, in addition to the involvement of mercenaries, paramilitary forces and tribes, which has led scholars to question the political and strategic management of the aftermath of NATO’s operation (Dempsey 2016, 12).

The international community responded more quickly to the conflict in Libya than to the Tunisian or Egyptian upheavals. In a typical liberal internationalist fashion, they condemned the flagrant Libyan citizens’ rights abuses, although they were reluctant to unilaterally implement more concrete actions such as sanctions, the establishment of a no-fly zone or sending arms to rebels. They sought a multilateral response and gathered in international institutions to negotiate. For the first time since the beginning of the Arab Spring, the UN Security Council reacted, met very shortly after the outbreak of the uprising, and on February 26th, adopted a resolution unanimously. Even Russia and China surprisingly voted for resolution 1970, which imposed sanctions on Gaddafi’s government and provided for the Libyan leader to be prosecuted before the ICC for ‘atrocity crimes’ (Brockmeier et al. 2016, 113). In addition, the resolution called for first ‘an immediate end to the violence (…), steps to fulfil the legitimate demands of the population’ (UN Security Council 2011a, 2), and also an arms embargo, a travel ban and an assets freeze. This resolution expressed international disapproval to Gaddafi’s terrible deeds but it did nothing to deter him from killing his own subjects in order to maintain his authority and power. Indeed, after resolution 1970 came into force, the violence in Libya actually escalated and the international community had to consider other ways to put pressure on Gaddafi to stop violence against civilians or promote democracy in Libya.

This time Sarkozy decided not to repeat the same diplomatic mistakes he had made in response to the Tunisian revolution by supporting the dictator rather than democratic protesters. He aimed at restoring the image of France as a defender of freedom and human rights by refusing to tolerate Gaddafi regime’s abuses. Therefore, he adopted a stronger rhetoric by clearly expressing his support for demonstrators, although in his first years of mandate he controversially signed several major contracts concerning Airbus aircraft, armament and energy and welcomed Gaddafi’s attachment to liberal reforms (Zoubir 2009, 412-413). In fact, Sarkozy insisted on resolutely responding and promoting a stronger reaction than the passage of a weak Security Council’s resolution. Juppé introduced a resolution to set up ‘ways to protect people’ he had prepared with the English, the Americans and the Lebanese (Davidson 2013, 311). Indeed, on the one hand, it could allow almost any military operation if the international community decided that it was necessary to protect innocent Libyans. On the other hand, one of the main argument for the opponents to a regime change in Libya was the critique that an international intervention would take side in an internal conflict before seeking negotiations (Brockmeier et al. 2016, 125). Finally, the R2P became the main official justification for France for being so assertive in taking leadership to bring change to Libya in 2011.


The three main IR theories, namely liberalism, constructivism and realism allow to argue that the combined causal factors of the intervention are respectively the normative context of R2P, the perceived threat of migration and the involvement of seeking prestige and leadership. However, Davidson (2013) also highlights the domestic politics factor, that is to say the electoral risks of the intervention considering the public and opposition support. Indeed, facing domestic criticism that 81% of the ‘French lament a shrinking role on the world stage’ (France 24 2011), Sarkozy also had to reassert French power through its response to the Libyan crisis which had to be constructed around a ‘liberation’ discourse and away from a ‘colonialist’ one (Hellman 2016, 39). In fact, considering the relatively absent national interest in Libya, the decision-makers had to consider the many interrelations between the media, public opinion and general point of view from across the political spectrum. Bucher et al. (2013) in their newspaper analysis conclude that, in contrast to the German press, French media generally favoured the intervention with little questioning of its legitimacy.

Among those who influenced Sarkozy’s decisions French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, although a socialist opposing most right-wing policies, stands out. Lévy understood Sarkozy’s vanity and used it to encourage the president to intervene in Libya by discussing what he alone could do to protect both the Libyan people and the legacy of his presidency. Lévy shared Sarkozy’s double concerns about the humanitarian situation and his own reputation and despite their political and personal differences they worked together to coordinate international intervention in Libya. He connected Sarkozy with Libyan opposition leaders and organized meetings between the National Transitional Council (NTC) with the French president and US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Lévy greatly contributed to the French effort to help the Libyan opposition and to place France in a favourably viewed position (Henry 2012, 412). Finally, when analysing the domestic politics context, it should be noted that Sarkozy being in his last year of mandate, any action directly impacted the electorate polls. This electoral argument alone cannot however be sufficient to explain why France was so assertive in taking leadership to bring change to Libya in 2011, because Great Britain was also highly involved and Cameron was not in his last year of office (Osterman 2016, 86).




The Libyan revolution was an opportunity for Sarkozy to show that France can be a diplomatic and military leader on the international stage (Davidson 2013, 317). Furthermore, Sarkozy took advantage of the lack of proactive US leadership. The US weighted in international negotiations but were reluctant to get diplomatically or militarily involved in a country that was not a business partner or oil supplier. Following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the American public and the President’s councillors were averse to engage in another conflict in the Arab world and to risk equipment and lives. Therefore, Sarkozy demanded Gaddafi’s resignation and promoted the establishment of a no-fly zone a few days before the Americans. Obama acknowledged that the Libyan stakes were higher for Europeans and he agreed to let them take the lead in the international response. However, Obama’s approach was also described as ‘leading from behind’ (Byman 2013, 313), a strategy widely criticized by conservatives. Obama insisted on studying all available information and refused to hurry taking such a consequential decision. His careful approach sharply contrasts with Sarkozy’s ‘hyperactive’ one, indicative of his character and of his desire to act decisively to demonstrate the French ability to manage international crises (Ostermann 2016, 85). Obama’s slowness gave France the opportunity to take the lead in the international response to the Libyan conflict and to benefit from the credit of major multilateral actions.

Moreover, although US forces supplied management and intelligence (Dempsey 2016, 12) and led the first military campaigns, Obama wanted to quickly transfer control of the operation to an international body. Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy agreed that NATO would take over the enforcement of the no-fly zone, arms embargo and air strikes (Bozo 2010). This decision represented a failure for Sarkozy, who wanted to continue his leadership in establishing a Franco-British command to manage military operations. He opposed the transfer of control to NATO because the alliance is seen as an American tool and because participants like Qatar, who were not members of NATO, would not have a voice on military decisions. However, the US, UK and Turkey strongly insisted on a leading role in the transatlantic military alliance, and they came to a compromise that allowed an independent committee to make political decisions on the direction and objectives of the operation. Under the compromise, a NATO committee would conduct military activities but the French military kept the right to bypass the committee and unilaterally decide to engage targets in Libya.


At that time the decision to support the protesters looked secure because it seemed that Gaddafi would be the next dictator to be overthrown and Western countries wanted to be ’a fair-minded arbiter and guardian’ (Behr 2011) when the rebels succeeded. Indeed two authoritarian governments – Tunisia and Egypt – had already fallen and the general hope that they would become true democracies led Western countries to support the victorious side that would notably control Libyan oil and trade (ICG 2015). Another major aspect was the potential influence they would be able to exert on the new government if they supported its creation, as well as the fact that the new government would be more democratic if it was encouraged by established democracies.

Nevertheless, France did not take many diplomatic risks by promoting Gaddafi’s fall which was ‘unavoidable’ (Zoubir & Rozsa 2012, 1267), and most of the international community had already denounced his regime. Western countries were always suspicious of Gaddafi’s actions and the regional organisations such as the Arab League and the African Union endorsed the intervention and denounced the violence perpetrated. Thus, there was no sharp division between Western and Arab countries on condemning Gaddafi and several MENA countries such as Qatar and the UAE supported Sarkozy’s plans to help the Libyan rebels. Therefore, in addition to the protection of using NATO as a ‘proxy’ (Roberts 2011), Sarkozy knew he was above international law as a Security Council permanent member.


Western, Arab and African diplomats and heads-of-state used all diplomatic channels to manage the international response to the Libyan conflict, and Sarkozy decided to be proactive in negotiations to demonstrate the French influence. International organisations meetings took place including the EU, Arab League, NATO, UN, Union for the Mediterranean, Organization of Islamic conference, G8 and African Union (Bozo 2010). Sarkozy respected the international institutions’ role in the global system and hesitated to react unilaterally, which shows the benefits of relations with allies (Daguzan, 2009). He identified that he could only achieve his objectives with the international community’s approval. In order to demonstrate leadership, the balance between actions in multilateral organizations and personal rhetoric was necessary albeit limited (Utley 2013, 75). In addition to the military intervention, France influenced the international response’s direction by pushing the EU to adopt sanctions against Libya, being the first to demand Gaddafi’s resignation and to recognize the NTC as the only legitimate representative, recommending a stronger Security Council resolution which authorizes ‘all necessary measures to protect’ the Libyan people (UN Security Council 2011b, 3), organizing heads-of-state meetings and promoting the first military response in the form of a no-fly zone.

The Arab Spring was an opportunity for the EU to stand as a key force in foreign affairs, however in the typical French Gaullist tradition Sarkozy considered the EU as an extension of French power (Howorth 2010, Dehousse & Menon 2009) and therefore viewed any EU’s diplomatic success as a symbol of French influence. Moreover, member states failed to agree on a formal response because there was reluctance from Germany and the UK, two influential countries. Indeed, Merkel and Cameron became supporters of sanctions only after Sarkozy’s encouragements which were pursued in the tradition of aiming at developing a common security and defence policy to counterweight US hegemony (Hellman 2016, 37). Therefore, because of the slow response and the reluctance of many member states to engage in Libya it was too late for the EU to be a decisive actor.

Sarkozy also demonstrated diplomatic leadership by becoming the first head-of-state to demand Gaddafi’s resignation and to recognize the NTC. Cameron, Obama and others followed, which changed the discourse towards a ‘new order’ in Libya, that is to say a regime change. The international community emphasised support for democracy and attempts to end the violence but was reluctant to explicitly support the fall of the Gaddafi regime. Sarkozy then recognized the NTC, a Libyan political authority coordinating the rebels, as the only ‘legitimate representative of the Libyan people’. This recognition sent a message to Gaddafi that, although having financially supported Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign and longstanding trade relations (Hellman 38), France did not support him anymore. Nevertheless, the unilateral French decision went against EU’s concerns about the lack of information on the NTC members including links to terrorist groups, and its strong disinclination to engage in a civil war in Libya. NTC representatives continued to condemn the Libyan government action, demanding the resignation of the leader and cooperated with Sarkozy’s efforts to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on Gaddafi. Sarkozy was able to increase the NTC’s legitimacy and domestic authority while the rest of Europe had not officially recognized it as the sole representative, although it also proves that ‘the mission was always regime change’ (Roberts 2011).

France particularly promoted the establishment of a no-fly zone to prevent air attacks against rebels because the deployment of troops and aircraft would clearly demonstrate French military power. A realist scholar would argue that although France had already engaged in four military operations, namely the Persian Gulf 1990–1991, Bosnia 1992–1995, Kosovo 1999, and Afghanistan 2001–2010 (Howorth 2010), the use of force in Libya was more closely watched by the US, EU members and Arab countries. In addition, the deployment of forces would allow France to present itself as the saviour of the Libyan people. Most other European countries, especially Germany, resisted the Franco-British calls because of risk aversion and the absence of clear national interest (Bucher et al. 2012, 535). Therefore, Sarkozy established the necessary support among Arab countries and within the Security Council. Libya’s former UN ambassador sought international support for the rebels, thus regional organisations such as the Gulf Cooperation Council, Organization of Islamic Conference and Arab League requested the establishment of a no-fly zone (Bellamy 2011, in Zambakari 2016, 47), and Sarkozy used their statements to support his.

UN resolution 1973 sets up a no-fly zone, allows all necessary measures to protect populations and territories and strengthens the sanctions (UN Security Council 2011b). This resolution was the legal basis sought by other European countries to justify the no-fly zone. With China and Russia not vetoing, NATO started planning its establishment before the passage of resolution 1973, but Sarkozy pushed to engage in a limited operation (Bozo 2010). The international community had to decide how to implement the no-fly zone and who would participate. The participants gathered in Paris to demonstrate their commitment to international cooperation, stressed the coalition’s diversity and gave the green light to military operation. The organization of the summit reaffirmed Sarkozy’s commitment and was an opportunity to appear in pictures, newspapers and on TV as a great diplomat as well as to highlight his own priorities and stress the historical importance of Paris as a city where major negotiations and treaties take place. However, the establishment of no-fly zone being a multilateral operation, Sarkozy had to find the balance between being a key player and asserting team spirit. The US and UK then launched their own operation and the world came to see the three countries as leaders of the operation, because of France’s role in international negotiations and EU’s reliance on US military capabilities (Asseburg 2013, 60). Finally, Sarkozy sought multilateral agreements and legitimacy for his actions from the international community’s approval, but mostly he pursued a diplomatic course that would highlight French power.



The French intervention in Libya can be explained by opportunism and reputation, articulated around a liberal cooperative argument and a realist competitive one. However, some additional factors must be highlighted and the literature particularly stresses the role of individual leaders, the threat of migration and the cultural identification. Although focusing mostly on the role of the US and the limits of a national interest’s argument, Byman (2013) raises some interesting points, notably the importance of individual leaders, the low-cost nature of the intervention, the US desire for Europe to play a greater role, and a quest for legitimacy. To illustrate the importance of individuals’ influence in the intervention, Sarkozy and Juppé worked closely with Cameron and Hague on negotiations about the establishment of a no-fly zone and promoted schedules to be ready when such action became necessary. It should be noted that the French system is articulated around a strong influence of the presidency on the military decision–making and therefore, in the Libyan conflict, the French intervention must be understood in terms of personal responsibility, especially considering that the parliament or the government do not need to be consulted (Hellman 2016, 26). On the one hand Sarkozy used a dramatic discourse to demonstrate his convictions and express a sense of urgency, but on the other hand he reinforced his reputation of being impulsive and thoughtless. Indeed, Sarkozy’s ‘frenetic activism’ became his ‘hallmark’ (Dehousse & Menon 2009, 109) and his use of an emergency and crisis approach led to controversial reactions. For example, when Gaddafi forces entered Benghazi, the capital of the opposition, France sent military planes to Libya although no concrete common actions had been announced.


The Arab uprisings led to a change of pattern and an increase in migration flows. Libya being considered as a transit country for undocumented African migrants towards Europe, it is understandable that France could see the escalation of a conflict as a direct threat. For example, at the European level, Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, was asked to provide Italy with equipment in fear of uncontrollable exodus (Bauer 2013, 9), and it was therefore a collective concern to favour a pacific reconciliation between Libyans to avoid the issue of refugees impacting national public opinion. This ‘invasion threat’ allowed the legitimisation of the hardening of European migration policies which were not shared by the US who were following a different logic adapted to their interests in the region. However, these divergent interests were all debated within an international institution framework which means that Italy or France could not put forward the migration threat as a legitimate reason to the Security Council. Indeed, if migration was one of the main threats to France’s national security interests, it could have chosen negotiation and cooperation with Gaddafi rather than intervention (Davidson 2013, 316) which was introduced by a more socially acceptable discourse, that is to say the urgency of a ‘crisis’.

Moreover, Seeberg (2013, 173) argues that transit migration is the most self-evident security issue and a highly relevant field, where the EU could help Libya by improving its migration policies. At the same time, it allowed the EU to address its own migration and security policy interests and particularly the increased pressure on southern Europe and the Mediterranean islands. Besides, on several occurrences in the 2000’s, Gaddafi did use irregular international migration as a leverage to pressure EU member states in their foreign policy (Lutterbeck 2009). However, it seems more realistic to argue that migration was a bigger threat for Libya’s neighbouring countries – Tunisia, Algeria, Niger and Chad – rather than for European ones (Zoubir & Rozsa 2012, 1274).


Focusing on executive debates and parliamentary evidences, Ostermann (2016) claims that the interventionist discourse was defined by R2P, the formation of a common democratic self, action in the name of a requested international community, and in accordance with international law. However, he singularly supports a cultural explanation based on the French identification to the demands of the Libyan people. By assimilating the events in Libya with the French Revolution of 1789, politicians spread a message of struggle for modernity and progress while at the same time fuelling the ego of France as having moral obligations to spread democracy. In other words, this constructivist approach argues that a common democratic community was created to unite the Libyan rebels and the French public opinion, although a colonialist hierarchy was maintained.


In conclusion, although post-revolutionary Libya witnessed a proliferation of arms, militia and regional instability after the country’s liberation and the end of the international military operation (Zambakari 2016, 54-55), the international response to the Libyan conflict was unique in the sense that a group of very different countries – Western Europe, Southern Europe, Scandinavia, North America and Middle East – sought the approval of the international community then came together to oppose Gaddafi’s violence. France in particular had to reaffirm its commitment to democracy and human rights after the ‘blunder’ (Zoubir & Rozsa 2012, 1273) of its support for Ben Ali during the Tunisian revolution. Furthermore, Sarkozy saw the violent situation in Libya as a timely opportunity to lead a large international effort to demonstrate diplomatic influence and military power, to present himself as the international leader he considered himself to be, and to situate France ‘on the right side of history’ (Behr 2011).

While the international community was uncertain about the foreign policy to adopt, Sarkozy showed leadership in promoting a coordinated response to the Libyan demonstrations. In the negotiations, he was a decisive and influential player and put pressure on other heads-of-state to follow France which was the first to demand the resignation of Gaddafi, to recognize the NTC, to introduce a resolution authorizing the establishment of a no-fly zone to the Security Council, and to obtain an international mandate for multilateral military operation. Sarkozy’s actions in Libya represent a continuation of the foreign policy he had led since the start of his national and European presidency (Dehousse & Menon 2009). As has previously been discussed, he used international institutions, bilateral and multilateral relations, strong rhetoric and personal energy to achieve his diplomatic goals and to encourage a strong international response. The general process was exposed to public view, which is why the French response to the Libyan conflict was highly publicized, and Sarkozy stressed his humanitarian motives to intervene in the conflict, although France also unilaterally dropped weapons to the rebels (in violation to the arms embargo) and received much criticism from its allies (Brockmeier et al. 2016, 122).

Nevertheless, Sarkozy did not always display true diplomacy which requires compromise and teamwork. On the contrary he always insisted on being the leader and being credited for his contributions, showed arrogance and opportunism in addition to leadership, and many other countries (such as Germany, Turkey and Russia) were sceptical of his motives for insisting on international intervention. Indeed, a recurrent critique explains the intervention as a move for resource securitization (Bauer 2013, 8). This ambition was counter-productive because it was obvious that the president was especially thinking of his own interests. If Sarkozy had shown the will to reach compromise and share the credit, it is likely that his efforts would have been better received and the international community would be more willing to credit him for his role in organizing the multilateral process that led to the fall of Gaddafi.




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