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European Nations Slow To Unify On Libya Action

Several European nations have announced humanitarian operations to assist the growing number of people fleeing violence and chaos in Libya.

But there is also alarm in many European capitals over calls from some in the U.S. and Britain for military action.

In a sign of what some commentators say is Europe's inability to speak with a single voice, the European Union's Libyan crisis talks won't take place until March 11.


Slow To Act

Traditionally, not only the Europeans but basically the entire West has always had to make that tough decision between democratization and stabilization.

Ever since unrest broke out in the Arab world, many Europeans have found themselves on the wrong side. As The Economist pointed out, when Tunisians took to the streets, France offered President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali the help of its security forces. When millions of Egyptians marched in Cairo, Italy praised President Hosni Mubarak as the wisest of men. And when the regime opened fire on protesting Libyans, the Czech Republic said catastrophe would follow the fall of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

But while many European governments have since made U-turns, they still are slow to act.

Paddy Ashdown, former international envoy in Bosnia, said that military intervention should not be ruled out.

"And, therefore, making contingencies for a no-fly zone is absolutely right, absolutely proper," he said. "That isn't to say it should happen now. The thing that will determine this is not the military side but the politics."


But reactions to the idea on the continent were negative. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said a NATO military action could be extremely counterproductive. His German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle, warned against meddling in Libya's affairs.

Italian political analyst Sergio Romano said Europe is reluctant to take part in another military action in a Muslim country.

"When you say 'no fly-zone,' it looks like you're doing something very humanitarian and very much neutral," he said. "But it isn't neutral to be in a country where there is a civil war because sooner or later you find yourself fighting for something."

As for sanctions, up to now only Austria, Germany and Great Britain have agreed to freeze assets linked to the Gadhafi family. Nothing has been done yet in Italy, where Gadhafi is one of the major foreign investors on the Italian stock market.

Concerns About Refugees

But on one issue, there is a sense of urgency: the possible influx of tens of thousands of people fleeing instability in the region. Some 140,000 people have fled Libya to Tunisia in what EU Commission President Jose Manuel Baroso calls a humanitarian tragedy.

Just one week ago, northern European countries dismissed Italian appeals for common action. On Wednesday, several governments announced humanitarian operations to assist the growing number of refugees.

Jan Techau, Europe director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says Europe risks again pursuing only short-term solutions.

"Traditionally, not only the Europeans but basically the entire West has always had to make that tough decision between democratization and stabilization," Techau says. "It's always the same kind of game, and you would think that they'd draw conclusions from this. But since short-term results are so much easier to measure than long-term results, my fear is that we will always politically, you know, be very prone to look at the short-term results."

That could mean that North Africa could end up with neither democracy nor stability.

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