Rush to judgement

Going to war is generally a bad idea. I’ve long been interested, therefore, in analyses which provide some clues as to why political leaders make the almost certainly stupid decision to do so. For that reason, I’m grateful to RT for bringing to wider attention a report commissioned by the Norwegian government entitled ‘Evaluation of Norway’s Participation in the Operations in Libya in 2011’. RT gets a lot of abuse for publishing ‘fake news’, but it does provide a public service in producing stories which otherwise don’t get any attention in the English-speaking media. This is a good example.

Norway played a leading role in NATO’s 2011 campaign to topple Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The Norwegian Air Force contributed six jets to the NATO mission, and dropped around 600 bombs on Libya, accounting for about 15% of the NATO total. At the time, the military campaign had almost unanimous support among Norwegian politicians, but by 2017 some of them had developed doubts, and so the Norwegian parliament instructed the government to conduct an inquiry into the operation. The report of the committee of inquiry has just been issued (unfortunately only in Norwegian), and can be downloaded here.

Outside of Norway, the press has almost entirely ignored the report, but RT picked it up, publishing an article entitled ‘Norway didn’t know much about Libya yet helped bomb it into chaos, state report finds.’ The article goes on to tell us that:

A Norwegian state report says the officials “had very limited knowledge” of what was going on in Libya, but promptly decided to join the US-led intervention, turning the once thriving North African nation into a terrorist hotbed. Norway rushed to help its NATO allies to pound Libya with airstrikes in 2011, without understanding what was actually happening on the ground or the dire consequences the intervention might lead to, a new state report has concluded. The commission, chaired by former Foreign Minister Jan Petersen, found that politicians in Oslo “had very limited knowledge of Libya” when they dragged the nation into the US-led bombing campaign against the Libyan government. “In such situations, decision-makers often rely on information from media and other countries,” the report says.

This perked my interest, so with the help of Google Translate, I’ve given the report a read. In fact, it says a lot more than the RT article suggests, and covers matters such as the legality and constitutionality of Norway’s war against Libya, the conduct of Norwegian military operations, and the humanitarian and political aspects of Norway’s involvement in Libya. What interests me most, however, are the findings concerning the decision-making process, so I will concentrate here on those.

As RT says, the report notes that Norwegian politicians knew very little about Libya or the conflict which erupted there in 2011. This is stated several times: ‘When the uprising started in February 2011, the knowledge about Libya among Norwegian decision makers was very limited’; ‘The Norwegian authorities had limited Libya expertise’; and so on. To compensate for this, the Norwegians relied on two sources: their allies, and the media. The former painted a very negative picture of the situation in Libya. According to the report, once Norway’s French and British allies had persuaded the UN Security Council to authorize military action, ‘the Norwegian authorities did not find it necessary to verify the Security Council’s understanding of the situation.’ As for the media, its reporting was one-sided and pressured the Norwegian government to act forcefully. Consequently, the report concludes, the evidence

suggests that warnings from, among others, Libyan opposition groups in exile, some regional actors, and human rights activists were accepted without any kind of critical examination.

In these circumstances, Norwegian leaders assumed the worst. Fearing that a massacre of the people of Benghazi was imminent, they felt that they needed to act immediately. According to the report, ‘The decision was taken in a very small circle’, and was ‘taken very quickly.’ The smaller parties in the ruling coalition were then ‘exposed to relatively large pressure’ to fall in line.

The speed of the decision-making left no time to adequately consider not only the evidence, but also the pros of cons of action and inaction. What becomes clear from the report is that Norwegian leaders considered only the possible negative consequences of failing to act without considering the possible negative consequences of acting. In particular, the report notes that the Norwegian government feared that if nothing was done, ‘there was a real danger that the country would be divided into two … the conflict would lead to government collapse and further fragmentation of what was already considered a dysfunctional state.’ It was feared that this might lead to a flood of refugees from Libya into Europe. What’s ironic about this is that exactly the things the Norwegians feared would happen if they didn’t act are what did happen because they did!

It is quite obvious from the report, however, that nobody thought of this. The report is written in the sort of bureaucratic style which doesn’t directly criticize policy. Instead, it hints, making suggestions which if you read between the lines point out that something went badly wrong. It concludes:

Norwegian authorities should work systematically in order to ensure the widest possible decision-making basis, including building up an organizational culture which facilitates a more systematic analysis of different scenarios and unknown variables. Possible measures are:

  • The establishment of so-called red teams, who have a mission to point out the challenges and consequences of an intervention.

  • Use of checklists in connection with the preparation of decisions. Such lists can be of great use in crisis situations, where a one-sided interpretation based on incomplete facts can weaken the understanding of the situation.

The fact that the committee of inquiry felt it necessary to make such recommendations is revealing. It indicates in a subtle way that the Norwegian government did not carry out a ‘systematic analysis of different scenarios and unknown variables’, and did not consider ‘the challenges and consequences of an intervention’, but did follow ‘a one-sided interpretation based on incomplete facts.’ It’s well-hidden, but it’s a pretty damning conclusion. Simply put, the government didn’t consider alternative possible outcomes of their actions, let alone weigh the pros and cons of different options, but just chose one option on the basis of inaccurate information which it didn’t bother properly to check.

To be fair, the report does take pains to point out that the Norwegian government was operating under intense pressure in what appeared to be an emergency situation which required a rapid decision, and that it did so in an atmosphere of great uncertainty. For this reason, it doesn’t criticize what was done but treats it as understandable in the circumstances. I have some sympathy with this perspective – it’s quite easy to criticize from a distance when one isn’t under the same sort of pressure and when, with the benefit of hindsight, one has the relevant information at one’s disposal. But, while I have some sympathy, I can’t ultimately accept the argument. In the first place, time pressure isn’t a reason not to consider the possible consequences of what one is planning to do. And second, neither the Norwegian government nor any of its NATO allies acted as if they were in a situation of uncertainty. Rather, the problem was that they seemed all too certain that their analysis was right and said as much in the most categorical terms.

In short, there was a rush to judgement. Alas, this wasn’t a one off. It’s a story we’ve seen repeated in many countries on numerous occasions in recent years. I wish I could say that it is shocking. Unfortunately, it comes as no surprise.

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9 thoughts on “Rush to judgement”

  1. Yeah yeah yeah, Blah blah blah. We’re all very sorry and blah blah.

    But we just finished believing the same liars and expelled Russian dips over Skripal and were active in Syria.
    So I say that, while this is all very interesting, it’s just bullshit virtue-signalling onanism.
    Believe it, act on it.

    Regret without reflection is worth less than nothing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Regret without reflection is worth less than nothing.
      Can there be regret without reflection? And how is worth defined anyway?

      I may be surely misguided, I doubt I can follow Paul Robinson recent directional hints as closely as I would like to. But surely appreciate them at this point in time.

      Like

  2. “..the Norwegian government was operating under intense pressure ”

    I would say, a lame excuse. There would have been no rush to bombing had Libya been in Europe. The simple fact is, nobody in the West is held responsible for the death and devastation caused, while all those international tribunals chase minor warlords.

    Regards,

    Like

  3. Why on Earth was the Norwegian government acting under pressure?Were any Norwegian citizens threatened? Were any Norwegian economic interests threatened ? Were any Norwegian allies directly threatened ? Was Norwegian participation vital or could FUKUS have done without their help?

    I think that the motives may have been
    A. Prance around on the global stage, looking important
    B. Look virtuous and smug, self image preservation, creating an evil opponent to cover your own hypocrisy
    C. Keep the military busy and justify defence budgets
    D. A small do gooder interventionist community needed to be thrown a bone, keeping elements of the press appeased
    E. Arse lick the Americans

    Small teams of closed minded people who only see one worldview, have contempt for outsiders and feel the need to do something, because admitting that you cannot do anything positive and therefore stand back are a major leadership problem. This is made worse by loud activists pushing an agenda which can be detrimental to the interests of their host community. There is also an overinflated sense of what is possible amongst politicians and an unfortunate can do attitude in the military, who are afraid of saying that something cannot be done effectively

    Liked by 2 people

  4. “Norwegian authorities should work systematically in order to ensure the widest possible decision-making basis”

    I don’t like this; it sounds like they found some problems, while vindicating the general approach. So, lessions not learned, as far as I’m concerned. Why not quit the NATO and do what Switzerland does? Seems to be working well for the Swiss…

    Like

  5. “To be fair, the report does take pains to point out that the Norwegian government was operating under intense pressure in what appeared to be an emergency situation which required a rapid decision, and that it did so in an atmosphere of great uncertainty. For this reason, it doesn’t criticize what was done but treats it as understandable in the circumstances.”

    Tl;dr – “But I Vas Chust Followink Mein Orders Lîberål Ideøløgy!”

    Hmm, let me try this – “Russian government was operating under intense pressure in what appeared to be an emergency situation which required a rapid decision, and that it did so in an atmosphere of great uncertainty” in February-March 2014. Boom! When will the West drop its antogonism to Russia over Crimea?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Johannes D. Enstad! Seeing you here, on the neutral territory, I’d like to reiterate my questions, which you deleted there:

      1-2) If it is not a secret (surely, this won’t serve as the “spoiler” for the book), which Russian archive did you had access to? That Russian language sources you mention – which of them came from the Russian archives/Russians? The link to the Bibliography section provided in the article is incomplete.

      3) That’s strange, given your own interests. Are you at least aware of the existence of such organizations in the past?

      4) Yet in your own “teaser” published on WotR you say: “Focusing on the region of northwest Russia (see map), inhabited by some 1.3 million people, I do not purport to tell the full story of the Soviet experience of war and Nazi rule. Rather, I have aimed to increase and deepen our knowledge of that story by illuminating an important plot line.” (c). Yet the name of your book is much more catchier (and, ergo, misleading) “Soviet Russians under Nazi Occupation: Fragile Loyalties in World War II”. Whose idea was such title?

      5) What does your graduation diploma says? How your Uni’s “Department of Literature, Area Studies and European Languages” defines your scientific speciality?

      6) What’s your ties (and reasons for collaboration) with your country’s Ministry of Defense? Do you… keep in touch… with them?

      New questions:
      7) Did you (for the most part) ignore the existing Russian historiography on the subject?

      8) Quote: “Those branded “kulaks” (somewhat more affluent peasants, or simply anyone who openly opposed collectivization) were dispossessed and deported in their millions; hundreds of thousands perished in the process”. Are you aware that what you wrote here is not true?

      Thank you in advance for any kind of answer.

      Like

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