Crisis Management in Libya: Learning the Lessons of 1986 – By Sarah Charlton

In April 1986, the Reagan administration with the support of the Thatcher administration in the United Kingdom, bombed several targets within Libya as retaliation for Libyan terrorism that they believed had begun to challenge essential U.S. security interests. Although the stated goal was to change Libya’s behavior and reduce its incentives for supporting terrorism, senior leaders and policymakers were quick to declare victory based on military success in striking the targeted sites. Libya’s subsequent support for the bombings of Pan Am Flight 103 (1988) and UTA Flight 772 (1989) provide meaningful rebuttals to claims that the 1986 action succeeded in preventing Libyan support for terrorism. This paper points to the lessons to be learned from this failure.

Sarah Charlton, MALD 2012, is a master’s degree candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. She previously worked as a management consultant for Monitor Group, where she specialized in growth strategies for emerging markets. She received her B.A. in Intellectual History from Harvard College.

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