The European Union’s response to the Libyan crisis, ranging from the use of humanitarian aid to the option of a military intervention, can be regarded as a first test case for the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) after the Lisbon Treaty. Moreover, the military intervention in Libya, led by France and the United Kingdom (UK) and based on Security Council Resolution 1973, revived the debate about the protection of civilians in the context of the responsibility to protect (RtoP) doctrine. While the RtoP doctrine has clearly informed the construction of EU security policy, the EU’s discursive and practical response to the Libyan crisis was influenced by its understanding of security and responsibility.

However, the international responses to the Libyan crisis exposed different interpretations of security and responsibility not only at the UN level but also between the EU and its member states. Although the EU officially supported the approach taken by the United Nations, its actual crisis response mainly focused on ‘soft’ security actions, such as civil protection and humanitarian action. As a consequence, a gap opened up between the EU’s rhetoric and the actual actions taken during the Libyan crisis. Thus the questions arise: What EU logic of security was at work in the context of the Libyan crisis in 2011? And if that logic did not provide a guide to effective action, why was that the case?

The analysis of the EU’s institutionalized discourse in the context of the crisis in Libya shows that the EU has adopted the changing security paradigm and the human security perspective within the framework of RtoP. However, a common understanding of how the concept of human security is defined and what it implies in strategic, operational and organizational terms is still absent. Rethinking its ‘grand strategy’ for a Common Security and Defence Policy in the sense of human security could potentially narrow the gap between expectations and capabilities.