European Union nations have approved plans for a naval operation to go after the trafficking networks that send thousands of migrants across the Mediterranean towards Europe.
Nato has said it is ready to help out if needed.
The plan was approved by European foreign and defence ministers at a meeting in Brussels, two diplomats said.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said she expects the operation could be fully launched next month after the pledging of military equipment and military preparations.
At the same time, EU officials would continue looking for a UN resolution that would give EU nations certainty they could fully commit to chasing the traffickers and destroy their boats.
Despite the show of unity on the military action, the EU showed increasing division on the plan for mandatory quotas for member states to take in refugees, with Spain now joining other major EU nations such as France and Britain in speaking out against it.