Libya – the Unfortunate Domain of International Competition: Berlin and Beyond
Amb Anil Trigunayat, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

Soon it will be almost a decade of destruction in Libya which in many ways could be the worst extension of the four decades of Gaddafi’s autocratic rule. On February 17, 2011 ecstatic Libyans had jubilantly marched their revolution for a ‘New Libya”. But did they know that the western and regional powers, that were backing them, had no plan except regime change? Not that there were any great institutions developed by Gaddafi in his 42 years rule except the adherence to his “Green Book” but he had instituted a partially welfare state as has been the wont of oil rich Sheikhdoms in the Middle East. Of course, no political dissent was allowed. But what came after him was much worse.

While Libyans themselves cannot shrug off their responsibility for not doing enough the main defaulters are the western and regional powers, who in order to divide the oil riches and exercise their continued influence, have kept on militarily and financially supporting various militia groups and power centers as their own strategic interests had to be preserved. This has clearly been witnessed in the diverse actors supporting either the ambitious General Haftar holding over Eastern Libya or the Tripoli based internationally recognized government of Fayez al Sarraj. Both of them respectively have the legislature support from House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk and General National Council (GNC) in Tripoli.

They have been fighting for overall suzerainty that worsened when during last April General Haftar decided to defeat and take over Tripoli by force with the support of his western and regional benefactors. But stalemate continues despite large scale casualties. If today Libya is a failed state it is entirely due to the failure of the international community which failed to live up to the expectations of the Libyan people and their own overt objectives and principles of democracy, institution building and development.

In the excessive deterioration in the situation and the impending military intervention by Turkey on the part of western Libyan forces to counter advancing Libyan National Army (LNA) of Haftar the world leaders finally woke up. Earlier this month, the Turkish Parliament had authorized deployment of Turkish forces in support of Government of National Accord (GNA) whereas Russia, Egypt and UAE supported Haftar. In this scenario Russia and Turkey are on the opposing sides whereas they have been trying to work out accommodation in Syria which is far more important for Turkey given the Kurdish and refugee problem let alone the ISIS (Daesh) reemergence. Russia after its successes in Syria has emerged as the key arbiter in the Middle East or at least has regained its three decades old position in the region. However, Turkey and Russia agreed to work for a ceasefire in Libya.

Putin also met his European counterparts especially Chancellor Angela Merkel to host an international conference where both warring sides could be called to agree to a ceasefire and allow the political process to take over. Berlin had some credibility since in the beginning Germany had also been opposed to the military intervention in Libya in 2011. This time at least publically all the major actors were on board. All P5 members were present since they wanted to support the primacy of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). It is interesting to see that not only the two protagonists attended but the contenders and benefactors of the two sides also participated although in competition i.e. France vs Italy; UAE, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ,Egypt Vs Qatar & Turkey ; US Vs Russia agreed to a very detailed and actionable Joint statement of recommendations.

Haftar, who only a week before had refused to sign the ceasefire agreement in Moscow (January 13), played recalcitrant again and in fact went to Greece (arch enemy of Turkey) before heading to Germany. Greeks want the maritime and defence support agreement between Turkey and Tripoli-based government to be annulled before any progress could be made. Greece also wants to be included in the next meet and wants to square its territorial and gas pipeline issues with Turkey before any political support by EU to diffuse the Libyan imbroglio.

Libya has been flush with sophisticated weapons and lethal armaments that became available to militia groups, the remnants of the army and the public alike. On an average there were said to be over 26 million pieces of sophisticated weapons that fell into the hands of such groups and led to the disastrous course. Seeing the free for all hopeless situation the ordinary Libyan had no option but to arm and defend himself and family. It is probably the most armed per capita nation in the world. Again the international community is to be blamed for it since it continued to pump in arms, despite the UN sanctions and embargo, overtly or covertly through diversions in the post Gaddafi era . It was surmised by experts that France alone granted permits worth Euro 14.1 billion for arms to Egypt and Euro 9.5 billion to UAE in 2018 alone and much of it could have been diverted to Libya as several of such equipment was reported from there. Hence the only solution is to throttle such supplies especially of the ammunition to dry out the fire power of all groups if a real and durable ceasefire is to be ensured.

The surfeit of arms and extremist militias in Libya has become a major problem for the region especially the Sahel and Lake Chad region. Speaking recently at Davos, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that “Libya has been a center, a cancer for arms export and fighters export and the most worrying impact is of course with the Sahel and Lake Chad. And more and more these things are interlinked. What has happened in Libya is that it became a playground of neighbours and other players”.
An African force has been mooted to fight this menace and counter the terrorist outfits there. Merkel also warned that Libya could be the new Syria and Erdogan said that Libya may affect the Mediterranean Sea region. Foreign Ministers of Libya’s neighbours also met in Algeria to work out an acceptable way to deal with the extremist situation especially in the wake of the reports that fighters leaving Syria have been deployed in Libya. Libyan oil terminals have been blockaded that might impact the oil output to be the lowest since 2011 which obviously is of global especially an European concern. Hence, it is important to counter the nexus that promotes instability and violence in Libya and in the region before it is too late.

The Berlin conference Joint statement virtually touched upon all aspects of the problem that was already known but has been documented for a focused follow up. It has reiterated the primacy of the UN and arms embargo while urging all parties to support and hold the truce or ceasefire and work for a political solution. It rejected the military solution. Its recommendations were derived from Paris, Palermo, Abu Dhabi Processes and the Skhirat Libyan Political agreement of 2015 as well as relevant UN resolutions and special UN envoy Ghassan Salame’s three point formula. The conclusions have been referred to UN Security Council by the German permanent representative. A lot remains to be resolved as the conclusions are not new and leave enough room for interpretations and counter arguments.

The biggest lacunae has been the absence of an enforcing mechanism since none has been provided for which means further meetings and lengthy discussions and more chaos. Already, the fragile truce has been broken many a time with targeting of civilians and airports and oil terminals becoming rather frequent. Defence could become offence at any point of time and that too with a little provocation. Frankly if the world really wishes to solve the Libyan problem they have to own up and enforce the arms and ammunition embargo (UNSC Resolution 1970) on all sides through some intermediary international mechanism or force that could also help in disarming militias. Although the process has to be Libya led, owned and controlled there has to be a zero tolerance in this regard which only can bring the two warring sides and recalcitrant militias to agree to a political solution otherwise Libya seems to be heading for two or three failed divided states which will be a much bigger problem for all stake holders let alone the hapless Libyans.

The leaders in Berlin agreed and stressed that a durable solution in Libya requires a comprehensive approach that addresses simultaneously the different aspects. They have provided for an International Follow up Committee and creation of a new 5+5 committee with equal representation from internationally recognized government in Tripoli and that of the one headed by General Khalifa Haftar out of Tobruk in the west. But the real problem lies beyond Berlin as even before the ink on the statement is dry ceasefire violations and vituperative accusations have already begun. Although it does not augur well it is probably the only viable chance to diffuse the crisis provided the external actors adhere to their avowed commitments lest they want Berlin Conference to remain a mere process .

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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