Libya Part Five: International Implications

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Libya has been adversely affected by conflict since 2011. This began with the first civil war that was ended by the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, in which the rebels were aided by NATO intervention. A period of factional fighting then followed, during which there was an attempt to set up a democratically elected government that failed due to the competing strains of nationalism and Islamism and existence of a plethora of armed groups. The period of conflict since 2011 has undeniably been a tragedy for the citizens of Libya, with consequential loss of life and devastation of infrastructure. One example of this is the city of Sirte that has been heavily damaged due to fighting in 2011 and later in 2016 when ISIS was expelled. Here, we look at three major international impacts as a result of the ongoing Libyan Civil War.

The first is a refugee crisis that has seen hundreds of thousands of migrants transit through Libya and make the dangerous attempt to cross the Mediterranean in order to reach Europe. The porous nature of Libya’s borders and lack of stability within the country has been a boon for human traffickers exploiting desperate refugees from troubles further south. This dovetails with the exodus that has occurred as a result of the Syrian War, creating a refugee crisis as people seek sanctuary in Europe, a challenge that the EU has struggled to deal with. While the EU has lofty goals concerning the right to asylum these have proved difficult to maintain in the face of the sheer numbers of migrants and how and where their needs should be met. Alongside this is the problem of determining between refugees, who are escaping violence and persecution, and economic migrants seeking a better way of life. The outcome is that the EU has struggled to cope with the influx and there has been a tilt towards nationalist politics in some of its member states.

The second is the impact on the top tier of international politics in the form of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. Russia and China chose not to block a resolution to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya in 2011, thus allowing for intervention by a US-led Coalition in order to protect the breakaway city of Benghazi from punishment by the regime of Gaddafi. The coalition then went on to become a de-facto air support for the rebels against the regime and ensured its collapse. The subsequent civil war would impact on later decisions concerning Syria, notably the refusal of Russia and China to allow UN intervention in support of the rebels in Syria. Having seen Libya collapse into infighting there was also little appetite for tacking the Assad regime. There was also an impact on the willingness of the UK and US to intervene in Syria, with the UK Government defeated in a vote proposing intervention, in turn effectively torpedoing the willingness of the Obama administration to intervene unilaterally and allowing a ‘red line’ over the use of chemical weapons to be crossed. We cannot be sure what the outcome of intervention against the Assad regime would have been but we can observe the influence of events in Libya on decision making concerning Syria.

The third international impact is the consolidation of Jihadist groups, including ISIS, within Libya. This has a corresponding direct impact on Libya itself as the presence of the Jihadists also means that Libya becomes another frontline in the terror wars, bringing in external forces that would otherwise be focusing their attention elsewhere. Two examples of this are retaliation by Egypt for Jihadist attacks in Egypt by Libyan based Jihadists and the targeting of ISIS by the US, both of which rely on the use of airstrikes. The presence of Jihadist groups in Libya is due to the lack of stability and security caused by successive years of factional fighting and will prove to be a major obstacle to achieving a general peace across the country should the opposing governments and their factions reach a compromise and work towards building a representative Libyan state with corresponding national institutions and a functioning infrastructure. As it stands, the presence of jihadist groups guarantees that external actors, not exclusively the US and Egypt, will engage in a ‘whack a mole’ approach of targeting groups within Libya that have an international jihadist agenda. For their part, the warring Libyan factions are unlikely to be seriously concerned if a US air strike obliterates a jihadist base in the Libyan Desert.

This concludes the five part focus on Libya.

Next week: Escalation in Syria.

For more information regarding this week’s blog see:

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/markaz/2017/06/01/does-the-road-to-stability-in-libya-pass-through-cairo/

https://wordpress.com/post/turnerconflict.com/374

https://wordpress.com/post/turnerconflict.com/590

Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator.

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