It was not until the summer of 2014 that Libya descended into full-fledged instability and actual civil war. Things remained relatively unstable until the UN managed to stand up the GNA government in 2017. President Obama has described the failure to follow up the air campaign and Gaddafi’s removal with a post-conflict stability operation as the “worst mistake” of his presidency. However, this failure was also Europe’s for there were European leaders who had to be prodded by America into supporting a European stability operation in Libya. The U.S. push for this Germany-spearheaded effort was viewed as the price to be paid for Germany having abstained on the UN Security Council resolution that gave legitimacy to the allied intervention in Libya. However, the EU was unable to achieve the consensus required to move forward, and as a result, Libya’s descent ensued.
Although NATO and EU civilian operations have been delayed, there is a general understanding of what the overlapping EU and NATO missions should comprise, both in Brussels and in Tripoli. NATO could deal more with training the military and aiding in securing Libya’s borders, while the EU could zero in on training the police and paramilitary forces. The EU could also focus its efforts on Tripoli, Benghazi, and Sirte through Rule of Law capacity building with the GNA government. Two imperatives are essential here, first, that both civilian operations should be conjoined (i.e., jointly planned and operated by NATO and the EU) and, second, that both operations should be implemented in sync with the overall leadership of the UN and its Special Representative. Again, the necessity of these operations to provide crucial assistance to the UN’s efforts to broker a new government agreement cannot be overstated.
Libya also features in the newfound “hot peace” between Russia and the West, with Russia systematically intervening around the globe to the detriment of the western security alliance. Most recently, Russia has harmed core U.S. national security interests by bombing the U.S.-backed moderate rebel forces in Syria, thereby allowing President Assad to retain power and steadily retake territory with the help of Iran. Russia likely sees in Libya a chance to weaponize additional refugees for the further destabilization of Europe.
It has been unhelpful that Europeans have been overly focused on stemming the tide of refugees from Libya’s shores. Surprisingly, the EU even flirted with the idea of reaching out to Russia to assess if Russia could be helpful to the EU with reducing the migrant flow to Europe. It is not entirely clear why High Representative Mogherini broached this topic in recent months, for this would play right into Putin’s hands and bring Russian malfeasance into the Libyan theater sooner and with greater confidence.
In conclusion, stability in Libya is worth expending considerable western operational capital, as the price of instability would be ISIS’s return, greater refugee flows, further populism in Europe, and the realistic prospect of a “second Syria.”
Dr. Jeffrey A. Stacey was a State Department official in the Obama Administration. Author of “Integrating Europe” by Oxford University Press, Stacey is an international development consultant residing in Washington, D.C.
Image: Anti-Gaddafi fighters fire a multiple rocket launcher near Sirte, one of Muammar Gaddafi's last remaining strongholds, September 24, 2011. Libyan provisional government forces backed by NATO warplanes swarmed into the city of Sirte on Saturday but weathered heavy sniper fire as they tried to win control of one of deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi's last bastions of support. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic