The Libyan Chaos: Options for the International Community
High expectations for a short-term solution in Libya are misconceived. Since the deposal of Gaddafi, the country has devolved into a diffused state of anarchy. International efforts to reconcile the Tripoli and Tobruk governments are now faltering. What is needed is more inclusive dialogue between the parties. This will empower actors in the country to find more resilient and sustainable solutions to the conflict.
Recent global developments and, most notably, the alleged growing number of ISIS militants in the area of Sirte and other strategic cities have pushed some international actors to evaluate the possibility of a direct intervention in Libya. However, is this our only remaining option?
Up to now, the primary focus of decision-makers has been the eventuality of a single government in Libya. In other words, international actors have prioritized supporting Tripoli and Tobruk attempts to find an agreement for a unified government over that of a large scale military intervention. There are clear advantages to this approach. Once in power, the newly formed executive would be able to ask for external aid and so give legitimization to military operations on its soil conducted by third parties – a notion codified in article 15 of the art.51 of UN Charter. Apart from problems regarding the military quality of the mission, this scenario does not provide insurmountable obstacles. However, such a strategy bears the risk of monopolizing the attentions of international actors. It could distract them from other possible routes of action and, in the end, leave Libya to its own destiny without anything done to help it.
It is intellectually and operationally stimulating to imagine a context in which the Libyan governments fail to compromise and there is a failure to achieve a monolithic Libyan state. In such a scenario, the possibility of receiving a legal legitimation for military intervention would not be granted; however, it does not rule out per se the willingness and capability of some actors to intrude into the Libyan chaos. However, we must be wary of unilateral intervention. Actions driven by self-interest are unacceptable and contrast both with legal principles and political rationality.
There is another option at the disposal of international actors in the face of a domestic stalemate in Libya. Indeed, one that is also available in the case of the successful formation of a singular government and that does not contemplate any flagrant military action. The international community could push for the opening of new talks and dialogue in the country. Dialogue should be encouraged not only between Tobruk and Tripoli but with the wide participation of the various local groups living in the most troubled areas or contested zones, including Gaddafi own tribe, which has been vilified since 2011. This would allow all the parties to reach the greatest possible degree of coordination of interests. While such an approach is time consuming and would also complicate the immediate formation of a deal, it cannot be seriously contemplated that a lasting solution for Libya can be taken in the short-term and without the actual participation of all domestic stakeholders. Moreover, advocating for Right to Protect runs the danger of causing another Iraq or Afghanistan at the doors of Europe and sustains the claims of those critics who opine "new Western colonialism".
The framework of these talks could propose conditionality: material aid and support for the reconstruction of the country in exchange for domestic actors' joint efforts to fight ISIS. Additionally, it could be suggested that there be the removal of the arms embargo still pending on the country since 2011. Such an idea presupposes that both external actors and domestic parties have a common and preeminent interest in defeating ISIS. This is not necessarily true, but, notwithstanding obvious risks, such a strategy could make the difference in supporting the empowerment of Libyan parties and eliminating the bulk of the jihadist military threat.
All this, of course, wouldn't exclude the immediate practicability of other types of operation, like the sending of military counsellors. However, all should be done bearing in mind two main objectives and necessities. Firstly, the creation of a relatively stable domestic framework where not only political claims could be peacefully settled, but also economic revenues could be reconstructed; it is certain Western countries won't object to a reactivated oil infrastructure. Secondly, and as a consequence of the former point, actors should proceed into a Nation- and State-building process that for too long has been delayed, thus fostering the conditions for a long-term regional stability. Divisive or forceful, impulsive solutions must be avoided.
Stefano Dossi studies International Relations and Diplomacy (MA) at the University of Milan and attends the Diploma in European Affairs at ISPI (Institute for International Politcal Studies).
Nicolò Fasola is Contributor on Russia and post-Soviet space for Osservatorio di Politica Internazionale, an Italian think tank. He attends the MA in Interdisciplinary Studies on Eastern Europe at the University of Bologna and holds a BA in International Affairs from the University of Milan.
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