A ‘Plan B’ for Libya
Since the third draft peace agreement was leaked to the media in late April, the UN-backed negotiations process has entered a deadlock from which it does not seem to be capable of breaking free. At the same time, the intensifying of illegal migrants flows from Libya’s coast towards Europe has prompted EU institutions to look into measures for curbing the number of deaths at sea and arrivals on its soil. However, so far, this has taken only the form of quick-fix military plans for attacking vessels used by people-smugglers, rather than comprehensive plans for trying to stabilise Libya and the surrounding region. The idea beind this approach was that the UN-backed negotiations would be the preferred and only avenue to pursue this.
In my new article for Foreign Affairs, I argue that, in light of current developments, international stakeholders must take stock of reality on the ground and start working on a ‘Plan B’ for Libya so as to stop the country’s descent into an even more chaotic and pervasive civil war. In particular:
To break the impasse, one necessary step is shaking up UNSMIL, starting with its leadership. True, León has received well-deserved praise from Brussels to Washington for his character, dedication, and media savvy. And, in a sense, he’s not really to blame for failing to achieve greater progress; the powerful states behind his mission have hamstrung his efforts with their bias toward Tobruk. But León is now perceived by many as the personification of that bias, and, if the June deadline is not met, he must go. As Karim Mezran of the Atlantic Council explained to me, “after the rejection of the third draft agreement presented by León in April, the expectations for the negotiations are very low. At this juncture, León will present a take-it-or-leave-it fourth draft by June 1, to which each side has to react by June 17.” It’s highly unclear what carrots and sticks the international community can deploy to pressure both sides to compromise before that deadline.
This all-or-nothing approach is fundamentally misguided. The strategy does the opposite of nurturing trust or fostering long-term thinking among the factions, and so it is likely to backfire. The international community sorely needs to articulate an alternative avenue to settling the conflict—a plan B to pursue if the current negotiations dead-end.
Difficult steps would be required: removing the imbalance in the talks, providing a more even playing field for all parties, and encouraging members of the House of Representatives to cede some ground. Additionally, the UN Security Council could issue an unequivocal resolution that it won’t support lifting the current arms embargo—something that the House of Representatives has repeatedly urged it to do—and would oppose any kind of covert military assistance to the Tobruk government. The international community should also be ready to deploy robust sanctions against any disruptive actors: warlords, jihadists, and former Qaddafi officials alike—including Haftar, if necessary.
You can access my full article on Foreign Affairs’ website.