UN on verge of appointing as Special Envoy Mladenov to Libya
On 20 November, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the UN Security Council (UNSC) that he would name Bulgarian politician, Nikolai Mladenov, as the new UN Special Envoy to Libya, replacing Acting Special Envoy to Libya Stephanie Williams. The African nations that recently blocked Mladenov’s appointment had reportedly agreed to forgo their previous opposition to the new appointment. On 19 November, US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft stated that ‘Mladenov is the right choice…We look forward to consulting with the Secretary-General and this Council on potential African candidates for the UNSMIL Coordinator position.’
Mladenov was a member of the EU parliament from 2007-2009, and then Bulgarian Minister of Defence from July 2009 – January 2010. He was also Foreign Affairs Minister for Bulgaria from 2010 to 2013, and was then assigned as the Special Representative for Iraq and Head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq. He subsequently became UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. Historically, Mladenov, who is generally thought to be supportive of the US, has applied a ‘mediation approach’ to conflict resolution situations, similar to former UK Special Envoy to Libya Jonathan Powell’s notion of holding dialogue with all actors involved in any crisis without excluding spoilers or even jihadists. Mladenov appears to have been a compromise candidate, but one acceptable to the UAE and Russia.
The appointment is a notable breakthrough in the UN’s objectives in Libya, given Mladenov’s extensive experience in complex and difficult conflict zones such as Iraq. However, the assignment comes at an inopportune time for the UN’s activities in Libya as it coordinates a variety of high-profile political and security dialogues. Replacing Williams at this juncture represents an acknowledgement that the latest round of dialogues will very likely not be effective and will not culminate in a fourth transitional phase. Maintaining any momentum achieved in the UN-led dialogue processes for Libya while restructuring UNSMIL’s leadership will be challenging if not impossible. It is unclear what will happen to Williams, given that she has been instrumental in the current dialogues and has established strong relations with Libya’s key actors. She might return to her role as the deputy envoy to Libya and assist Mladenov as he is introduced to the Libya sphere, then go into retirement. Alternatively, she could receive an appointment in the incoming US administration of president-elect Joe Biden, or within the UN.