EU agrees to Operation Irini to monitor UN arms embargo
On 26 March, ambassadors from 27 European Union (EU) countries came to an agreement to launch a naval mission – dubbed Operation Irini – to enforce the UN arms embargo on Libya. Operation Irini will involve naval ships, planes and satellites, with seven vessels and planes reportedly to be provided by EU member states. The mission was formally launched on 31 March, just as the existing Operation Sophia ends, with a renewable one-year mandate. Ministers will review the mission every four months to check it is not having a “pull effect” on migrants.
This new operation is a notable step by the EU to actively work to stop the trafficking of arms into Libya, and is a sign that the EU is willing to act, rather than just talk about acting, to help halt the drivers of conflict in Libya. It may also be an attempt to reassert an active role in Libya after being side-lined by the Russia-Turkey ceasefire in January and following the collapse of the UN-mediated talks earlier this month. The clear differentiation that the EU mission is a military operation, rather than a humanitarian one, should enable the operation to focus more directly on intercepting illegal arms trafficking and avoid vagaries in its technical implementation. However, the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic means that funding and resources for Operation Irini may be limited in the short term, while the likely one-sided application of the arms embargo may create legitimacy problems for the operation in the longer term.