The Loosening of the Arms Embargo and the Establishment of the Presidential Guard Could Fuel Tensions Rather Than Deter Them
This week, the Obama administration signaled its willingness to loosen the UN arms embargo on Libya. The embargo, which had been adopted by the UN Security Council during the 2011 revolution, was instated to prevent Qadhafi from acquiring weapons to turn against his people. In the subsequent violence and chaos that engulfed the country for the following 5 years, the international community had deemed lifting the embargo unwise. Regional and international powers are due to discuss the GNA’s calls for a lift of the ban on 16 May’s talks on Libya in Vienna. In the context of Libya’s ongoing standoff over central control of the army and oil resources, an injection of weapons to the GNA is likely to amplify factional rivalries and cement negative perceptions of the Presidential Council.
The Presidency Council’s establishment of the Presidential Guard forces added a layer to the conflict over the leadership of Libya’s armed forces. In an attempt to create an inclusive national institution, the GNA pitched the PG as an institution drawing on Libya’s regularized police and army forces from across the country. However, the creation of the PG may exacerbate, rather than contain, national divisions over Khalifa Haftar and militia rivalries over the defense of key infrastructure. The creation of the PG has stirred considerable controversy, cementing the overall perception that the GNA intends to entirely exclude Haftar and the LNA chain of command from Libya’s future military leadership. In the same vein, pro-LNA militias have little reason to believe the GNA would abstain from assigning the defense of key national infrastructure to LNA rivals such as Ibrahim Jadhran.
The international community’s undeterred championing of the GNA seems increasingly out of step with Libyans’ sentiments. The LNA’s popularity has grown considerably since the beginning of 2016 with major gains achieved against IS and other extremist militants in Benghazi, Derna and Ajdabiya. These advances have played a decisive role in shifting a large segment of public opinion in favor of Haftar and the LNA—not only in Eastern Libya but in the western region as well. With both the GNA and the LNA racing to liberate Sirte, Libyans could interpret a lifting of the arms embargo as a GNA ploy to achieve an advantage over Haftar.