Saving Libya and peace in the Mediterranean
As news from Libya worsens by the day, the prospects for peace and security in North Africa and the Mediterranean region grow dimmer.
The irresponsibility, or impotence, with which the United Nations is handling the Libyan crisis is disconcerting. The joint statement of April 12th by five European foreign ministers and the US secretary of state borders on the surreal and raises doubts about the seriousness with which Western leaders are taking the situation.
Libyans are dying and their country is becoming a migration bomb. Despite holding $113 billion of foreign reserves in 2014, Libya is losing $3.6 billion monthly in oil revenues and looming food shortages are likely to lead to a humanitarian catastrophe.
Meanwhile, in Morocco, Libyan national reconciliation talks are dragging on under the auspices of the special representative of the UN secretary-general. But these talks between the two main protagonists — the legitimate government of Tobruk and the Islamist militia of Tripoli — risk becoming the problem rather than the solution.
Indeed, the fact that they take place in Morocco revives Rabat’s rivalry with Algeria, which is angry at being left out of the UN process. In response, Algiers is hosting a diplomatic show of its own with other Libyan representatives engaging in negotiations that will only complicate the political imbroglio. Instead of counterbalancing foreign interference in the Maghreb, especially by Turkey and Qatar, Algeria and Morocco thwart each other and remove any chance for a regional negotiated solution to the Libyan drama.
The chaotic situation in Libya largely benefits the Islamic State (ISIS) and other forces progressively gaining ground and taking control of the country. On his recent visit to the United States, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi sounded the alarm as his country is the most highly exposed in Europe to any ISIS threat emanating from Libya.
The current crisis in the Mediterranean could easily worsen in coming months, as thousands of migrants – 11,000 in one recent week – are launched, often by force, in a dangerous sea crossing. Their ports of embarkation — Sirte, Derna, and Sabratha — are all ISIS strongholds. We don’t know the degree to which these refugees have been infiltrated by jihadists but there is no doubt that the immigrant flow offers ISIS a tempting weapon and thus represents a serious threat to the security of southern Europe.
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni proposed air attacks on terrorist positions in Libya but received no response from his NATO allies. The deadly strikes that were efficiently carried out to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi are deemed to pose too great a risk to civilian populations. British Admiral Lord Alan West stretches typical British humour as far as to ask “Who is there to bomb in Libya?” as if the thousands of armed and heavily equipped ISIS fighters have miraculously become undetectable by sophisticated NATO monitoring instruments.
The signatory states of the joint statement of April 12th have the moral duty to intervene by whatever means, including military force, to put an end to chaos in Libya.
The first step should be a UN Security Council resolution calling for a militia disarmament plan under the provisions of Chapter VII of the UN Charter. It is only by taking away the weapons of the various militias that an irreversible negotiated solution is likely to be reached.
It is also the best way to show the determination of the Western powers to fight ISIS because the armed confrontation will not be with the Libyan militias but with the foreign terrorist groups occupying Libya and part of the Sahel-Sahara.
War against the Islamic State must be fought now in order to save Libya and establish peace and security in the Euro-Mediterranean area.