All four powers will try to prevent or undermine a Russian-Turkish arrangement on Libya. This could exacerbate conflicts if different foreign powers back competing local actors. Rivalries between great and middle powers in Libya will also prevent the UN from regaining its role as a credible mediator between conflicting foreign and local interests.
A marginalised Europe
Europeans stood by and watched as Libya’s war raged on and foreign intervention reached unprecedented levels. The primary reasons for their inaction were France’s policy of protecting Haftar, the initial tacit backing of the U.S. for Haftar and its subsequent indifference to the war, and Europeans’ reluctance to confront the UAE and Egypt over their support for Haftar’s offensive. This unwillingness to apply leverage also marked German diplomacy.
The result of this policy was that Turkey and Russia filled the vacuum, while Europeans lost credibility and influence. This will now limit their ability to mediate and to prod the GNA into taking urgently needed steps, such as strengthening its base and accountability, and containing newly empowered armed groups.
Now that the catastrophic consequences of European inaction are evident and Haftar no longer has a chance to seize power, a policy shift is both possible and indispensable. A Russian-Turkish condominium would neither re-unify Libya nor serve the EU’s interest, even were it sustainable. But opposing Russia and Turkey at the same time will not work, since this would push both states closer together.
You may also like: Resolving the crisis in Libya – Another fine mess
Two key goals should guide European policies: first, safeguard Libya’s unity; second, counter Russian influence in Libya as a matter of priority. The U.S. shares both goals. But Europeans will only be able to act in unison if the French position shifts away from its relative tolerance for Russia and adversarial stance towards Turkey.
Russia’s military presence in Libya represents a far greater menace to Europe than Turkish intervention. Reducing the Russian presence would also diminish the GNA’s dependence on Turkish protection, thereby addressing the concerns of member states that oppose the GNA due to their dispute with Turkey over maritime rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Among the tools Europeans have at their disposal to pursue these goals, hard power does not feature prominently. EU member states no longer have the credibility needed to play a meaningful military role in Libya and would only add to the confusion of foreign meddlers in the country. The EU maritime operation IRINI does little to prevent arms shipments from reaching Libya. It can, however, be used as a deterrent against illegal oil exports – which is crucial for preventing partition.
Two key takeaways from today‘s Cairo declaration:
1. This was a humiliation for Haftar. Egypt cut him down to size.
2. I‘d see the announcement of a ceasefire as a warning that Egypt could intervene (with fighter jets) to stop further GNA advances.https://t.co/jshYAGdYwv
— Wolfram Lacher (@W_Lacher) June 6, 2020