What next for Libya’s troubled UN peace plan?
Libya’s twin governments — the Tripoli-based GNC and the Tubruk based HoR both missed the Oct 20th deadline to sign off on a troubled UN peace plan. In a press conference today the UN Libya representative suggests that the process will go on:
The real question is how much appetite the UN and the key international players have for reaching a deal in Libya. At least one involving Libya’s defunct twin parliaments. Certainly the recent military build up in Libya’s vicinity is an indication that the West/NATO is willing to put some teeth behind their political pressure on Libyan factions to agree. Reuters also leaked a European document outlining various scenarios for Libyan intervention each depending on how successful Libyan unity talks end up being. But Libyan parties would be somewhat naive in feeling they are critical to NATO/EU achieving a tolerable status quo in Libya. In fact the leaked EU security document outlined scenarios where Libyan borders (both land and sea) could theoretically be policed by EU/NATO forces without explicit co-operation or co-ordination with a centralised Libyan government. Recent UN resolutions have essentially already paved the way for NATO naval forces to conduct these activities within Libyan national waters. Ostensibly to target migrant traffickers.
Also with much of the power/legitimacy of any Libyan government tied to control of oil revenues and the monopoly on signing oil-extraction deals, the UN and western players could essentially set up an amenable Libyan government operating from a neutral Libyan town or even somewhere like Malta. This would allow the UN/West to give any more overt military operations in Libya a veneer of legality. With Libya’s Tubruk based government passing its expiry date and a Tripoli based GNC clinging to a tenuous claim at legitimacy, the UN may look to locally elected authorities. The UN has involved many of these players as well as various militias in its Libyan discussions and it could theoretically ‘leap-frog’ the troubled national parliaments in favour of these groups ratifying UN-backed unity government. If Libya’s political fabric splinters further, we could see UN/EU/NATO move to directly force local agreements to secure oil facilities with local political and military agreements. This would leave Libya a sort of collection of nearly-autonomous city/town-states with no real centralised government.
None of these possible scenarios paints a rosy picture. Even if the key parties had endorsed the UN peace plan and its proposed government, the challenges would be immense. But realistically the UN and international community cannot afford to repeat their disappearing act of 2011. The UN and its partners need to take a more proactive and hands-on approach in Libya, in parallel with peace talks. This should include facilitating local reconciliation, establishing mechanisms for trust and fair treatment of Libyans from each of the competing factions and providing localised training and support. As well as a mechanism to help kickstart local development with an in-built mechanism for transparency. The economic stagnation has been a major driver of Libya’s continued instability.
This international assistance should be delivered from a stance of engaged partner not one of foreign overlord. The rougher approach will only inflame Libyan’s deep rooted nationalism (which cuts across almost all Libyan factions) and tar any parties seen to be cooperating with the UN as traitors and foreign agents. The fact that most of the UN meetings have been held abroad haven’t endeared the participants to the average Libyan and the UN has unfortunately tended to the more opaque in much of the formulation of it’s peace plan (effectively an updated, transitional constitution for Libya). Any organic Libyan/Libyan dialogue efforts should also be encouraged, publicised and recognised. After all, assuming that a paper signed by a group of political elites in Morocco can solve Libya’s problems alone is the definition of naiveté.