Libya’s location and natural resources render it a hugely significant country geopolitically and strategically. Following the 2010 civil uprisings and pro-democracy protests in Tunisia and Egypt, a domino effect ensued and a 2011 pro-democracy movement began in Libya. This saw dictator Muammar Gaddaffi killed with the help of an international coalition led by NATO. Following the short-lived stability immediately after the success of the revolution chaos erupted in the country as multiple groups both ethnic and political fought over control of key territory and resources. Urgent multilateral military intervention in the country is necessary in the name of both regional and international stability.
This piece will argue that immediate multilateral intervention is required in order to achieve international stability. Attention will be drawn to the ongoing migrant boat crisis, the infiltration of ISIS into the country, and lack of forward thinking offered by the EU’s attempt to tackle the symptom rather than the cause of the migrant boat crisis. Moreover, the deterioration of the Libyan economy and the substantial oil resources present need to be protected from haphazard and niche interested militia grouping as well as extremist so called ‘Islamic’ organisations.
The increasing factionalism of the Libyan government, the rise of armed militia groupings and the instability of governance in general has allowed for the infiltration of ISIS into the country. The internationally recognised Libyan government also known as the ‘Tobruk government’, which has the backing of the Libyan army under General Khalifa Haftar, has been challenged by the rival Islamist government of the General National Council. This factionalism accompanied by rising militia groups each aiding one of the two governments has destabilised the country. International organisations drew attention to the fact that the lack of a strong legitimate government has allowed weapon proliferation by militant Islamist groups that have added to the dire instability. Sporadic clashes arising from this factionalism has exacerbated the chaos and allowed for infiltration of foreign militants loyal to ISIS. As such the volatile nature of the situation suggests that only international multilateral intervention is capable of solving the situation. Misrata, the main province in support of the Islamic ‘Libya Dawn’ movement which challenged the Libyan Government but claims it is not loyal to ISIS, has suffered five checkpoint attacks in the last eight weeks. Moreover, ISIS has continually taken control of multiple provinces in Libya including Derna and Sirte. The extreme danger of ISIS gaining a foothold in a resource rich country like Libya, calls for a close evaluation of the real dangers that are posed by this terrorist organisation.
Indeed the Syrian crisis should serve as an example and reminder of the need for decisive military action against ISIS as many parallels can be drawn between the two cases. In hindsight it is justifiable to argue that decisive military action in Syria would have halted ISIS in its tracks given that the terrorist group arose due to the increasing factionalism created by the Syrian Civil War and the incapacity of international governments to tackle the humanitarian crisis that was created by the Bashar Al Assad regime. Had decisive action been taken to tackle the Assad regime and implement a democratic government, many ‘Free Syrian Fighters’ would not have joined ISIS in a last bid attempt to tackle the Assad regime. As such it is clear that immediate action must be taken to halt the spread of ISIS in Libya.
Related to this is the ongoing Migrant boat crisis which has created a substantial economic and security risk. The current instability in Libya has not only led to many Libyans attempting to flee the country but has also allowed numerous criminal smuggling organisations to take advantage and smuggle people from sub-Saharan Africa who want to start a new life in Europe. If this dire humanitarian situation does not provide enough motivation for intervention, then the alternative pragmatic reasons should. Fears of ISIS using the migrant boat crisis to smuggle terrorists into Europe in order to orchestrate terrorist attacks should act as a clear indicator of the need for decisive military action.
The location of Libya means it offers an easy access point to Europe, via the Mediterranean sea. As such, preventing ISIS taking hold and implementing stability is crucial given the strategic importance of the country. The EU has drawn up a plan of military attacks in order to curb the influx of immigrants which does nothing to solve the situation. In its plan to target criminal organisations it merely addresses the symptom of the crisis as opposed to the cause. The only route to long-term stability, which in turn will stop the refugee boat crisis, is multilateral decisive military intervention that will allow for stability to take hold in the country. Targeting ISIS footholds and backing the internationally recognised government militarily and economically appears to offer the only feasible solution to the Libyan crisis.
Finally, any arguments suggesting Western intervention is unwelcome and any parallels drawn between the Iraq situation are redundant. Firstly, NATO intervention can be a legitimate military tool that can provide decisive actions even in absence of a UN mandate, as was the case in Kosovo. As such, fears of attempts to take charge of oil resources in Libya can be negated. Furthermore, multilateral military intervention will be supported by the majority of the Libyan population. The majority, if not all, Libyans are anti-ISIS, and ISIS has only taken hold due to foreign infiltration from neighbouring countries and from Syria and Iraq. One only need look at the immediate aftermath of the death of Gaddafi and the end of the Civil War to verify this. Libyans took to the streets holding British and French flags and chanting slogans thanking Cameron and Sarkozy for their role in military action in Libya. Hence, one can envisage that multilateral military intervention in Libya will be welcome and thus legitimate both on the domestic and international level.
Bulkies Abeidah is currently a student of Politics and International Relations, at Royal Holloway University of London, with an interest in Middle Eastern Politics, Human Rights, Foreign Policy and Counter-terrorism.
You can find her on Linkedin
*Cover image ‘Slorach_022611_2065‘ by Euan