Libya’s ceasefire: the opening move of a complex chess game.

BY: Begona Arechalde

Libya’s ceasefire: the opening move of a complex chess game.

On October 23, the UN body in charge of supervising the peaceful resolution of the Libya’s Civil War, UNSMIL, announced in Geneva that the warring factions have reached a ceasefire agreement. The document, that is just three pages long, summarises the next steps in the de-escalation of the conflict. The UN must monitor the correct implementation of the clauses to prevent internal disputes and third-party interests from sabotaging the progress made.

Friday’s agreement gives a truce to the poverty-stricken North African country, at war since the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi in a coup orchestrated by NATO and led by the governments of Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy. Although the attack was officially carried out on a humanitarian grounds, recent investigations have revealed that the intervention served to save Western economic and financial interests in Libya.

Emails between Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and attorney Sidney Blumenthal showed that Gaddafi was embarking himself on a project to create a pan-African currency that would have posed a great threat to the French financial sector, on which many African states depended. In addition, Libya is home to important oil and natural gas reserves that supply Europe. The “war on terror” argument that permeated the politics of the past decade came in handy to justify intervention.

Following the coup, Gaddafi’s sovereignty disintegrated and fell into the hands of multiple local militias and new players, including the Islamic State. Among these groups, the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and the National Liberation Army (NLA) prevailed. At present, the GNA led by Fayez al-Sarraj occupies western Libya and the capital, Tripoli, while General Haftar, leader of the rebel NLA movement, has settled in the East, where he controls most of the country’s oil reserves.

The ceasefire document published by UNSMIL emphasises the need to reincorporate the different militias into state institutions. GNA and LNA delegates, united under the name of Joint Military Commission (JMC), have agreed to establish a three-month truce in which all militias will be identified and withdrawn to be replaced by police forces. The police will also be deployed along the three main roads of the country to ensure the arrival of humanitarian aid and the safe transit of Libyan citizens. The document does not explain how to reconcile the polarised Libyan society.

The agreement also stresses the importance for the survival of the ceasefire to get rid of foreign actors, who during the war have turned Libya into an arena to promote their economic, energy and geopolitical interests.

The GNA has the support of the UN, Qatar, the EU, and Turkey, while Haftar’s main allies are Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, and surprisingly, albeit unofficially, France. Until now, the United States has remained neutral although it has geopolitical interests in Egypt and its main ally in the region, Israel, has been secretly supplying Haftar with security systems and weapons.

Turkey is one of the few countries that has openly taken sides. Ankara’s policies towards Africa have gained new momentum as a strategy to influence the Eastern Mediterranean dispute and strengthen its economy. Turkey holds $ 20 billion in frozen contracts in Libya and has engaged in multiple bilateral trade agreements across the continent. The Turkish government has also sent soldiers in exchange for gas exploration rights in the south of the country.

In Egypt, the Libyan war poses the main threat to national security and the possibility of deploying troops in the neighbouring country has been endorsed by parliament on several occasions. The UAE has worked together with the Egyptian authorities in an effort to advance its own interests to become the leader of the MENA regional order and to counter the influence of Turkey.

France is moving away from the position of the European Union to ensure its economic and military interests in the Maghreb and sub-Saharan territory. By supporting Haftar, Paris aims to rekindle the decimated relationship with its former colonies Chad, Niger, Mali and Burkina-Faso, and establish new economic ties.

Russia also wants a piece of the pie. Its intervention in Libya is motivated by the desire to establish military bases on the southern flank of Europe, secure oil and construction contracts in Libya, and wage a proxy war with Turkey. Moscow has sent Russian soldiers to fight with the LNA forces and has allowed the Wagner group to sell weapons and mercenaries to eastern Libya.

The war has also had a negatively impact on the security of other conterminous African states. Libya has grown from being a recipient of migrants to being the country with the highest rate of emigrants in North Africa. Ethnic conflicts are widespread and regional leaders have securitised immigration based on their personal goals. Numerous armed groups, smugglers and terrorist groups have settled along the borders with Libya, thus contributing to the deterioration of human rights in the region.

The measures contained in the UNSMIL ceasefire agreement against foreign intervention are vague and exiguous. The pact does demand the withdrawal of foreign soldiers and mercenaries from Libyan territory, but also seems to assume that foreign forces will not offer resistance. The influence of Turkey and Russia in Libya is primarily militaristic and they could use their already entrenched power in the country to manipulate the actions of the JMC.

The agreement also has not clarified whether the UN will monitor the implementation of the measures. Evidence shows that the success of a ceasefire depends significantly on the presence of peacekeepers who report internationally and locally on compliance with the clauses, thus exerting pressure on the parties.

Some of the causes behind unsuccessful ceasefires are the dishonesty (one or more of the parties using the ceasefire as a strategy to replenish weapons and reorganise), time factors and clause ambiguity. While the first two factors are uncontrollable, UNSMIL is responsible for the third. The UN should include terms, phases and a calendar for action so Libyan officials can effectively deescalate violence.

The long-term goal of the ceasefire is also ambiguous. Stephanie Williams, head of the UNSMIL, stated that the pact would help “secure a better, more secure and peaceful future for all the Libyan people” but did not go into specifics about what polity and what institutions Libyans will have or if elections will be held shortly.

While there is reason for optimism, the agreement only explains the first move in a long and complex game of chess. If the motivations of the GNA and LNA are honest, their leaders must insist that the UN work alongside them to break down the steps in reducing tensions, while keeping the interests of third parties at bay.