International Organizations at Odds with Global and Regional Players

By Wolfgang Mühlberger

Since Colonel Gaddafi’s demise in late 2011, Libya has embarked on a political transition marked by conflict and uncertainty. The meddling of external players has increased fragmentation and polarization along multiple emerging fault lines.


3.3 Negotiating peace : the UN- led process and ancillary tracks

As the mapping in the previous sections highlighted, a considerable number of external parties, ranging from multilateral and regional organizations to various individual state players, are involved in the Libyan transition, driven by often-competing considerations and objectives.

As a result, both domestic and external actors have come to oppose each other in the country’s power struggle, with detrimental effects for the prospect of a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

On the other side, external actors also happen to display some convergence of interests, which has led to collaborative moments and coherent approaches, as in the case of the concerted efforts between Egypt and the UAE.

However, such undertakings are often ephemeral or too limited in scope, and cannot replace a larger entente which is necessary for bringing a lasting end to a complex conflict and re-establishing fully fledged sovereignty.

Looking beyond the current state power vacuum, the proliferation of power centres and the spread of jihadist players amidst an internationalized struggle for the future control of the country and its state, it appears that the trajectory of Libya’s transition hinges upon the following three paradigms.

Basically, Libya’s political environment is marked by Gaddafi’s heavy ideological heritage, based on anti-Western, anti-democratic (i.e., anti-party) and anti-Islamist propaganda.

In addition to these lingering ideational elements, two central features mark the nascent political landscape: on the one hand a democratic experiment, and more broadly a wider experimentation with politics; and on the other, a symbiotic alignment of political parties with militias.

Emerging political entrepreneurs represent a wide spectrum of interest groups and political strategies, ranging from businessmen, via a political platform of the Muslim Brotherhood, to former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group jihadists, such as Abdelhakim Belhadj, embarking, somehow paradoxically, on party politics.

Yet, as long as armed non-state actors function as “back-up” or “fall-back” for political groups, Libya will remain stuck in coercive, non-democratic politics. Adding to this triple predicament, certain armed units such as the LNA under Haftar are vying to become political players in their own right.

Supporting peaceful politics and policy-making under such militarized circumstances often resembles solving the chicken-egg problem. In order to demilitarize current politics, and to concomitantly avoid the politicization of the future armed forces, the civilian component of Libyan politics needs to emerge as the primary locus.

UN efforts in Libya are fundamentally driven by an approach that emphasizes diplomatic initiatives and the peaceful mediation of disputes. Accordingly, the recent Libya Action Plan is aimed at consolidating representative institutions, by achieving consensus on procedures and compromise between the parties in conflict.

In theory, Salamé’s plan comprises three stages: (a) renegotiation of contentious elements of the LPA; (b) an inclusive national dialogue to be promoted through a Libyan National Conference with wide-ranging participation of hitherto unrepresented groups; and (c) the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections as well as a constitutional referendum.

Should this process fail, DDR, SSR and the depoliticization of the armed forces more generally would become distant prospects, opening the floodgates to a new round of civil war.

In a context characterized by a high degree of internal fragmentation, a wider domestic predicament and strong external interference, the OSCE experience in conflict management and mitigation could be beneficial for the diplomatic process, particularly in view of the implementation of the planned stages of the new UN Action Plan.

Nevertheless, the timeframe (one year), as well as the objective of the Action Plan remain ambitious. In fact, previous efforts with less far-fetched goals did not come to fruition. In particular, the LPA itself has never been ratified by the HoR, leaving the PC and the GNA operating in a legal limbo.

Awareness of interlinkages between European security and the situation in the Mediterranean can be traced back the Helsinki Final Act in 1975. This multilateral agreement led to the establishment within the OSCE of a cooperative framework, the Mediterranean Contact Group.

Libya’s three direct Arab neighbours (Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt) are members of this platform, enjoying full status as OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation, together with Morocco, Israel and Jordan.

Theoretically, the OSCE could support and complement the UN in its ambitious drive for conflict resolution in the Libyan theatre by using this forum and other existing structures as a venue for discussion and consultation among major external actors involved in Libya.

As the conflict parties are currently engaged in the first phase of Salamé’s Action Plan, debating LPA amendments, the OSCE could promote dialogue by hosting meetings or, less visibly, facilitate track-two gatherings in an effort to encourage a gradual rapprochement between parties active in Libya.

Here, the OSCE’s background in multilateral mediation could be a valuable asset for both external and internal actors in Libya.

The planned Libyan National Conference to be held under UN auspices will also require a good deal of preparation, including the identification of potential participants.

By providing its diplomatic skills, the OSCE could support the UN in the delicate task of finding common ground among interested players.

When elections are eventually held, the OSCE could provide professional support to the process via an Election Observation Mission, a field in which the organization has deep expertise.

However, any OSCE mission would necessarily have a limited scope not least because the safety of its personnel will have to be ensured by Libyan authorities. In light of the security environment in Libya, such constraints would likely limit the scope and effectiveness of such a mission.

Furthermore, complementing the diplomatic and political sphere, the OSCE could also provide essential professional training to remedy Libya’s weak border management capabilities. However, a prerequisite will be a functional Libyan counterpart. In addition, such steps would require close coordination with the institutional actors already active in this area, such as the European Union with its Border Assistance Mission.

Finally, the OSCE could also contribute to the monitoring of local ceasefires, exchange best practices in the realm of arms control and, at a later stage, help with the professional training of the Libyan armed forces. However, all these potential roles present inherent challenges for the OSCE.

One challenge would be the risk of entering into competition with regional players already acting in the role of facilitator or mediator. A close coordination with those players is a key condition to ensure a successful involvement of the OSCE.

The Mediterranean Contact Group could play a significant role by laying the groundwork for the cooperation with Libya’s Arab neighbours. Second, it is essential that Libyans see the OSCE involvement not as a form of interference but as an opportunity for gaining vital institutional support and experience.

Altogether, a focused and appropriately coordinated application of the OSCE’s toolbox could effectively create new space for convergence between local and external actors, helping to advance dispute resolution and increase the chances for stability.

4 – Conclusion

On 20 October 2017, Libyan authorities celebrated the sixth anniversary of Libya’s liberation. On that day, Colonel Gaddafi was killed when his convoy leaving Sirte was tracked down and attacked.

In the words of Gareth Evans, former President of the International Crisis Group, the NATO coalition trespassed the UN mandate at this crucial moment by going beyond the protection of civilians and enacting regime change.

With hindsight, this overreach unleashed domestic and regional dynamics into which the United Nations is now trying to infuse a modicum of order. Moreover, Africa’s richest country (in terms of resources) is edging ever closer to bankruptcy as spending outpaces income generation while political deadlock and a problematic security landscape endanger the prospects for national reconciliation.

The UN’s Special Representative of the Secretary-General Ghassan Salamé therefore presented an ambitious one-year roadmap, the Libya Action Plan, to extract Libya from this impasse.

However, domestic, ideological fault lines are deep and have become increasingly entrenched over the past six years, as external actors contributed to fuelling a destabilizing polarization by nurturing their respective proxy factions.

From a chronological perspective, external actors’ involvement in Libya’s transition can be assessed according to four distinct phases:

(a) the year 2011 with the R2P intervention, the NTC proclamation and Gaddafi’s killing;

(b) 2012 witnessing the first elections and the GNC;

(c) the armed conflicts of 2014/15 following the second round of elections, the establishment of the HoR and the discord around the constitutional court ruling; and, finally,

(d) the current phase since the Skhirat Agreement in December 2015.

Yet, as this chapter has outlined, this chronology is the only shared feature of the Libyan crisis, as most interested external parties are involved with diverging objectives and means. Accordingly, multilateral diplomatic efforts, such as those driven by the United Nations, are confronted with a number of adversities, mainly revolving around competing external patrons and their local allies.

At the same time, a critical assessment indicates that the UN process itself suffers from a number of weaknesses, some methodological (top-down nominations of the most recent interim bodies) and others more procedural (exclusion of relevant power brokers).

Despite these twin challenges, the diplomatic element of reconciliation and conflict management remains of paramount importance for a workable power-sharing arrangement, the only option for bringing stability and fostering a functioning institutional and political system in Libya.

In addition, the current UN Action Plan aims to address some of the shortcomings identified, such as the set-up of the PC, certain aspects of the LPA or the question of a wider incorporation of key players.

Therefore, the support of experienced multilateral organizations, such as the OSCE, with a rich institutional memory and first-hand experience in conflict mitigation, dispute resolution and crisis management in general, should be considered an option with potentially high added value in this delicate and fragile process – and one that can, in particular, reinforc UN initiatives or complement others with specific expertise.


Wolfgang Mühlberger is a senior research fellow in the the European Union research programme at The Finnish Institute of International Affairs-FIIA in Stockholm. He held positions at the Austrian National Defence Academy, with the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He studied Arabic and Islamic Studies as well as Economics and Business Administration in Vienna, and was a Visiting researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv (2011) and at NATO Defense College in Rome (2012). His research focuses on post-revolutionary Libya, the civil war in Syria, the Israeli-Arab conflict and EU external relations in the southern Mediterranean.


Source: Chapter 3 of ‘Search for Stability in Libya .. OSCE’s Role between Internal Obstacles and External Challenges. Edited by Andrea Dessì and Ettore Greco.





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