Libyans are sceptical that the agreements signed at the summit will end the conflict, but it is an important step in the right direction.
Conflicting parties in Libya and international stakeholders met in Berlin for a one-day summit on Sunday to persuade Libya’s warring sides – as well as their main international backers – to agree to a ceasefire, respect a UN arms embargo and pave the way for a political dialogue to negotiate a long-term political settlement in Libya. The interference of some international powers and regional actors has been a significant factor in the deepening political fragmentation and polarisation of Libya. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Egypt, France and Russia have been supporting the warlord Khalifa Haftar who has carried out an offensive on the capital, Tripoli, in an effort to topple the United Nation backed Government of National Accord (GNA). The ongoing fighting, use of fighter jets, and drone strikes have had a humanitarian fallout but led to no clear advantage for Haftar’s forces.
Since September 2019, the arrival of Russian mercenaries in numbers and air support from the UAE and Egypt has shifted dynamics on the ground in support of Haftar. The GNA’s frontlines have been repeatedly hit but so have civilian areas. A few weeks ago at least 28 people were killed in an attack on a military academy in Tripoli. Haftar and his backers have been trying to break the morale of west Libya’s residents and trying to weaken the support of the UN-backed government. In the face of another offensive on Tripoli, the GNA requested help from Turkey and Ankara responded. Turkey has stepped up its efforts to deploy military advisers and sending armed drones. The European Union claims to be the strongest supporter of the UN-led peace process, but in practical terms, only a few countries have provided tangible assistance to the internationally recognised government. There is a great division among two-member states (France and Italy) over Libya.
The main rift is between France, which claims to support the GNA, but has been linked to military and financial support to Haftar; and Italy, which aligns with the United Nations in backing Serraj. The clash between Italy and France over Libya has contributed to the failure over EU efforts to develop a political solution for the ongoing conflict. Haftar is explicitly against civilian rule in Libya, therefore, he doesn’t abide by the peace process. Haftar usually offers talks, shakes hands, and sits at the negotiations tables whereas, in reality, he remains a firm believer in a military solution. He has repeatedly stated that Libya is not ready for democracy. Militias loyal to Haftar blocked oil exports from the country’s main ports on the eve of the summit. Oil is the lifeblood of the Libyan economy and the country’s primary source of revenue. Haftar has been trying to use it as a trump card.
Turkey’s determination to be more involved in Libya has created a new momentum for peace and given some life to the nearly-dead UN-led political process. On January 8, President Putin and President Erdogan met and called on all warring parties to declare a ceasefire in Moscow but Haftar refused to obey his Russian backers and left without signing.
Stakeholders agreed on a final communique that could be put forward as a UN resolution containing the following key points:
An end to foreign interference: The interference of some international actors has been a significant factor in deepening the political fragmentation and polarisation. Interventions designed to serve foreign states’ strategic interests have been a constant feature of the country’s post-Gaddafi era.
UN arms embargo: The participants should fully respect and implement the arms embargo. The primary reason for the deterioration of the situation is that some regional and international players are fuelling the conflict by sending arms to Haftar despite an official UN arms embargo.
Ceasefire: The signatories to the final statement “call on all parties concerned to redouble their efforts for a sustained suspension of hostilities, de-escalation and a permanent ceasefire”.
Return to the political process: Although the UN-led process is moving slower than many had hoped, it is still the best hope for ending the civil war in Libya. Thus, all relevant actors should support the Libyan Political agreement rather than a military solution.
The biggest achievement of the Berlin conference would be an implementable ceasefire, a constructive political roadmap, and the engagement of international backers of both rival factions. Many Libyans have very low expectations that these talks will lead to any sort of long a lasting peace on the ground in coming days. Despite the conference, Haftar’s militias relaunched a fresh offensive on the Libyan capital. Meanwhile, the Libyan people continue to suffer. The Berlin peace conference could be seen as a modest step in the effort to bring some stability to the county. However, the risk remains high that some countries will only pay lip service to the diplomatic initiative even as they continue to provide significant support for the destabilising forces of Haftar. Instead of fuelling more conflict and destruction, all the relevant countries should convince Haftar and his other backers to accept that the Libyan political agreement (LPA) is the only viable way forward, as there is no military solution to this conflict.