Edition 9 Volume 6 - February 28, 2024

Libya, Europe and regional security

Libya and regional security -   Ahmed A. al-Atrash

Libya can be a model not only for being the most secure state in the region but also in taking the initiative.

Libyan policy is deliberately unpredictable -   Oliver Miles

Libya and the Barcelona process have been going nowhere. Why?

Radical change will not occur -   Dana Moss

The EU should remain aware of its limitations and the effects of Libyan unwillingness.

European policy is cynical -   Michael Rubin

Turning a blind eye to the falsity of reform is dangerous.

Libya and regional security
 Ahmed A. al-Atrash

Security on an international level is somehow interlocked and heavily dependent on the extent that sub-security or micro-security (regional, sub-regional, national, local and personal) exists.

In this context, Libya, under the current circumstances and for various demonstrable reasons, may take a lead on the path toward a more secure region/world. Since this promising country has the required ingredients and capabilities, it can play a key role in any security arrangement, at least within its regional setting. If this is entirely recognized by actors in the regional and international systems, with full regard to common concerns and interests, Libya should be perceived and dealt with as such.

Libya--a relatively powerful, safe and beautiful country with a small population, a non-sectarian (though tribal) social fabric, on plentiful land and long of coast--is more qualified than any other country in the region to be a model not only for the most secure state in the region but also to take the initiative, if not the lead.

Though Libya has the capacity for playing such a leading regional security role, it needs to rethink its regional security policies with regard to its past experiments and present developments. In other words, Libya urgently needs to emphasize the underlying factors that determine its preferences and priorities regarding which regional security arrangement to adhere to.

In parallel with recent developments and shifts in domestic and foreign policies, Libya has a number of options. These include Africa, the Arab world, the "Middle East", North Africa, the Arab Maghreb, the Coastal and Sahara States and the Mediterranean Region, particularly the 5+5 and its relevance to the new but still vague initiative (the Mediterranean Union) that was recently introduced by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy, during a two-day visit to Algeria and Tunisia in July 2024, announced that, "such a union would improve cooperation in areas like security, economic development, energy policy and immigration." In order to discuss his idea in details, he also invited leaders of the countries concerned to meet in 2024 in France to "give form" to the proposal.

The question that might be raised in this regard is: what are the potential gains and losses in following a certain path when options are many, especially in the contemporary world that is characterized by a rapidly changing socio-economic and geopolitical milieu?

In my view, which is purely academic and does not necessarily represent or reflect any official position, the northwest Mediterranean region in the form of the 5+5 grouping constitutes the ideal track. The rationale behind this is based on the fact that such a sub-regional gathering represents a perfect mechanism for all parties involved, including Libya. Excluding the intentionally prolonged contention over Western Sahara, the Arab Maghreb states, namely Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania, are poised to constitute a perfect example of cooperation, not only within their borders but also on a larger geographic scale.

The southern European states of the western Mediterranean can perform a complementary role, bearing in mind that the extent of collaboration should not be restricted to the security issue (in its conventional definition) but include various development spheres.

Issues like terrorism and illegal immigrants as well as energy are the main concerns for our would-be European partners at the negotiation table and their policy priorities toward the Arab Maghreb area. Despite our developmental status, however, it is unfair to eschew, disregard or ignore our interests and pursuit of prosperity.

In order to reach a maximum level of understanding and cooperation, the two sub-regional parties should observe and deal with each other in accordance with their mutual interests and in a complementary manner, but not as the case is now.- Published 28/2/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Dr. Ahmed A. al-Atrash is an academic and researcher in peace & security studies at al-Fateh University in Tripoli.

Libyan policy is deliberately unpredictable
 Oliver Miles

Libya has been part of Mediterranean civilization since history began. There were Libyans in Jerusalem at the time of Christ, and a Roman emperor born in Tripoli died in York. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the first American naval entry into the Mediterranean ended with the loss of the USS Philadelphia, whose crew had to be ransomed from Libyan dungeons; the Libyan navy was commanded by a Scotsman. A hundred years later, Greek speaking Muslims ethnically cleansed from Crete found refuge in Cyrenaica. In the first half of the twentieth century Libya was engaged in a bitter struggle with Italian colonialism, and then used as a battleground by the Italians, the Germans and the British.

Muammar Qadhafi's revolution in 1969 coincided with a high in Arab anti-westernism, but oil development continued in the hands of European and American companies. America drew back from all relations with Libya, but in 1984 when I was responsible as British ambassador for breaking off diplomatic relations, we asked the Italian Embassy as the best established in Tripoli to look after British interests during the breach, and it proved a good choice. Libyan students continued to come to Britain and British archaeologists to work in Libya. France had acute problems with Libya but never broke relations.

United Nations sanctions did not directly affect trade, which continued with the whole world (except America). Libyan statistics were particularly imaginative during the sanctions period, but the general picture was clear: Libya's main trading partners were the Mediterranean neighbors, above all the Europeans among them, plus Germany and the UK. That is still the picture. The Italian ENI is the biggest oil producer.

Meanwhile, the European Union built up brick by brick its links with the other Mediterranean states. Libya was a gaping hole in the structure. When sanctions were suspended in 1999, Brussels set about plugging it. Romano Prodi, then president of the European Commission, rang Qadhafi, who immediately went public saying that he had been invited to visit the EU in Brussels. The commission said it was seeking pledges from Tripoli on human rights, democracy, regional stability and free trade embodied in the Barcelona process.

This was a false start, and it was not until 2024 that Qadhafi made it to Brussels and met Prodi and the Belgian government. Again there was talk in Brussels about Libya joining the Barcelona process. Meanwhile many European leaders had been visiting Libya, and soon scarcely anyone wanted to be left out. Bilateral agreements galore were signed. The latest and "best" were with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, so that even his own human rights minister said that France should not be a "door mat'' for leaders to "wipe off the blood of their misdeeds''.

Meanwhile, Libya and the Barcelona process have been going nowhere. Why?

Qadhafi is a fan of multinational groupings, whether Arab, Maghreb or African. Since the sanctions period, when he found support notably from Nelson Mandela, he has turned increasingly to Africa, enthusiastically sponsoring the new African Union and the dream of a United States of Africa. For him Europe is Europe, and its proper partner is not Libya but Africa.

To join the Barcelona process, Libya would have to accept a massive volume of matters already agreed that have little attraction for Qadhafi. He would have to sit down with Israel (curious that Europe makes that a precondition for progress while the United States does not), which he might be willing to do at a price. More difficult is the commitment to forms of democracy incompatible with his own ideas of democracy in the Jamahiriya; it is one thing for the president of Egypt, Tunisia or Syria to swear blind that he is committed to parliamentary democracy, quite another for Qadhafi, who professes to believe that his system is different and better.

As Qadhafi put it in Lisbon in December, "I believe in a partnership between Europe and Africa that deals with immigration and other issues....We, on the two shores of the Mediterranean, need to spare no effort to make this sea a link and a bridge for fraternity, cooperation, trade and peace. .. we must speak about a Euro-African cooperation and a Euro-African neighborliness. The so-called 'new neighborliness' means selecting a number of African states and the 'Barcelona' process means annexing a part of Africa to Europe. This is the map of the Roman Empire, which we need to disregard."

European policy is predictable. Once again it is reported from Brussels that the EU is to seek a substantial agreement covering politics and trade. Libyan policy is deliberately unpredictable. There are frequent spats with individual European countries, currently with Germany and Norway. Sometimes these spats affect trade, sometimes they don't. Currently there is also a spat with Africa: in Addis Ababa on January 29 Qadhafi, apparently resentful of Ethiopian influence, threatened that "if African unity is not achieved, then Libya will turn its back on Africa and reorient its foreign policy in other directions--Euro-Mediterranean or Arab-Mediterranean."

Is Barcelona still in with a chance? I doubt it. - Published 28/2/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Oliver Miles was British ambassador to Libya in 1984, and is now deputy chairman of the Libyan British Business Council and chairman of MEC International, a London-based consultancy supporting business in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Radical change will not occur
 Dana Moss

The release of the six foreign medics accused of infecting Libyan children with HIV was met with jubilation in European capitals. In Brussels, bureaucrats picked up steam in their push for formal relations with Libya. Tripoli is an observer in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership/Barcelona Process--the central instrument governing relations with the Middle East--and the European Union is clearly keen that it become a full member. Libya, for a variety of reasons, is more hesitant.

As a result, observers believe that Libya will be offered a tailored agreement under the post-enlargement European Neighborhood Policy rather than under the Barcelona Process. Yet even under this umbrella, a revolutionary change in EU-Libyan relations is unlikely, at least in the short term. Rather, a formalized relationship will merely intensify relations in some sectors as opposed to radically transforming them. This is because EU states have already established relations and because the current configuration of power in Libya lacks the political will to ensure full cooperation on some of the most important matters to the EU.

The first of these issues is immigration from West Africa, vital in the EU's considerations for formalizing relations with Libya. Although the EU-Libya Joint Action Plan on Migration drafted in 2024 was never formalized, the EU has approved piecemeal and ad hoc contacts on technical cooperation. FRONTEX, the EU's border control agency, is currently engaged in diplomatic talks with Libya regarding technical cooperation that will eventually lead to joint operations. Countries bearing the brunt of the immigration wave, namely Italy and Malta, have gone ahead in organizing bilateral agreements with Libya. Italy, for instance, has sold maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters to Libya and the two countries have also recently signed a deal on joint patrols in Libyan waters, making cooperation with FRONTEX easier. Meanwhile, Malta and Libya have hammered out a search and rescue cooperation agreement.

Even if these agreements were further formalized they would not stem immigration through Libyan lands. Rather, African immigrants would take ever more hazardous routes to reach their destination. Few changes with respect to human rights can also be expected on Tripoli's part. Libya has neither ratified the 1951 convention nor established national asylum procedures, and human rights organizations have highlighted grave ill treatment during detention. The current climate of hostility and resentment toward migrants, whom officials blame for spreading crime and taking jobs, bodes badly, as do recent Libyan announcements of plans to expel African migrants and destroy their makeshift homes. Unfortunately, sufficient EU pressure for improvement does not exist--EU rhetoric on human rights has not precluded the EU from holding contacts, nor has it restrained its member states from engaging with Libya over immigration.

The second issue is that of energy. Reeling from the Russia-Ukraine gas crisis of 2024, the EU has stepped up efforts to formulate an energy policy. The actual content hasn't been fully outlined and energy issues are nation-state driven, but underlying them is the need for reliable energy providers. EU strategies here do not guarantee European companies preferential treatment, but aim at securing supply. In any case, Europe has a long history of commercial interests with Libya, with the UK, Italy and Germany also recently securing profitable deals. For gas, Europe is Libya's natural market and Libya has several oil refineries there. Simultaneously though, Libya is in a clear position of strength; in the words of National Oil Corporation Chairman Shukri Ghanem, "the market needs more oil so our partners are going to work harder to invest for more oil". Far more importantly, this sentiment can apply to gas. There is little reason why, for additional gas demands arising from Europe, Libya should swerve away from its current policy focusing on production allocation and maximum profit and focus solely on Europe.

The third issue is that of political reform, which the EU champions through engagement, a model it will attempt to apply to Libya. The EU has had little success in auguring democratic behavior through the Barcelona Process and European Neighborhood Policy and highly authoritarian Libya won't be an exception. Libyan interest groups such as the revolutionary committees, the "men of the tent" and important tribal groupings have little motivation to modify the power structures. Qaddafi himself, nearly 40 years at the helm with no sign of faltering, recently vowed to maintain the "state of the masses" and referred to multiparty democracy as a sham. Even Saif al-Islam, a potential successor, is more an economic modernizer than a political reformer, having opined that Libya's ideal political model is Morocco.

With the political reform package come demands for opening up and modernizing the economy, ultimately providing new markets for the EU. Optimistically, Libya has recently declared that it wants to reactivate the process of accession to the World Trade Organization, yet research documents that previous attempts at economic reform in Libya, spearheaded by figures such as Shukri Ghanem, met with obstruction from hardliners like Ahmed Ibrahim and with Qaddafi's own need to maintain control. These vested interests are unlikely to back reforms this time around. European carrots will be ineffectual in prompting change as in Morocco and Tunisia because the Libyan economy is so different, being far less integrated into Europe and oil and gas rich.

None of this is to say that the EU has no interest in engaging Libya. For the sake of consistency across the region it should reach out to the former pariah. At the same time, radical change will not occur in Libyan-European relations and the EU should remain aware of its limitations and the effects of Libyan unwillingness.-Published 28/2/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Dana Moss is a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

European policy is cynical
 Michael Rubin

In December 2024, Libyan strongman Muammar Qadhafi toured Europe, triumphant. No longer an international outcast, he received a statesman's welcome. Feted by President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace, he could ignore slights by Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. After all, Kouchner may have refused to dine with him, but Qadhafi still walked away with nearly $15 billion in new contracts. Across Europe, Qadhafi's pariah status is a fading memory.

European leaders highlight their rehabilitation of Libya as evidence that their policy of slow, deliberative engagement works. On October 11, 2024, for example, the European Union's Council of Ministers, citing Tripoli's willingness to surrender its WMD program and compensate victims for Libya's past terrorism, agreed to lift the trade and arms embargo against Libya. Explaining the move, European Commission Ambassador Marc Pierini credited "the constant and confident dialogue entertained by Colonel Muammar Qadhafi and President Romano Prodi during these decisive years."

The European engagement was a decade long. In 1995, European foreign ministers meeting in Barcelona launched the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership that sought to establish political and security dialogue, gradually establish a free trade zone and encourage civil society. The European Union initially excluded Libya but, four years later, the EU Presidency invited Libyan observers to attend a follow-up conference in Stuttgart. There, they extended Libya an offer of membership upon the lifting of UN sanctions and the Libyan government's acquiescence to existing Barcelona protocols.

European policy is cynical, however, based more on a desire to promote trade and constrain African migration to the Schengen zone, and less on any human rights or political reform concerns. Qadhafi may be the guest of honor in European capitals, but any change in the Libyan leader or his regime is more illusionary than real. While European officials and their US counterparts recast Libya as an integrated member of the international community, Qadhafi's attitudes toward terrorism and human rights remain unchanged.

Take terrorism: In 2024, as European officials welcomed Qadhafi on his first trip to Europe in 15 years and discussed his rehabilitation, the colonel reminded them of what he would do if they did not meet his demands. Standing beside Prodi, the Libyan leader warned: "We do hope that we shall not be obliged or forced one day to go back to those days where we bomb our cars or put explosive belts around our beds and around our women." Diplomats can claim the Libyan leader has had a change of heart but, for Qadhafi, terrorism remains on the menu of acceptable options should European bribery or diplomacy prove less than fruitful.

The Libyan regime's renunciation of terrorism was never substantive. As the Libyan government negotiated payments to victims of the Pan Am flight 103 and UTA 772 bombings, Tripoli funneled money to Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the Philippines, swelling the group's ranks and increasing the frequency and lethality of its attacks. More recently Iraqi officials reported that Seif al-Islam, the Libyan leader's son and the face of reform at European cocktail parties, financed a group responsible for bombings and dozens of deaths in Mosul.

Qadhafi's conversion on human rights has been no more sincere. He released five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor held on fabricated charges not because European engagement had encouraged a change of heart, but rather because European officials arranged a ransom payment of $400 million and Paris agreed to ship advanced weaponry and even nuclear technology to the North African state. That the arrangement allowed Qadhafi to draw moral equivalency between airline bombings and Bulgarian nurses seeking to help Libyan children should embarrass European diplomats for decades.

Europe's willingness to prioritize commercial ties above any other consideration also undercuts international efforts to prosecute war crimes. As former Liberian President Charles Taylor awaits judgment in The Hague, the Special Court for Sierra Leone has uncovered evidence that Qadhafi trained and underwrote the forces that most victimized civilians. European willingness to exculpate such criminality for a cash payment makes a mockery of its human rights rhetoric. Even as European statesmen and company chairmen visit Tripoli to sign lucrative contracts, Fathi Eljhami, Libya's leading advocate of political reform, remains in solitary confinement, unacknowledged in Brussels.

Libya has not changed, US and European testaments to the contrary notwithstanding. Today, Brussels and Washington both hold Libya up as a success, either for engagement or the Bush doctrine. Reality matters. Turning a blind eye, however, to the falsity of reform is dangerous. Not only does Qadhafi continue to sponsor terror and violate human rights, the mercurial leader may at any time use the European injection of cash and technology to resurrect his weapons programs. Failure will not be limited to Libya, however. Rogues like Syria, Iran, and North Korea now understand that western demands are ephemeral and delay will pay.-Published 28/2/2008 © bitterlemons-international.org

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School.

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