The French Ambassador Francois Delattre called the newest Security Council Resolution 2292 on Libya that partially revokes the arms embargo a ‘game changer’ for the country and its arms crisis. However, amidst continued lawlessness inside Libya, the adoption of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2292 raises more concerns than hopes for respite from the growing security menace in the state. There are currently two rival warring governments in Libya – the House of Representative in Tobruk and the Government of National Accord (GNA) - backed by various militia groups. In addition there is the lingering threat of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the increasing numbers of refugees. Besides, Libya today is a highly fragmented state with porous borders and unidentified alliance formations. In this scenario, a resolution to partially lift the arms embargo may have widespread undesirable consequences. The role of NATO at the behest of European Union members or when requested by the legitimate Libyan authorities in the implementation of the Resolution highlights the problematic involvement of European states in Libyan affairs, yet again questioning their covert motives.
After the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in 2011, the country descended into civil war and chaos. As civilian protests escalated in Libya in February 2011, Gaddafi launched an air strike using the Libyan Air Force. It was then that the Permanent Representative of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya to the UN, Abdel Rahman Shalgram, wrote a letter to the President of the Security Council calling for immediate action. The Security Council on February 26, 2011 demanded an end to the violence and decided to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) while imposing an arms embargo on the country and a travel ban and assets freeze on the family of Gaddafi and certain government officials. US, France and Britain sanctioned the Gaddafi regime. It was then that the French and British introduced Resolution 1970.1 Resolution 1970 (2011) under Article 41 of Chapter VII of the UN Charter authorised member states “to seize and dispose of military-related material banned by the text” and “to facilitate and support the return of humanitarian agencies and make available humanitarian and related assistance in Libya and expressed its readiness to consider taking additional appropriate measures as necessary to achieve that” (UN Document 2011). The European Union then imposed further unilateral sanctions on Libya.2 However, Gaddafi’s non-compromising attitude gave enough reason for the West to exert further pressure. The United Kingdom was consistently pushing for the implementation of a no-fly zone. Over the month of February and March, the British and French governments mounted pressure for a no-fly zone in Libya. The Obama Administration, some have pointed, was hesitant at first to involve itself militarily in the Libyan uprising.3 While there were divergent views on how to end the crisis, Christopher Chivvis argues that France was in favour of an aggressive stand followed by Britain. Germany, Poland, Turkey and the US were opposed to this position.4 The Arab League foreign ministers consisting of 22 members called for the implementation of a no-fly zone over Libya. Thus, on March 17, 2011, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973, with 10 in favour, none against and five abstentions (Brazil, China, Germany, India and Russia), authorising ‘all necessary measures’ to protect civilians (UNSC Press Release 2011). After few months of NATO bombing, the Gaddafi regime fell in October 2011. Gaddafi during his period would not allow terrorist outfits like Al- Qaeda to gain foothold in Libya. However, after his fall, many jihadist outfits mushroomed in Libya. For instance, UN listed terrorist outfits such as Ansar al-Sharia in Darnah, Ansar al-Sharia Benghazi (later named as Ansar al-Sharia in Libya) and other Al Qaeda affiliates surfaced in Libya. These outfits were operating inside Libya since 2011 with the motivation of establishing Islamic Law in Libya; and were responsible for the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. By the end of November 2014, a global jihadist group under the name of Majlis Shura Shabab al-Islam (MSSI) took over the city of Darnah and announced that the city was now part of ISIS.5 In the past year, the Islamic State has advanced in Libya exponentially. Its most significant achievement was its expansion east of the town of Sirte along the coast for 120 miles in 2015.6
After international coalition forces started bombing Iraq and Syria and the ISIS lost their leaders and manpower, it became difficult for them to manoeuvre into other regions. Since Libyan borders were ungoverned following the post-Gaddafi chaos, it became a favourable ground for those fleeing bombing in Iraq and Syria to gain foothold inside Libya.7 According to a senior Libyan Intelligence Officer, most of the IS fighters inside Libya are foreign fighters who have come from Iraq and Syria.8 Porous borders soon led to illicit transfer of arms and weapons in Libya. Most of the weapons in post - Gaddafi Libya landed in the hands of civilians and militias. According to an estimate provided by Martin Kobler, the UN Envoy to Libya, the country is awash with twenty million pieces of weapons in a population of six million.9 Soon, it turned into a training camp for jihadists who then crossed borders to the adjoining West Asian and North African states.
On June 14, 2016 the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2292 under Chapter VII of the UN Charter ‘recalling the arms embargo’ in Libya. This mandate, drafted by Britain and France, is an extension of an ongoing European Union Operation EUNAVFOR MED Sophia, established by the EU Council on May 18, 2015, aimed at curbing illegal arms and migrant smuggling in Libya and the Mediterranean coast.10 In May 2016, the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union agreed to extend the mandate of this Operation Sophia for another year and assigned it with additional tasks, such as the training of Libyan coast guards and contributing to the arms embargo imposed by the United Nations Security Council which then constituted Resolution 2292.11 In other words, it appears that another EU Operation (Operation Sophia) has now been granted UN Security Council authorisation and thereby the legitimacy for continuation. In the statement made by Federica Mogherini, “Resolution 2292 will now enable Operation Sophia also to play an important role in implementing the UN arms embargo on Libya.”12
Some of the provisions of Resolution 2292 include the inspection of vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya; extending support to the GNA as the legitimate government of Libya; coordination of international efforts; dealing with the illicit transfer and smuggling of arms; and so on. However, the provision that raises doubts and concerns is one that grants exemptions to transfer select arms to the GNA, the internationally approved government in Libya, by lifting the ban.
After the introduction of the resolution, concerns began to surface as the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, Mr. Vladimir Safronkov, made statements at the Security Council Meeting on the situation in Libya. He stated that Russia is in doubt about the sincerity of the application of the resolution. The draft resolution was to aid the process of unity government by forming an alliance with the GNA and the House of Representative in Tobruk; and the full implementation of the Skhirat Agreement.13 However, the final document did not reflect these concerns. The Resolution, he said, appears firstly, one sided; and secondly, provides the space for some to have a free hand in managing the flow of weapon for their own covert agendas.14 He also raised apprehensions regarding the concerted effort in the fight against ISIS.
Resolution 2292 makes provisions for the transfer of select arms to the GNA. It states, “supplies of non-lethal military equipment and the provision of any technical assistance” will be provided to the GNA and the national security forces under its command. However, transfer of weapons to Libya in the current situation would only mean jeopardising the already precarious security situation. Considering Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj’s and his GNA, which is linked to the former internationally recognised government, is yet to receive a vote of confidence in the Parliament15. Thus, it also raises concerns, given Western states’ historical relations with Libya, whether this provision is meant strictly for use against Da’esh or to strengthen the position of GNA. The document states that the material are meant necessarily for “UN designated terrorist groups and to combat Da’esh throughout Libya”.
Besides, the inability of the GNA to gain acceptance from Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Haftar points towards an uncertainty regarding the formation of a unity government anytime soon. General Haftar launched Operation Dignity in 2014 to fight Islamic militants in Benghazi and the east. By 2016 they managed to push back Islamist strongholds outside Benghazi up to Derna (east). However, the General remained unhappy with the UN brokered government deal since it allocated the defence portfolio to Ibrahim al-Barghathi. Thus, while the Skhirat Agreement of 2015 called on the House of Representatives to vote on the proposed unity government, the House failed to throw their weight behind the proposal to gain the necessary quorum, thereby withholding the process of formation of a unity government. General Haftar, it was argued, has made deliberate attempts to garner mass support of those who decided not to vote in favour of the proposal.16 He considers the GNA as ‘militias outside the law’. 17 So a partial revocation of the arms embargo before the formation of a unity government would only lead to more insecurity and tension within the factions.
Finally, based on the statements made by Vladimir Safronkov, and the involvement of Britain, France and the NATO, one cannot discount that there are covert intentions behind the passing of this Resolution. It can, thus, be concluded that this could be European powers’ scheme to have extended presence in Libya. What makes this move more problematic is the history of European powers’ involvement in Libya. Historically, Libya and its relations with the West under Gaddafi were characterised as that of restrictions and retaliations with Gaddafi’s involvement in bombing of Rome and Vienna airports (1985), Lockerbie (1988), UTA flight over Niger (1989); the Reagan administration imposed severe sanctions along with US, Britain and France, identifying Libya as a state sponsoring terrorism and even made attempts to assassinate the leader.18 After the outbreak of protest in Libya in 2011, the United Kingdom was consistently pressuring for the implementation of a no- fly zone. David Cameron, Britain’s Prime Minister, also came up with the idea of arming the rebels on the insistence of French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, during an emergency EU summit in Brussels. These instances necessitate a more critical analyses of the recent resolution in terms of its intent and application.