I considered beginning this article with a rather unoriginal rant as to the incapability of the West’s foreign policy agenda to solve conflict that so often blights the Arab world. We see it time and time again; almost every article published on this topic insists upon sweeping generalisations as to the performance of predominantly Britain, France and the US in the Middle Eastern theatre with little thorough consideration of each individual conflict. Yes, the occupations of both Iraq and Afghanistan were undeniably atrocious practices in Western foreign intervention but what is so often forgotten is that the initial invasions were great military successes; only now with hindsight do they become confused and wrongly perceived as indistinguishable from later failings. Undoubtedly the most prominent example of an intervention so often wrongly branded an inevitable error is that of Libya in 2011. Muammar Qaddafi was a despotic monster; one whose contempt for the very people he governed has almost been unmatched since the turn of this century. Without NATO intervention through the utilisation of a no fly zone supplemented by sporadic bombing raids, alongside a naval blockade, it is likely that a massacre of rebel forces would have ensued. As the old regime fell, hope was placed firmly in Libya’s ability to build a for a future free from tyranny; the manifestation of which being the nation’s first free election to the new democratic legislature, the General National Congress in July 2012. The role played by the West in all this was therefore that of a successful facilitator for positive change.
Having enjoyed three years of relative peace under what appeared to be a smooth transition to democracy; Libya is now once again tearing itself apart, much in the same way that other post-Arab Spring nations are doing. The battle between democracy and absolutism has left for this part of the world a legacy of choice between the path of secular or Islamic government. As in Egypt and – albeit far more peacefully – Tunisia; it is a struggle which Libya is now undertaking. The weak government established following the first Civil War under the Dignity Party failed to successfully disband belligerent Islamic militias which evolved to fight Qaddafi, allowing those which opposed the secular nature of government to take control of vast swathes of Eastern Libya; eventually establishing a rival parliament headed by the Libya Dawn faction under which to exert influence in the North, whilst various militia and Jihadi groups rule the South. National cohesion is now an impossibility. Academics are now predicting Libya to end up as another failed state, akin to Somalia for example, as anarchy begins to ravage many of the cities and towns on either side of the split: Army loyalty remains volatile, looting has become rife and the central bank is finding it impossible to continue operation under such conditions.
Naturally, extreme criminal activity has not taken long to prosper within this chaotic state. Militias and ethnic tribes which occupy the South are bankrolling their survival through the trafficking of drugs, arms and people whilst law enforcement is no longer a possibility; severely exacerbating the wider chronic instability that grips central Africa. The danger of an unstable Libya also applies closer to home. This anarchic network has also spread Northwards as far as the Sinai desert; a land bridge through which contraband could be smuggled into the already volatile Levant, or as far as Europe should transport be feasible. Realistically, the most convenient point of entry to the Continent is via the Mediterranean onto the Southern coasts of Greece, Cyprus or Italy. Should the War further intensify, as it is likely to do should a diplomatic solution not be found, it is likely that to accompany such illegalities crossing the Sea would be a massive influx of refugees; an outcome which would further entrench the poison of anti-immigration discourse which presently dominates European politics.
Yet the most concerning outcome of a failed Libya is certainly its potential to become a recruitment and training ground for Jihadi extremists. Already small and fragmented groups are beginning to expand their influence amongst the lawlessness that exists. Should groups such as Boko Haram or AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, originating from Northern Mali and Algeria) effectively formulate allegiances to the smaller Libyan factions; it is likely that Islamic radicalism would find a new breeding ground. Now is a better time than any for European leaders to recognise this severe threat, given the recent spate of fundamentalist attacks on the Continent. But the inclination for a return to Libya is just not there. Militarily of course this is understandable: no government, especially in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan, wants to be perceived as wasting time and resources on foreign meddling given the continually unstable state of the economy. Yet diplomatically, there is much the EU and America can do in order to resolve the situation.
The best method through which the West can relieve the situation somewhat is through the exertion of influence upon the Arab nations who continue to provide arms to each key Libyan faction. Qatar continues to be the main supplier of resources to the non-secular Libya Dawn Party; should substantial pressure be put on them to refrain, best achieved through the threat of economic sanctions, then it is likely they would cease to antagonise an already volatile situation. A summit, through which discussion over the issue with the Arab League can be facilitated, should be established in order to create a consensual agreement over what action can be taken. Such communication would allow for the EU and US to gain intrinsic local knowledge from Libya’s neighbours, Algeria and Egypt, as to how best contain the chaos whilst sending it into a managed decline. Solutions often turn out best, when considering the Middle East, when the West keeps its practical input to a minimum. Utilising local actors in order to solve local problems prevents extremist from waging a successful propaganda war in favour of its cause, based on the argument that the West intervenes for the purpose of advancing self-interest.
It really is a shame that misconceptions as to the nature of Iraq and Afghanistan have forever soured the experience of Middle Eastern intervention for the West. It casts the successful initial Libyan experience under a dark shadow; one which has now scared governments away from intervention of any kind, be it diplomatic or military. It is for this reason that the current threat of an ungovernable Libya goes unrecognised and uncared for, at a time when it is paramount that we maintain the security of our Continental borders. It is an issues which we should all hope to see addressed within at least the coming months.