Western influence is needed as Libya’s hidden turmoil posses long term consequences for Europe.
The net result of the West’s intervention in the Middle East and North Africa can be likened to that of a bull in a china shop. As a consequence, many feel that the West must now adhere to the classic “Pottery Barn Rule” – if you break it, you buy it.
With tensions continuing to rise in the Middle East and North Africa, Western powers are being forced to revisit one particularly worrying problem they helped ignite – Libya.
Political and social upheaval have permeated Libya and the surrounding Arab Spring countries since the beginning of the 2011 uprisings.
However, according to the Guardian the effects of foreign aid and efforts from Western powers to promote freedom and democracy in a war-torn, politically unstable country, has left Libya arguably worse off than it once was.
As a response to powerful dictators and repressive regimes that formed to quell the uprisings, Western governments reacted reflexively by stepping in to protect the democratic impulses of those who joined the Arab Spring movement.
The resulting government is now driven by disputes and anarchy, causing true power in Libya to shift to violent militias and sectarian forces, all of whom have weakened the promise of any democratic reforms.
Data provided by the website LibyaBodyCount.org, suggests that violence continues to increase in the coalition of militias, resulting in approximately 1,500 deaths alone in 2015.
So the question presented, why should Europe care about the shattered remains of Libya and what effects will its broken pieces have?
Libya in the spotlight
For Europe, Libya is becoming a predominant threat, and many believe this threat was self-induced.
Prior to the West’s involvement, Libya suffered under the oppressive regime of Muammar Gaddafi, a ruthless dictator much of the West wanted to see overthrown.
Europe, along with other Western powers, originally found it easier to ignore the morally questionable actions of dictatorships such as Gaddafi’s because regional stability outweighed the plight of the oppressed.
On a quest for an immediate solution to a complicated problem, Europe and the United States cooperated in the 2011 NATO airstrikes against Libya and Syria – a response to the civil wars that stemmed from the Arab Spring uprisings.
Military action and political tactics were taken under the noble intention of promoting a sense of freedom and democracy, a chance for “spring” in the otherwise bleak landscape of political suppression.
While Libyans were extremely grateful for NATO’s involvement in their revolution, they were adamant that they wanted control over their country’s future, according to Politico.
However, the West was mistakenly under the assumption that intervening would both secure democracy and provide a security buffer against regional instability.
According to Sputnik International News, tragically their efforts worsened humanitarian suffering throughout Arab Spring countries and created an arc of chaos along the borders of North Africa and the Middle East.
With the ending of the Gaddafi regime, militias began to fill the power vacuum that resulted, inflicting “deplorable conditions” for human rights and security threats, according to the Human Rights Watch.
Data provided by the United Nations shows Libya as a country with six million people and a substantial amount of resources. However, their new estimates suggest that 2.4 million individuals are now in need of humanitarian assistance.
“It is with a very heavy heart that I begin my briefing to you noting that the humanitarian situation in Libya has deteriorated further, against the background of poor funding for the humanitarian response,” Martin Kobler, Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, told a 15-member council on March 2.
For many in Libya life is now a fight for survival.
The fight is made more difficult by the fallout of the current power struggles that plague Libya; the water and oil supply that have been cut, and the most acute shortage of all – optimism – something that was abundantly flowing in Libya for years, according to Chris Stephen, a reporter for the Guardian.
“It was better under the Gaddafi,” said a young Libyan student in a Guardian article. “I never thought to say this before, I hated him, but things were better then. At least we had security,” he said.
In this world, dictators exact a price, but one that can be quantified, and in return anarchy is kept at bay.
The often repeated miscalculation by the West is that democracy will flourish in an environment that has traditionally had no rule of law, according to the Atlantic’s piece “The future of Democracy in the Middle East.”
Fareed Zakaria documents this modern distinction in his book “The Future of Freedom,” where he looks to untangle the idea of liberalism and democracy by pointing out that “constitutional liberalism,” as he coins it, is a political system “marked not only by free and fair elections but also by the rule of law, a separation of powers, and the protection of basic liberties of speech, assembly, religion and property.”
Zakaria points out that this bundle of freedoms “has nothing intrinsically to do with democracy.”
A hub for terror
Today, the mounting chaos that threatens to overrun Libya hardly touches headlines unless a journalist has been kidnapped or there is an oil crisis of interest to the West.
As the growing internal divide deepens and civil war-like tensions loom, surrounding countries, mainly Iraq and Syria, are beginning to take notice.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), are finding Libya’s unstable infrastructure and chaos attractive conditions to begin new operations.
New Europe’s article “Why Libya Matters” suggests the Islamic state is interested in the geographical position of Libya, which lies at the perfect crossroad between Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Strategically, this provides a convenient breeding ground for jihadist recruits from Africa and Maghreb who occasionally do not make it all the way to the Middle East.
Photo sourced from: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13754897
The United Nations panel of experts believes that the emerging of such radical groups, as well as the need to defeat them, has caused “Libya to [has] become a primary source of illicit weapons.”
The increased flow of these weapons has caused backlash and chaos in more than 14 countries surrounding Libya, according to the Guardian.
Kobler, head of the UN support mission in Libya, believes that ISIS is taking advantage of the weak political and security vacuum by expanding to the West, East and to the South.
According to the United Nations, last week ISIS reportedly killed 17 people, beheading several of them. These atrocities were believed to have taken place in Sirte, a Libyan city located between Tripoli and Benghazi.
The relevance for Europe
After the setbacks encountered in the wake of intervention, the West has pulled back and Libya’s situation has been placed on the back burner, with much of the worlds attention currently focused on Syria.
According to the Guardian, Libya’s disintegration can be partially attributed to the lack of international focus and diplomatic follow-up after the events of 2011.
However, it is crucial that Europe’s attention now be re-directed toward Libya.
Aside from being an inevitable breeding ground for Islamic militants, Libya is also a key part of the energy supply line for Europe, and disruption of control could result in huge economic blowbacks.
While ISIS does not yet have the ability to generate profits from the reserves in the Sirte basin, their presence could become a potential threat in the upcoming months.
The decay of rule in Libya has also helped brew the perfect storm for the expansion of kidnappings, smuggling of drugs and human trafficking in the region.
So how big of an umbrella does Europe need to weather this storm?
A total destabilization of North Africa, according to New Europe, means an increased threat of refugees and migrants fleeing to European soil.
Data provided by the BBC suggests that more than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015, and according to New Europe 106,000 of these arrived in Italy from Libya.
This number is only expected to increase with the weakening of Libya’s internal structure.
While the West’s attention primarily centers around the rippling effects of the Syrian crisis, Libya has become the unprecedented situation undermining EU cohesion, according to the New Europe report.
It is now important that Europe, as well as other Western powers, helps stabilize what remains of Libya in order to prevent a complete collapse of North Africa and a new home base for terror.
According to Kobler, “the fight against violent extremism can only be sustainable if it is led by a national unity government that puts in place and prioritizes a national agenda to address the country’s most immediate challenges and works to meet the aspirations and expectations of the Libyan people.”
While the road to hell might be paved with good intentions, Libya’s crumbling core is on its way to becoming defective and it is within everyone’s best interest to help pick up the pieces.