Libya: it's now or never for the security-development nexus


Global Europe

Picture of Nira Abada
Nira Abada

Advisor at Strategic Swiss Partners

Despite international efforts in conflict-affected countries to build strong institutions and economies for achieving peace and security, we still see confusion in the international community’s policies towards chaotic scenes on the ground.             

For security and development, we need critical, urgent and coordinated efforts locally and internationally towards common vision and goals. It’s a fundamental fact known to the international community, governments and on-the-ground agencies that there will be no security without development and vice versa. Yet, when it comes to foreign policy and international agreements, the focus on security far eclipses considerations of development. This only serves to fuel a vicious cycle of increased poverty, corruption, and the expansion of armed groups such as ISIS.

The international community’s current funding methods are leading to fragmentation and competition for resources. Most resources are spent responding to conflicts instead of on long-term projects to sustain peace, security and development. Moreover, it is pivotal that funding is allocated to local implementation bodies, but the current strategy has resulted in funding being scattered around international implementers outside of the conflict-affected countries, only some of which have small local teams or partner with local NGOs. The question is why donors are not working directly with on-the-ground influencers to eliminate the wasting of resources?

Recently the European Union and its member states signed the ‘New European Consensus on Development’ blueprint which represents a plan of action to eliminate poverty and achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. One of the core areas to which European leaders have committed is building strong links between the different elements necessary for sustainable development, including development and security. The EU had previously highlighted the necessity of using innovative approaches with key players to achieve a security-development nexus, and this blueprint is another step forward.

Most resources are spent responding to conflicts instead of on long-term projects to sustain peace, security and development

In addition, the EU and its Member States are significant providers of Aid for Trade, which receives more than a third of the total EU Official Development Assistance (ODA). They could leverage this position to support pilot projects for development in the areas with highest poverty.

Middle Eastern and North African countries affected by conflicts face complex challenges that require a high level of understanding and collaboration to resolve. These challenges should be addressed rapidly, before poverty hits its peak leading to a surge in the power of armed groups. When poverty is accompanied by fragile institutions, liquidity crisis and corruption, there will be further destabilisation with a global impact as these countries become larger hubs for extremists and terrorists.

Under-development and high poverty levels are also due to a crumbling private sector, with international companies and investments receiving the red flag from their governments and international communities if they display any interest in entering conflict affected countries. Poverty has led some citizens to join armed groups which pay higher rates and even provide phones and cars to encourage youths to join them. The equation is simple: sustainable development will eradicate poverty, eliminate armed groups and strengthen institutions, resulting in peace, a stronger state and economy with a better aligned vision between the international community and the countries affected by conflicts.

Other questions remain: which conflict-affected countries will have the courage to start addressing security challenges through development, and who from the international community will provide support to ensure the theory turns into reality?

A good example of a country struggling to find the balance between security and development is Libya. Libya is rich with resources and home grown talent: its oil output recently hit above one million barrels a day, thanks to mastermind Mustafa Sana Allah, the CEO of Libya’s National Oil Corporation. Despite its natural and human capital, Libya is still struggling to build strong institutions, implement a constitution, provide security and develop its economy.

The equation is simple: sustainable development will eradicate poverty, eliminate armed groups and strengthen institutions, resulting in peace

For the past few years, the international community’s focus in Libya was on conflict response, and, more recently, on immigration; meanwhile they have ignored significant problems such as high levels of poverty, corruption, low standards of education, liquidity crisis and the list goes on.

Meanwhile, the international community’s achievements so far are not necessarily felt in the daily life of Libya’s citizens. This highlights the disparity between the country’s needs and what the international community thinks it needs. Government entities and local civil society groups rely on international support and will tailor their programmes to secure it, even if this means programmes do not address the most pressing issues. Many questions will stay unanswered unless there is a sub-national tailored strategy from the international community, which focuses on collaboration between national and international bodies towards sustainable goals.

In some regards, Libya’s security situation is looking more positive. The defeat of ISIS by the Libyan National Army and the freeing of Benghazi were considered milestones in the road towards a stable and secure Libya. This tremendous win was followed by the opening of the Libyan Benina Airport, where Libyan Airlines operates domestic and international flights: another indication that Benghazi is ready for a complete turnaround into a phase of economic development. Will Benghazi be the perfect model to implement the security-development nexus? We have to wait and see the next moves from both the Libyan government and the international community.

In spite of these recent successes in Benghazi, the south of the country continues to struggle as rival forces, tribes and armed groups compete for power; international aid is shifting to the south to implement projects focussing on security and immigration, while development efforts are forgotten. In Libya, as elsewhere, the international community must remember that without development we will not achieve long lasting security.

This article is from Friends of Europe’s discussion paper ‘Investing in People, Peace and Prosperity’, in which international experts in these fields consider how policymakers can address the security-development nexus to build peaceful and inclusive societies. This discussion paper complements the Friends of Europe Policy Insight debate ‘To achieve Agenda 2030, give peace a chance’, held as part of the 2017 European Development Days.

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