Should the EU deploy a military mission to Libya?

Discussion Paper

Peace, Security & Defence

Libya has for years been wracked by conflict between the UN-recognised Government of National Accord in Tripoli and forces aligned with Khalifa Haftar, a commander based in the country’s east. Diplomatic efforts to forge a settlement were upended in April 2019 when Haftar plunged Libya into a fresh round of war by launching an offensive to capture Tripoli. Today a fragile ceasefire agreed in October holds. A new UN-mediated dialogue process aims to put in place a framework for elections next year but the challenges, not least the risk of a return to violence, are many.

The European Union’s engagement with Libya has been undermined by the diverging interests of key member states, with France accused of backing Haftar. Despite the creation of Operation IRINI – an EU naval and aerial mission tasked with policing the much-violated arms embargo – in March 2020, Libya’s belligerents continue to receive military support from their foreign benefactors. Both Turkey and Russia have increased their presence and influence in the country since Haftar’s failed war on Tripoli.

Earlier this year, the EU drew up plans to deploy European military observers to Libya in the event of a more durable ceasefire.

The question of sending European boots to Libya looks very different when viewed from a Libyan perspective, as our contributors – hailing from Libyan politics, academia and civil society – demonstrate. In Europe, those who advocate for such a deployment tend to discuss it in terms of EU’s geopolitical ambitions more than Libyan realities or needs. Libyan voices are rarely part of the public conversation in Europe about what the EU should do in Libya. That needs to change. It starts here.

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