There are three main reasons why Europe should be concerned about the situation in Libya – terrorism, geopolitical competition and migration. Apart from the obvious humanitarian dimension, Europe’s security interests are at stake including weapons of mass destruction and there are reports that not all chemical weapons have been removed from the country. Terrorism in Libya is a real threat but it is comparatively smaller than the threat of terrorism from within Europe and from Syria. The geopolitical dimension includes Russia seeking to challenge the EU in view of waning US interests but the EU leadership is mostly troubled by mass migration – the key priority from the European standpoint. Migration is a danger to Europe’s societal stability but it is the integration of migrants and organized crime that pose greater dangers for Europe.
While terrorism from Libya is obviously real, Europe is mostly facing an internal jihadi problem rather than imported problems from countries like Libya. Libya is susceptible to jihadism due to its position of being a gateway to Europe and the fact that the situation in the country remains a fertile ground for new expansionist jihadism. When it comes to geopolitics, it is unlikely that Russian interests are geopolitical in nature. Instead, its cautious strategy and the implausibility of backing a confrontation hint that it is motivated by very narrowly defined economic interests. Migration, in contrast, is in reality mostly about the challenge to integrate the traumatized migrants in the European society rather than about “transporting terrorism”.
So far, it’s been obvious that one of the assumptions upon which diplomatic interventions are based on is not proven: that a political agreement will not make Europe safer. A deal will include a major role for Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, which is very likely to spur a violent jihadi backlash. Moreover, if Moscow is indeed motivated by geopolitical interests, such an agreement will leave Russia in a better position to pursue interests such as a naval base and securing a solid position at the negotiating table. Last, but not the least, migratory pressures will not lessen with an agreement. The biggest danger is that a deal will focus on addressing the stream of transit migrants traveling from Libya to Europe while omitting the practices of human enslavement, forced labor and abuse that have become a major source of income for many in Libya.
Regardless of whether there is an agreement, Europe needs a strategy to limit Egypt-backed Haftar’s campaign designed to eradicate political Islam. As long as the country’s population is being marginalized and targeted with Jihadist ideas, it is unlikely that Europe will be safe. Brussels will have to counter Russia-Mediterranean rapprochement if the Kremlin does indeed have geopolitical ambitions. To counter migration, the EU should also work with armed groups to counter the stream of transit migrants as armed groups are increasingly involved in anti-smuggling operations. Collaboration with the international community also offers hope in tackling migration. On top of easing the migratory pressures, it is also important to increase the protection of migrants within Libya since increasing the protection of migrants could prevent some migrants from trying to reach Europe out of sheer need – while maintaining Europe’s commitment to human rights.
‘European Security Interests at Stake in Libya?’ – Research Paper by Kars de Bruijne, Floor El Kamouni-Janssen & Fransje Molenaar – Clingendael / Netherlands Institute of International Relations.
(The Research Paper can be downloaded here)