The confidence vote secured by the recently established Government of National Unity (GNU) in the House of Representatives on 10 March represented a milestone achievement for Libya, paving the way for reverting the fragmentation process and the emergence of a new leadership. Despite the limited scope of the new government, which will have the onerous task of bringing the country to elections on 24 December, cultivating relations with the temporary authorities is seen as crucial to support the peace process.
In this context, the visit of the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and Italy in Tripoli on the 25th of March gave diplomatic support to the political transition. Meeting with the GNU Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, Jean-Yves Le Drian, Heiko Maas and Luigi Di Maio followed the path already established by the Berlin process, in a show of unity among major European partners, whose disagreements helped fuel the Libyan conflict in the past years. During the meetings, they called for the immediate withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries, while also reaffirming the EU’s commitment to continue enforcing the arms embargo, which, according to the latest findings of the UN Panel of Experts on Libya, has incurred multiple violations.
Following up on the pledges made in Tripoli, on 26 March the European Council extended the mandate of the Operation Irini of the EU Naval Force Mediterranean for two additional years. Launched in March 2020 under the EU Common Security and Defence Policy to implement the arms embargo on Libya, the military operation gathered useful information on the violations via aerial and land routes, but the prevailing maritime focus of the mission has come under intense scrutiny in Turkey, whose military intervention in Libya in support of authorities in Tripoli represented a turning point in the conflict. Mistrust between Ankara and Brussels increased after naval incidents and inspections involving Turkish vessels off the coasts of Libya, where NATO’s Operation Sea Guardian is also active.
Enhancing the cooperation between Irini and Sea Guardian could represent a starting point to begin easing relations between the EU and Turkey, a preliminary step that could pave the way for NATO to play a major role in supporting the political transition in Libya. Following the latest meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs on the 23rd of March, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated NATO’s readiness to provide support to the peace process. In 2017 NATO had already received a request from the previous Government of National Accord to reform Libya’s security and defence institutions, but the changing of the guards in Tripoli has reshuffled the cards.
Perceived as divisive and in violation of the ceasefire agreement signed in October 2020, the Turkish presence in Western Libya could still play in favour of a major involvement of NATO though. Building also upon Turkey’s ongoing training programmes to rebuild the Libyan military, NATO could establish an advisory, training and capacity-building mission similar to the recently expanded NATO Mission Iraq. A seriously multilateral format of such a mission could reassure partners and some stakeholders presumably inclined to spoil the peace process, while NATO’s extensive expertise could prove crucial in tackling SSRs and DDRs, a crucial step for any successful transition in Libya.
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Associate Fellow for the Conflict, Security and Development Programme at the IISS and Maghreb Analyst for the NATO Defense College Foundation, he regularly publishes on issues such as political developments, security and terrorism in the North Africa region