Leading from the Front: Europe and the New Libya

Libyan Endgame?

After six months of inconclusive fighting accompanied by both criticism and adulation of Western support, Libyan rebels penetrated the capital city of Tripoli with NATO support on August 21.

The swiftness and coordination of their campaign surprised many, yet the event formally marked the beginning of the end for the brutal, 42-year regime of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Despite the growing uncertainties regarding the National Transitional Council’s (TNC) governing capabilities and the whereabouts of Qaddafi and his sons, how the international community and more specifically European governments and institutions respond to and support the requests of the TNC in the initial days of a post-Qaddafi Libya will define the new Libya as well as future European-Libyan relations. On September 1, a French-orchestrated ministerial-level meeting of the International Contact Group on Libya will be held in Paris, a perfect moment for the international community and specifically European countries to demonstrate how they will offer and coordinate their financial and political support for the new Libya.

Steps to Stability

European activism in Libya is completely understandable: Europe has the most to gain economically and to lose politically. Before the conflict, Italy and France received approximately 80 percent of Libya’s oil supply. Libya pumped 1.6 million barrels a day, or about 1.8 percent of the world oil output. The oil imported from Libya accounted for 22 percent of Italy’s supply, 16 percent of France’s supply, and 13 percent of Spain’s supply. More broadly, in 2009, Libya’s exports to Italy totaled approximately $14.1 billion. Italy was also Libya’s primary trade partner, receiving 38 percent of the country’s exports. Germany accounts for approximately 10 percent of Libya’s exports, totaling $3.8 billion; France receives 9 percent of Libyan exports, totaling $3.1 billion; and Turkey provided 9 percent of Libya’s imports, totaling $1.8 billion (in 2009).

While the celebratory pictures that came from the Qaddafi compound validate British prime minister David Cameron and French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s political and military gamble on Anglo-French intervention, a violence-plagued and unstable Libya could also represent political disaster for Europe. According to French minister for European affairs Laurent Wauquiez, if post-conflict reconstruction in Libya were to fail, Europe could expect 200,000 to 300,000 immigrants. If Libyan and third-country refugees wash upon Europe’s shores in the coming weeks, anti-immigrant sentiments in Europe will grow substantially, strengthening far-right parties. Italy has already sought help in dealing with the more than 35,000 North African immigrants that have arrived since the “Arab awakening” began.

If the economic and political stakes are high for Europe, the challenges of successfully transforming Libya are equally so. Forty-two years of Qaddafi’s violent and mercurial rule has ensured that Libya has no institutions or foundation upon which to build its future. With no functioning parliament, no unified military command, no political parties, no unions, no civil society, and no nongovernmental organizations, Libya is composed of multiple factions and tribes, unlike its more homogenous Mediterranean neighbors, although the emergence and initial work of “local councils” have been encouraging. With help from Europe, the TNC will need to quickly overcome the country’s fragmentation and tribalism to form the basis of an inclusive government with lasting institutions.

A successful transition must also produce immediate and tangible economic benefits for all Libyans and a rapid restoration of its oil production facilities, which account for 95 percent of Libya’s revenues. Unfortunately, Libya’s pre-conflict economy was poorly organized. With a population of approximately 6.5 million, approximately one-third of the country was unemployed, with young Libyans in particular struggling to find employment. The Qaddafi government was the largest pre-conflict employer, with 700,000 people or roughly 13 percent of the population employed. Libya is also highly dependent on its roughly 1.2 million immigrant workers, who arrived in Libya at Qaddafi’s encouragement and have now become integral to the Libyan economy. At the beginning of the conflict, nearly 650,000 refugees fled Libya, and a majority of these refugees were third-country immigrants to Libya according to the UN high commissioner for refugees. The TNC will need to encourage these workers to return, and they will only return if there is a guaranteed level of stability and security within Libya.

European Leadership in a Post-Qaddafi Environment: An Analysis

  • NATO. For the past six months, NATO has been the principal vehicle for European activism. Since the beginning of the NATO operation, a total of 20,871 sorties, including 7,848 strike sorties, have been conducted. In addition, 15 ships have patrolled the central Mediterranean. It is unclear what the prospects will be for NATO’s long-term involvement in Libya. Soon after the rebels entered Tripoli, NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen emphasized NATO’s limited role and the importance of acting within the parameters of the UN mandate to protect civilians. A NATO diplomat was quoted as saying that NATO has already ruled out the possibility of putting any of its troops on the ground in Libya, although “individual countries might choose to do so and that NATO would consider any role Libyan rebel leaders or the UN requested but that NATO preferred not to have foreign troops on liberated Libyan territory.” Next month, NATO members will have to decide on whether to extend the mission in Libya for an additional three months, or they will have to approve a new mission.
  • France. As the first country to recognize the TNC and as one of the principal advocates for UN Security Council Resolution 1973, France has led militarily and politically in Libya. French fighter jets were the first to enter Libyan airspace to implement the no-fly zone. France performed one-quarter of all the aerial sorties and a third of all strikes many of which were launched from the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier which was deployed from late March to late July. France also deployed the full range of aerial capabilities: more than 50 aircraft, including between 21 and 33 fighter jets; tankers; surveillance planes; unmanned aerial vehicles; etc. France provided 75 percent of all the helicopters used in the mission. French president Sarkozy met with the prime minister of the TNC, Mahmoud Jibril, on August 24 and pledged more help to the TNC noting, “we are inclined to continue military operations…as long as our Libyan friends need it.” Several French companies including Total, EADS, and Thales will be a part of a French-Libyan Chamber of Commerce delegation heading to the country next month. The delegation will assess the situation in Libya and try to outline what measures the country needs to undertake to restart oil production.
  • United Kingdom. The United Kingdom, like France, has been deeply engaged politically and military from the outset. Apart from its work on the UN resolution, the United Kingdom has enforced the no-fly zone over Libya and provided at least 16 aircraft, including surveillance and support aircraft; 2 navy frigates; 2 submarines; helicopters; as well as military personnel for the NATO-led operation. The United Kingdom has also been involved in training and advising the rebels. How the United Kingdom will be involved in Libya’s reconstruction going forward is less clear. UK defense minister Liam Fox has unequivocally stated that Britain has no plans for a British ground force in Libya in the future. As the first nation permitted by the United Nations to unfreeze Libyan assets, Prime Minister Cameron has said that Britain would assist Libya in an effective transition to a free, democratic, and inclusive nation. Britain has given the transitional government access to $1.55 billion in funds. The United Kingdom has also led the International Stabilization Response Team (ISRT), an international team that identified areas of need in basic services, economic and infrastructure development, and security and justice in TNC-controlled areas at the time of the fact-finding effort. However, Her Majesty’s Government has emphasized that Libyan assistance will be “Libyan owned and UN led.”
  • Italy. Unlike France and Britain, the Italian government was initially reluctant to brush aside its special and highly personalized relationship with Col. Qaddafi, which was built on significant trade and investment ties. However, once Italy embraced the cause of the rebels, it engaged in NATO’s Operation Unified Protector with essential equipment, including four electronic combat and reconnaissance aircraft, as well as four Eurofighters. Italy also provided the light aircraft carrier Garibaldi. Apart from its equipment contributions, the NATO operation benefitted from the use of Italian bases in Naples and 1,000 Italian personnel. Recently, TNC prime minister Jibril met with Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and asked Italy for help in procuring $5 billion of frozen Libyan assets to pay state salaries, provide vital services, and repair critical oil facilities. Italy is preparing to release $505 million in frozen assets from Italian banks. Italy’s future commitment to Libya is also unclear. Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini has stated that NATO’s mission in Libya should end as soon as Qaddafi is found. However, Italy is quite keen to regain its preferred trading status with the new Libya. Italy’s oil company, ENI, the largest foreign oil producer in Libya before the conflict, has already dispatched technicians to attempt to restart oil and natural gas production. How Italy will balance its desire to be involved in Libya’s economy with Libya’s need for aid in its reconstruction in an age of Italian austerity remains to be seen.
  • Turkey. Turkey, like Italy, was initially reluctant to sever lucrative contracts and business ties with Qaddafi. It was also reluctant to go against its “zero-problem with its neighbors” foreign policy approach and therefore had opposed sanctions and a NATO-led intervention. Once Turkey was not granted access to early international discussions on Libya, it gradually reoriented its approach and became very active diplomatically and provided support militarily. It provided six F-16 fighting falcon jets and participated in the naval blockade that enforced the arms embargo by contributing one submarine and five ships. In early July, Turkey recognized the rebels and offered them $200 million in aid, having previously offered the rebels $100 million. In August, Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who prides himself on direct active diplomacy, flew to Benghazi for a second time since the conflict began, returning once again to meet with the TNC chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil and promised an additional $300 million in aid, with the first $100 million as a cash donation. Turkey has also hosted two contact group meetings, one in July at the ministerial level and one in August at the political directors’ level. Turkish analysts suggest that Turkish activism is an attempt by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to recover from its earlier policy hesitancy, reinforce its role as strong regional actor, and, perhaps most importantly, protect Turkey-Libya trade and investment ties. Before the conflict, Turkey was greatly involved in Libya’s construction sector, to the tune of $30 billion. As estimates suggest that Libya needs more than $80 billion in infrastructure investment, Turkey would stand to gain from an enhanced relationship with Libya’s post-conflict government.
  • European Union. EU policy chief Catherine Ashton has stated that the Arab Spring is a critical test for EU effectiveness. The European Union was quick to acknowledge the rebels by opening an office in Benghazi on May 22 of this year. Furthermore, the European Union has already sent $215 million in humanitarian aid to Libya, making it the largest humanitarian donor in the crisis. It has also announced that Libya could be a recipient of the EU Neighborhood Funds Policy. The European Union has €7 billion to spend by 2013 on aiding neighboring countries in their democratic transitions. Tunisia and Egypt are already recipients of these funds, and Libya will be too—conditioned on its taking steps toward democratization. EU funds would be made available for economic assistance, maintaining security, humanitarian aid, and help in setting up elections and institution building. However, the conditionality that has been placed on the funds might hamper the European Union as an actor in Libya.

The Way Ahead: September 1 Friends of Libya Conference and Beyond

Europe’s biggest powers—the United Kingdom, France, and Italy, with important contributions from Turkey—will likely provide the bulk of bilateral international assistance for Libyan reconstruction, together with the European Union. This pattern would not differ greatly from what we have seen so far in Libyan military engagement: British and French forces have accounted for three-fourths of all NATO air operations in Libya. The most notable European power, with the largest European economy, has been absent from the Libyan conversation. Germany’s only contribution thus far has been its pledge of a €100-million loan (to be repaid by Libyan frozen assets) to provide for Libyan humanitarian and logistical needs.

European leadership will be essential to support the new Libya, but the transitional government will be in the lead as far as its future development is concerned. The first step will most likely be for Britain, France, and other key nations to work with the United Nations to pass a Security Council resolution lifting international sanctions against Libya and releasing frozen assets abroad, as well as follow-on UN involvement and engagement. This and subsequent resolutions will be essential to the new government’s attempts at reconstruction. Although more will be clear after the September 1 contact group meeting, it is evident that in aiding Libya, Europe agrees on three basic pillars: aid the new government in guaranteeing peace and security; provide humanitarian assistance; and offer guidance as Libya creates new democratic institutions. What has yet to be determined is which members of the international community will step forward to do what, with how much, and working with which representatives of the TNC.

Heather A. Conley is a senior fellow and director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Uttara Dukkipati is a research assistant with the CSIS Europe Program.

Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

© 2011 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

Heather A. Conley

Uttara Dukkipati