A Piece of a Greater Puzzle: The Libyan Civil War, External Influences and Regional Trends
Over the past few months, diplomatic activism around the Libyan civil war has intensified sharply. Two dynamics drove this process. First, the visible presence of Russian mercenaries fighting alongside the forces of Khalifa Haftar, the eastern-based leader of the Libyan National Army (literal Arabic translation is the Libyan Arab Armed Forces). Second, the overt military support promised by Turkey to the Government of the National Accord (GNA), the UN-backed and internationally recognized Libyan government, in return for the GNA signing several agreements with Ankara. Among them, the most important was the agreement to delimit the maritime Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) between the Turkish southern Mediterranean coast and Libyan northeast shore in late November 2019. However, it is erroneous to assume that Turkey stepped in to support the GNA militarily only in late November. In reality, Ankara has delivered essential support to the GNA resistance against Haftar’s military aggression. Turkey has provided weapons, drones, munitions, and technical support since late April 2019 at least, when the GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha went to Ankara to plea for Turkish help (Libyan Express, April 30, 2019).
This open Turkish activism turned into a sort of wakeup call for the Europeans. All of a sudden, after months of inaction, Germany, France, Italy, and the European Union through its new foreign minister, Josep Borrell, started working restlessly to accelerate the organization of the Berlin conference and to allow the Europeans to regain a role in Libya. Renewed attention due to the developments over the previous nine months prompted several foreign actors to meet in Berlin on January 17 (Deutsche Welle, January 15). However, despite the hype, the conference brought minimal concrete results: the parties involved agreed on a truce, but without a mechanism to sanction arms embargo violations and external interference—the initial rationale of the conference. Its most significant result was the full diplomatic recognition of Haftar. About one week after the meeting, hostilities restarted in Libya, with countries backing both sides providing weapons and military support to their proxies.