The Libya peace deal

Originally commissioned December 2015

The current UN-backed deal is the best chance yet for peace in Libya, where the worsening security situation is a threat to regional stability, but the odds are still slim, lacking broad enough support and with minimal impetus for peace in the country.

  • While its success is doubtful, the UN-backed peace deal is still the best chance yet of returning order to Libya, with some crucial actors supportive.

  • Peace is urgently needed in Libya’s ever-worsening security environment but will be impossible without broad support for a deal.

  • The rival governments’ NOCs are close to signing contracts for the sale of oil, which would reduce the warring parties’ economic impetus to reach a deal.

The UN-backed peace deal is the best chance to date of ending the civil war in Libya, which is creating instability and allowing ISIS to gain a foothold in the country. The inclusion of previously excluded Islamists in the talks and outlined future government gives the deal broader support, as does the support of Misrata-based militias and actors, among the largest and most capable in the country, seen as key to the success of any deal.

However, in its current form, the rival parliaments, in Tripoli and Tobruk, are still refusing to ratify the deal and its failure is possible. Regional power bases, which have accumulated influence over the course of the conflict, see only the potential for loss. Moreover, trust levels remain very low as a result of ethnic, tribal and regional differences, exploited by the Ghaddafi regime and exacerbated by the ongoing conflict. In Tripoli, militias numbering 1,000s in strength have already expressed their willingness to resist the deal.

Meanwhile, ISIS’ expansion continues around the Sirte area, the prevention of which being one aim of the peace deal. However, very few Libyan militias, even if not opposed to the deal outright, would be ready to follow a unity government force into battle against ISIS, prioritising securing their own respective gains as priority. If forced through, in its current form, with a new government established in Tripoli and absent broader support, fighting may intensify increasing the possibility of further fracturing the country. Indeed, while the deal has a chance of success, Libya eventually fracturing into three effectively distinct entities within the near future remains as likely an outcome. If the current deal does not work and the east-west split is thereby further embedded, the south western Fezzan region may seek secession.

A major impetus to restoring peace is ending the disruption to Libya’s oil sector, which accounts for half of the country’s GDP. The rival governments have set up rival National Oil Councils (NOCs), leading to situations where militias aligned to one government have shut down operations of refineries and ports run by companies contracted to their rival’s NOC. This year at least 11 ports and refineries declared force majeure. The resultant drop in funds added to urgency to reach a peace agreement. Now, however, oil companies are close to making oil exploitation operational again, with insurance deals covering contracts with the rival NOCs. Thus, potential for increased cooperation between Tobruk and Tripoli could soon lose its appeal.

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