After having examined the first scenarios – diplomatic negotiations between the Council of Representatives (COR) and General National Congress (GNC) towards peace – with this article we shall begin detailing a second set of scenarios focusing on external intervention and evaluating their likelihood. The organization of the whole series for the future of Libya can be found here.

This scenario and its sub-scenarios are grounded in the premises that despite the advocacy of external actors to avoid foreign involvement in Libya’s civil war, consideration of intervention increases as Libya heads closer to a failed state, and as Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaida affiliates expand their areas of operation. In our first intervention scenarios category, external actors decide to intervene in Libya’s civil war to support one of the rival governments in an attempt to bring about a Libyan government favorable to their national interest. External actors in this category include the Joint Arab Force, unilateral then multinational forces not operating under a formal collective security force.

Our second category, which will be detailed in future posts, will look at external actors that intervene to stabilize the country enough to allow enhanced negotiations for a peace agreement and/or one that intervenes solely to combat Salafi forces. Failed peace negotiations, a lack of peace negotiations, an expanded presence of Salafi groups, or a war of attrition force external actors to consider and subsequently decide to militarily intervene in Libya under this second category.

Sub-scenario 2.1: External Intervention

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see an external intervention occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. Level of strong and visible successes of Salafi groups in Libya. External actors feeling threatened by Salafi conquest of territory in Libya and their increased lethality would strongly advocate for a military intervention. If the international community, particularly the EU and Arab neighbors, deem the Libyan governments unable to sufficiently combat these Salafi threats emanating from Libya, they will feel compelled to intervene for the sake of their own national security. Past indications include Egyptian President El-Sisi and French President Hollande’s recent exchanges on “the importance of fighting extremists in Libya” (Ahram Online, November 30, 2015) and the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr. Gargash’s recent remarks at a National Media Council Press conference, which highlighted the importance of eliminating terrorist groups in Libya, second only to peace negotiations producing a peace agreement between the rival governments (Khaleej Times, December 1, 2015).
  2. Global tension. Further degradation and polarization of the overall international environment could prompt external forces to intervene in Libya for legitimate or illegitimate reasons. For instance, the Russian Federation could decide to deploy forces in Libya – particularly to combat Islamic State elements there – in a move to strengthen regional interests and also in a bid to prevent any potential future NATO unilateral intervention, thus perceived as expansionist by Russia.
  3. The legality of a military intervention. The legality of recent interventions has become a murky issue lately, particularly regarding Syria. The right to self-defense, as stated by the UN Charter, does not traditionally apply in Libya’s case. However, the Islamic State’s division of Libya into three wilayats, furthermore potentially combined with an Islamic State attack on, for example, Arab League member states’ citizens in Libya or on Arab League member states themselves may trigger the “individual or collective” self-defense response in the UN Charter, Chapter VII, art. 51 (UN Charter, Chapter VII; Jones and El-Ghobashy, The Wall Street Journal, March 29, 2015). The other option is a decision by the UN Security Council to intervene. However, if the UN Security Council denies requests for intervention, outside the right to self-defense, any other military intervention falls under questionable legality. Unilateral or multilateral forces could attempt to replicate intervention actions taken in Syria, as both countries have primary domestic opponents with disputed legitimacy, as well as Islamic State threats mixed in to the conflict.

Sub-scenario 2.1.1: Intervention in Support of GNC or COR

External actors have decided to militarily intervene in Libya by taking a side with either the GNC or COR.

Scenarios 2 1, Intervention in Libya, Scenario future of Libya Libya, war in Libya
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Sub-scenario The Arab League Tries to Take a Side

Saudi Arabia’s indefinite postponing of the next meeting to form a Joint Arab Force came to an end as the United Arab Emirates and Egypt call for a League of Arab States (LAS) meeting to decide about an intervention in Libya, necessary for regional stability and that should be carried out by the Joint Arab Force (JAF). Indeed, Egypt and the UAE fear to see the Muslim Brotherhood gaining influence there, while the Salafi groups pose a direct threat to Egypt and regional stability. Egypt, notably is taken in a pincer between the Islamic State wilayat Sinai and the three Islamic State wilayats in Libya. The threat has become so pressing that they have managed overcoming Saudi Arabia reluctance to at least discussing the matter.

Although Saudi Arabia initially supported the JAF idea, the issue of the JAF mission is now highly disputed between Egypt and Saudi Arabia: should a Joint Arab Force be deployed “into states without an uncontested government in place” or not (Gaub, European Union Institute for Security Studies, October 2015)? Saudi Arabia is also more than lukewarm to intervene again as its protracted intervention in Yemen bogged it down there.

The Arab League’s Secretary General emphasizes that a Joint Arab Force should focus on counter-terrorism and regional stability, rather than building a military alliance (Ibid). Yet, the Arab League’s Secretary General (who is also empowered to make JAF deployment decisions if a member state is incapable of submitting a request for assistance) and the potential commanders within the Future Joint Arab Force are also supportive of the COR, because of its international recognition as the legitimate government, its strong counter-terrorism stance, as well as because the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia favor for the COR and General Haftar (see Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures – State of Play – Nationalist Forces (2); Al Arabiya News, April 13, 2015; Gaub, European Union Institute for Security Studies, October 2015).

Meanwhile, Algeria, Tunisia and Qatar continue camping on their positions in opposition to military intervention in Libya, and advocating for a peaceful resolution (African Defense, June 1, 2015; Gaub, European Union Institute for Security Studies, October 2015; Soliman, Ahram Online, August 19, 2015).

The countries that tend to favor the COR support a JAF intervention in Libya while others support the idea of non-intervention – based on their preference for a peaceful approach (i.e. Tunisia, Algeria), as well as the existence of Muslim Brotherhood supporters within their government that lean towards the GNC, and potential difficulties at home, or a combination of these options. Considering the position of each country, the debates are very animated to say the least.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. Ability of the Arab League to define the mission of the Joint Arab Force. Without a clear definition of the JAF mission, Arab League members’ disagreements will hinder its creation – preventing a serious conversation about a Libyan intervention from ever taking place.
  2. Perceptions of national interests regarding Libya leading to conflicting positions. The two primary interests in Libya for external Arab actors, besides the threat to regional instability of total state collapse, are whether or not the Muslim Brotherhood becomes a dominating political force and the presence of Islamic State and Al-Qaida strongholds. Egypt and the UAE in particular have exhibited strong interest in Libya’s civil war due to their fear of the Muslim Brotherhood gaining influence there, as well as the existence and danger of the Salafi groups that pose a threat to Egypt and regional stability. A past indication occurred when Egypt and the UAE launched air strikes against “Islamist-allied militias battling for control of Tripoli” (Kirkpatrick and Schmitt, The New York Times, August 25, 2014). Leading advocates for a JAF force have already provided support for or have common interests with the COR and General Haftar – notably Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. Arab League members with alternative political views or stronger concerns over regional instability as a result of the absence of a unity government will not be as willing to choose a side. Additionally, some member states may consider the risk of only backing the COR, which Jason Pack and Mattia Toaldo (Foreign Policy, March 6, 2015) note would be “counterproductive” in that it “risks pushing the moderate Islamists within Libya Dawn toward finding common cause with the jihadis.” Meanwhile, pressing domestic and foreign issues may dissuade some Arab League member states from participating in a Joint Arab Force or even supporting it, as a JAF intervention in Libya may cause spill-over and further agitate their already-existing problems. For example, Tunisia, Algeria, and Sudan are already dealing with terrorism, economic problems, and/or border control issues (Middle East Eye, December 1, 2015; The Economist, November 17, 2015; Cafiero, Al-Monitor, November 23, 2015; Strasser, United States Institute of Peace, November 12, 2015). Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s protracted intervention in Yemen may prevent or limit its participation or support of a JAF intervention in Libya’s complex struggle, although significant expansion of Salafi groups in Libya (to the point of toppling the governments, military, and moderate militia groups) may sway the Kingdom’s reluctance to join the intervention talks.
  3. The level of opposition by Arab states that support a peaceful resolution. Arab League members like Algeria, Tunisia and Qatar have made statements in opposition to military intervention in Libya, and instead advocate for a peaceful resolution (African Defense, June 1, 2015; Gaub, European Union Institute for Security Studies, October 2015; Soliman, Ahram Online, August 19, 2015). Algeria and Tunisia both border Western Libya and may be more influential than Arab League members that do not border Libya. If the leading advocates of a military intervention in Libya by the JAF (i.e. Egypt and the UAE) act under the JAF umbrella but against the other members’ opposition, it may cause political fragmentation between member states.

Sub-scenario The Arab League Internally Fragments over the Decision to Intervene, Joint Arab Force is Formed

The debate over whether to intervene in Libya or not came to an end when Egypt, the UAE, and Jordan, the pro-interventionist member states of the Arab League, formally respond to the COR’s request for assistance and unite under a Joint Arab Force. The minimum membership of three participants in a JAF intervention (Al Arabiya News, May 26, 2015; Voice of America, May 25, 2015) is met, thus the JAF can formally be created. With participants now officially formed under a regional force, their military chiefs begin coordinating plans for the intervention.

Saudi Arabia decides not to participate, notably because of its involvement in Yemen and of the overall tension with Iran, which is its foremost concern. However, it wishes to keep its options opened and thus neither opposes nor supports the intervention and the JAF, which cause tensions in Egypt-Saudi relations, as they are supposed to be the primary leaders for a Joint Arab Force. Egypt, considering its need for the overall financial support of Saudi Arabia has invested a considerable amount of diplomatic energy to obtain this rather neutral Saudi position, although it would have preferred a full implication of the Kingdom in the JAF. With the lack of Saudi support, Egypt takes the lead in forming a JAF intervention force for Libya.

Opposition to the JAF pro-COR intervention by outspoken countries like Qatar, Tunisia, and Algeria cause some tension within the Arab League. The tension and fragmentation within the Arab League threaten the idea of a truly collective Arab force – thus turning the JAF into an interventionist force with powerful, but few members. Nonetheless, a real JAF has emerged and is about to start intervening in Libya.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The level of opposition by Arab states that support a peaceful resolution. As noted in indicator 3 of scenario above, a staunch divide between Arab states supporting non-intervention and those supporting intervention increases the likelihood of this scenario.
  2. The situation of ongoing operations elsewhere in the region. Ongoing conflicts involving Arab League member states in other parts of the Middle East will likely impact their willingness to participate in another intervention – thus contributing to the divide between interventionists and non-interventionists in the case of Libya. For example, Saudi Arabia’s coalition is bogged down in a protracted intervention in Yemen (Menas Associates, August 19, 2015; Naylor, The New York Times, November 13, 2015). Participants in the Saudi-led intervention include the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan (Anadolu Agency, November 12, 2015) – some of which may get exhausted by Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen and decide, as a result, to oppose another intervention in Libya.
  3. Willingness of potential JAF members to pledge troop and air contributions, begin planning. During talks at the Arab League meetings, participating members in a Joint Arab Force must pledge to contribute troops and resources in preparation for an immediate deployment to Libya. With the estimated strength of contribution pledges, the military chiefs of the participating member states must then draw up plans for intervention.
  4. The level of urgency to prevent IS attacks emanating from Libya or IS expansion. The threat of imminent IS attacks or expansion increase the level of urgency felt by pro-interventionist Arab states, and thus increase the likelihood of this scenario and potentially shorten the timeframe by hastening intervention.

In our forthcoming post, we shall evaluate the scenarios of a Joint Arab Force intervention once it deploys to Libya.


Featured Photo: Arab League meeting by Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs, [CC BY-ND 2.0] via Flickr, January 22, 2012

“A larger role for Saudi Arabia in Libya?” Menas Associates, August 19, 2015

“Algeria warns against foreign intervention in North Africa,” Middle East Eye, December 1, 2015

Alia Soliman, “Is the Arab League setting the stage for military intervention in Libya?” Ahram Online, August 19, 2015

“Arab military chiefs draft joint force protocol,” Al Arabiya News, May 26, 2015

“Army Chiefs Plan for Proposed Joint Arab Force in Mideast,” Voice of America, May 25, 2015

David D. Kirkpatrick and Eric Schmitt, “Arab Nations Strike in Libya, Surprising U.S.,” The New York Times, August 25, 2014

“Egypt’s Sisi stresses need for int’l coordination in fighting terrorism during France meeting,” Ahram Online, November 30, 2015

Florence Gaub, “Stuck in the barracks: the Joint Arab Force,” European Union Institute for Security Studies, Brief Issue 31, October 2015

Fred Strasser, “In Tunisia, Economic Crisis Threatens Political Progress,” United States Institute of Peace, November 12, 2015

Giorgio Cafiero, “Sudan gets $2.2B for joining Saudi Arabia, Qatar in Yemen war,” Al-Monitor, November 23, 2015

Hugh Naylor, “Yemen is turning into Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam,” The New York Times, November 13, 2015

Jason Pack and Mattia Toaldo, “Why Picking Sides in Libya Won’t Work,” Foreign Policy, March 6, 2015

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and its Futures: State of Play – Nationalist Forces (2),” The Red Team Analysis Society, December 1, 2014

“Jordan pledges support for Libya in talks with General Haftar,” Al Arabiya News, April 13, 2015

Rory Jones and Tamer El-Ghobashy, “Arab League Agrees to Create Joint Military Force,” The Wall Street Journal, March 29, 2015

“Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen, 8 months on,” Anadolu Agency, November 12, 2015

“Tunisia confronts corruption, the economy and Islamic State,” The Economist, November 17, 2015

“Tunisia Rejects Military Intervention in Libya,” African Defense, June 1, 2015

“UAE ready to commit land forces to fight terrorism,” Khaleej Times, December 1, 2015

United Nations Charter, Chapter VII

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