This article is the ninth of our series focusing on scenarios depicting the range of possible interventions in the Libyan war. In our previous article, we discussed an international intervention that supports a unity government, despite initial fragmentation – a group of scenarios we wrap up here. In this article, we shall focus on scenarios related to the continued fragmentation of the unity government, including interventions that may occur if the unity government fails.
In our scenario, our UN-backed Libyan unity government is unable to mitigate the fragmentation in its political leadership and armed coalition. The scenarios discussed below point out some crucial elements that should be considered: the success or failure of such an intervention will depend heavily on the level of fragmentation, as well as on the international coalition’s willingness to continue its campaign in Libya despite the exacerbation of civil war that could be induced by the intervention itself. The amount of power (across all domains) to apply to the situation and thus the cost incurred to revert fragmentation will be proportional to the intensity and depth of fragmentation. Past a certain threshold, it will be impossible to go back to unity and the international coalition will only be intervening on the side of somehow a new actor in a renewed Libyan civil war.
Note: Considering the future names of potential factions that would result from a new split between the unity government, we shall use the label nationalist for those that supported the nationalist/liberal-dominated Council of Representatives (COR) and any future anti-Islamist factions; Islamist to note those that supported the General National Congress (GNC) and any future pro-political Islamic movements; and Salafist will remain the label of choice for groups that reject democratic institutions and embrace jihadism.
Sub-scenario 22.214.171.124.1.2 The International Coalition Launches a Full Intervention after Receiving an Invitation from the Unity Government
Facing a stalemate in ground fighting or a potential breakout of renewed tribal/political tensions within its forces, the unity government decides to invite both air and ground international forces to intervene in Libya. The international coalition thus launches a full intervention that leads to the same results as an international airstrike campaign (Sc 126.96.36.199.1.1). A full intervention, as long as it is properly planned strategically, then carried out, would likely shorten the timeframe for an outcome, considering the better trained and better-equipped international ground forces would hasten the ground conflict. However, the cost of intervention would be significantly higher for contributing countries. A full intervention would likely have a higher chance of success, depending on the level of opposition by the Libyan people. If Libyan opposition is high, and if the intervention strategy is less than efficient, there is the possibility that the full intervention could reignite the fragmentation.
Sub-scenario 188.8.131.52.2 The Unity Government Continues to Fragment
Lacking moderate leaders to help mediate the political in-fighting, the unity government continues to fragment. Politicians quickly begin to revert back to their previous political factions that not only create a stalemate for progress, but also bring political factions dangerously close to returning to the remnants of the GNC and COR – which would essentially resurrect the rival powers and destroy the unity government. Seeing the fragmentation of their united leadership, the Libyan people withdraw their support of the government and turn to local political councils or tribes for leadership. This leads then to the pursuit of local and tribal agendas rather than national unification. Furthermore, the political stalemate and return to former alliances persuade many of the groups in the unity government’s armed coalition to withdraw their support and pursue their own objectives.
With the Libyan unity government headed towards collapse, the international community faces two options: intervention in anticipation of government collapse, or no intervention at all (see scenarios below).
Indicators to Monitor
Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 184.108.40.206.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.
- The number of moderate leaders available to help mediate political fighting. The majority of politicians will likely have strong tribal or political allegiances, which lessens the likelihood of truly moderate leaders being able and willing to mediate political fighting between factions. If the unity government lacks moderate leaders, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
- The strength, influence and capability in terms of “tribal politics” of the united government leaders. As discussed in “Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (1),” tribalism in Libya grows stronger in the absence of the state. Thus, tribal politics can be very influential when the state is fragmenting, as is the case today. If government leaders are highly influenced by tribal politics, the likelihood of continued fragmentation increases.
- The tendency for politicians to revert back to previous political factions. Considering the various post-Qaddafi governments, the existence of strong political factions over the years, and the rivalry between GNC and COR politicians, it will likely not take long for politicians to revert back to their previous political factions from the period before a unity government.
- The Libyan peoples’ willingness to turn to local councils or tribes for leadership. Considering the statelessness under Qaddafi and the concept of loyalty to tribe first (see Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures – Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (1),” April 13, 2015), local councils and tribal leaders have strong influence in Libya. After a series of unsuccessful post-Qaddafi governments, political in-fighting in the unity government will likely cause Libyans to increasingly turn to local councils or tribal leadership – thus increasing the likelihood of this scenario.
- The level of fragmentation that causes armed groups to withdraw support. The more the government fragments, the more likely that armed groups will lose confidence in their support, which will cause them to withdraw and pursue their own agenda.
- Indicator 3 of sub-scenario 220.127.116.11.1 also acts here in a similar way.
Sub-scenario 18.104.22.168.2.1 The International Coalition Intervenes in Anticipation of Government Collapse
As the government continues to fragment at a dangerous pace and faces impending collapse, the international coalition intervenes in Libya to prevent further failure of the state. The coalition deploys air and ground forces in an offensive against Salafist strongholds, while additional international forces act as a peacekeeping force around the capital to help preserve what is left of the unity government.
Indicators to Monitor
Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 22.214.171.124.2.1 occurring. They should thus be monitored.
- The level of fragmentation of the unity government. The level of fragmentation will play a large role in the international community’s decision on whether to intervene. If the unity government is too far-gone and already collapsing, the likelihood of this scenario decreases. However, if the unity government’s fragmentation is still at a position where it can be reversed over time, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
- The willingness of external actors to intervene in Libya as a last effort to keep the unity government intact. If external actors consider the unity government’s impending collapse irreversible, they may decide not to commit forces to a Libya intervention. However, if their interests in keeping a central government intact – even if it will require a long-term peacebuilding mission to fix – outweigh the risk of effects from total collapse, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
- Indicators 3, 6, 7 of sub-scenario 126.96.36.199 also act here in a similar way.
Sub-scenario 188.8.131.52.2.1.1 The International Coalition Succeeds Against Salafist Threats, Attempts to Help Rebuild the Government
Considering the impending collapse of the unity government, as well as the added threat of Salafist groups taking advantage of political dysfunction, the international coalition forces work quickly to destroy Salafist capabilities and networks. Massive airpower coupled with strong ground forces soon mitigate or altogether destroy the Salafist threats. With Salafist capabilities degraded, the coalition turns to help rebuild the unity government with a peacebuilding mission (see Mitchell, “A Successful Peacebuilding Mission?” September 28, 2015).
Indicators to Monitor
Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 184.108.40.206.2.1.1 occurring. They should thus be monitored.
- The efficiency of the military strategies to destroy Salafist strongholds. The success against Salafist strongholds relies on the efficiency of the air and ground strategies to work in sync against multiple Salafist groups. If international forces get bogged down against various groups, the likelihood of this scenario decreases.
- The level of contributed airpower by international coalition forces. If coalition forces are conducting airstrike campaigns in other operations, they may have difficulty in contributing sufficient airpower to a Libyan intervention that hinges on both air and ground forces. If external actors are unable to shift sufficient aircraft and related resources to a Libyan intervention, the likelihood of this scenario decreases.
- Indicator 6 of sub-scenario 220.127.116.11.1.1 acts here in a similar way.
- Indicator 3 of sub-scenario 18.104.22.168.22.214.171.124.1 acts here in a similar way.
Sub-scenario 126.96.36.199.2.1.2 International Intervention Exacerbates Government Fragmentation and Conflict
Due to the international intervention lacking a fully agreed upon invitation, the Libyan people and many government leaders perceive the intervention as illegal and imperialistic. Thus, the intervention exacerbates the political fragmentation, as well as the conflict. Factions begin to actively oppose intervention forces, based on their perception of the intervention. Salafist groups then begin to use the unpopular intervention as propaganda to bolster their forces and support.
Indicators to Monitor
Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 188.8.131.52.2.1.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.
- The level of support for Salafist groups in Libya – particularly once intervention is heavily propagandized. An influx of external support in the form of foreign fighters, resources, and leadership would boost the operational capabilities of Salafist groups in Libya, which could improve their efforts to hinder intervention forces. Furthermore, Salafist groups could foster recruitment from post-Gaddafi marginalized Arab tribal groups, as the Islamic State has done notably around the Sirte area and potentially further south towards Sebha, as well as from other sympathizers as around Tripoli, and Sabratah (United Nations letter from Panel of Experts on Libya, March 9, 2016; Lavoix, The Red Team Analysis Society, May 16, 2016). Salafist groups could also use the intervention for propaganda purposes, which could boost its external support as well.
- Indicator 2 of sub-scenario 184.108.40.206.1.1.2 also acts here in a similar way.
Sub-scenario 220.127.116.11.18.104.22.168 International Intervention Destroys Salafist Threats, Attempts to Help Stabilize and Rebuild Libya
Despite Salafist propaganda and opposition by the Libyan people, the coalition pushes forward and eventually destroys Salafist strongholds in Libya. Having accomplished their main objective in Libya – destroying Salafist threats to the West – the international coalition then attempts to help stabilize and rebuild the country in a peacebuilding mission (see Mitchell, “A Successful Peacebuilding Mission?” September 28, 2015). The decision to stay in Libya and ensure its stabilization and rebuilding stems from lessons learned during the post-2011 intervention phase. Is is however a very difficult – and probably long – task considering the opposition of the people and of the factions. From the Libyans’ point of view, the international coalition is an invading force.
Sub-scenario 22.214.171.124.126.96.36.199 The International Coalition Withdraws its Forces, Back to Civil War
Facing widespread opposition, a dysfunctional government, and protracted conflict, the international coalition decides to withdraw its forces. This scenario thus leads back to civil war.
Sub-scenario 188.8.131.52.2.2 The Unity Government Fails – Back to Civil War
Not willing to request international assistance, the unity government continues to fragment as politicians cling to former factions and fail to make any progress. As a result, the unity government loses all public support, and thus loses domestic legitimacy. Not desiring to intervene in the now-collapsing country with no clear exit strategy, no central government in place, and a variety of non-state armed factions, the international community does not intervene in Libya. The government eventually reaches the point of total failure and dissolves. With a power vacuum in place, the country returns to civil war as groups compete for dominance.
Sub-scenario 184.108.40.206 The Unity Government Does Not Fragment, on the Contrary, It Gains Support
This sub-scenario is the international point of view of sub-scenario 220.127.116.11.2 (Mitchell, “Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Scenarios 1 (3) – A Successful Peacebuilding Mission?” September 28, 2015), where the unity government receives proper international assistance, but the long road towards stabilization is still fraught with difficulty.
Featured Photo: Soldiers with the 12th Mechanized Brigade Reconnaissance Force about to disembark from a helicopter by Defence Images [CC BY-NC 2.0], via Flickr
United Nations letter from Panel of Experts on Libya, March 9, 2016
Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures – Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (1),” The Red Team Analysis Society, April 13, 2015
Jon Mitchell, “Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Scenarios 1 (3) – A Successful Peacebuilding Mission?,” The Red Team Analysis Society, September 28, 2015
Jon Mitchell, “Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Sc 2 (8) Intervention for a UN-Backed Government,” The Red Team Analysis Society, May 9, 2016
Dr. Helene Lavoix, “The Islamic State in Libya – When Libyan Tribes Pledge Allegiance to the Khalifah,” The Red Team Analysis Society, May 16, 2016