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Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Sc 2.4 Partition and Spill Over

In our previous article, we detailed a partition scenario where Libya splits into independent states along tribal and provincial lines, as well as a north-south axis, and in the one before, we focused on various possible spill over. This article focuses on a combination of the two cases, partition and spill over scenarios. In the first scenario, the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou tribes outright declare independence and break away from the Libyan state, which leads to significant spill over in Algeria, Niger, and Chad. In the second scenario, Libya is partitioned along provincial lines, which leads to spill over in all directions. In the last scenario, Libya splits apart along a north-south axis located through Sirte, and bordering countries experience similar spill over.

Provincial: Provincial refers to Libya’s three provinces – Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan

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.

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Sub-scenario 2.4 Partition and Spill Over

Unresolved political grievances, exclusion from political power, tribalism, lack of faith in a unity government, economic insecurity, and the lack of security contribute to Libya’s partition. Libya is partitioned into mini-states that each pursue its own interests and don’t participate in a cohesive security plan, while surrounding countries begin to experience spill over. A combination of partition and spill over significantly alters the region, and draws neighboring countries further into Libya’s conflict and instability.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.4 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The stability level of bordering countries. If bordering countries suffer from instability, they are more susceptible to spillover effects than more stable countries. The lower the stability level of a state, the more likely this scenario will occur. For example, Niger is already plagued by Boko Haram, institutional weakness, lack of development, and a deteriorating political climate, which makes it highly susceptible to experiencing spillover from the Libyan conflict (Jezequel and Cherbib, International Crisis Group, February 19, 2016; Melly and Shepherd, Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, April 19, 2016).
  2. The strength of transnational tribal ties. As discussed in Tribal Dynamics and Civil War I, II, and III, tribalism plays a significant role in Libya. Any conflict involving the Tuareg or Toubou runs the risk of spilling over throughout the region – considering their tribal ties extend across various state borders in North Africa. Conflict between the Tuareg and Toubou over vital smuggling routes, in particular, increases the likelihood of spillover.
  3. The length of the war in Libya. The longer the war in Libya continues, the higher the likelihood that it spills over. The length of war increases the number of refugees, potentially allows Salafist groups the time to expand their capabilities, and creates a demand for transnational arms and militant smuggling.
  4. The level of exhaustion from years of conflict. The longer the conflict continues, the more likely the involved actors succumb to exhaustion. Higher levels of exhaustion from conflict increase the likelihood of the competing sides to settle for partition, rather than full victory.
  5. Willingness to partition Libya into independent states, rather than unite as one people. If the rival governments are more willing to partition the country and Libyan people rather than unite for the sake of Libya’s future, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  6. Indicators 2, 3, 4, and 5 of sub-scenario 2.3 act here in a similar way.
  7. Indicators 2 and 3 of sub-scenario 2.2 act here in a similar way.

Sub-scenario 2.4.1 Partition Along Tribal Lines, Spill Over in Bordering Countries

Libyan and Amazigh flags flying side by side

As discussed in our previous article, the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou tribes increasingly see that their involvement in the conflict is helping preserve a Libyan state that fails to include them. With ideas of autonomy progressively escalating to independence, the tribes decide to declare full independence from Libya and establish their own tribal states ruled by tribal councils and courts. As a result, southern Libya is partitioned away, and a small Amazigh state in the north is carved out.

With Libya’s southern trade routes as their only economic base (with the exception of the El Sharara oil field), the Tuareg and Toubou states clash for control. This continued conflict between the two tribes – now independent states – spills over to the Tuareg and Toubou in Niger, Chad, and Algeria. Some of the Tuareg in Algeria cross over to help their tribesmen in Libya, while Toubou fighters from Niger and Chad cross into Libya as well.

Furthermore, economic dependence of the new tribal countries on the trade routes allows spill over of drugs, arms, illicit goods, and jihadists into Chad, Niger, and Algeria. Tensions increase when the bordering countries deploy more forces to secure their sides of Libya’s border. With Tuareg tribes in Algeria and Niger wanting to expand the Tuareg state, as well as Toubou tribes in Chad and Niger wanting to expand the Toubou state in former southern Libya, these bordering countries face growing tribal movements that threaten their country’s stability and borders. Similar to the Northern Mali conflict in 2012, conditions are created in Algeria, Niger, and Chad that lead to open insurgencies by the tribes; however, these are new conflicts and would require new scenarios to fully understand their depth.

Tribal conflict and subsequent insurgencies in northern Niger, southeastern Algeria, and southwestern Libya may temporarily disrupt the migrant flow that goes through Ghat. In that case, migrant flows might shift to smuggling routes through Algeria and Egypt. Even if tribal partition and subsequent conflict temporarily disrupt migrant routes going through southwestern Libya, continuing conflict between the Islamists and nationalists prevent them from fully controlling the masses of migrants already in northern Libya that are poised to cross the Mediterranean.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.4.1 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The level of reliance on the southern trade routes. If trade routes offer the sole form of economic sufficiency and prosperity, it is highly likely that spill over will occur as a result – whether in the form of jihadists, drugs, arms, migrants, or illicit goods. According to Global Risk Insights, “the Fezzan region is at the core of this booming lawlessness” (Global Risk Insights, August 28, 2016), which supports our notion that independent tribal states in Fezzan will lead to spill over.
  2. Control of the El Sharara oil field. If one of the new tribal states gains control of the El Sharara oil field and is able to exploit it for economic gain, total reliance on the trade routes may be mitigated – which could decrease the levels of resulting spill over. However, one tribe’s control of the oil field could simultaneously spark tribal conflict over its control, thus leading to tribal spill over. A past indication occurred when Tuareg and Toubou fighters – backed by Misrata and Zintan, respectively – fought for control of the oil field in 2014 (Al Jazeera, December 5, 2014).
  3. The level of conflict that can shift migrant routes. If tribal conflict significantly escalates to a regional level with tribal fighters coming from Algeria, Niger, and Chad, it may cause migrant smugglers to avoid the major routes through Ghat and instead pursue migrant routes through Algeria and Egypt. Pursuing alternative migrant routes increases the likelihood of this scenario occurring.
  4. Indicators 1-6 of sub-scenario 2.3 act here in a similar way.
  5. Indicators 1-4 of sub-scenario 2.3.1 act here in a similar way.
  6. Indicators 1-10 of sub-scenario 2.2.2 act here in a similar way.

Sub-scenario 2.4.2 Partition Along Provincial Lines, Spill Over in Bordering Countries

After reaching a military stalemate, but not wanting to submit to a government dominated by the enemy, the Islamists, Misratans, nationalists, and tribes look for an alternative. With faith in their own abilities to fulfill state functions, and having no hope for a unity government, the competing sides partition Libya along provincial lines and declare self-governing states (see Mitchell, “Sc 2.3 Libya’s Partition” for an in-depth narrative on provincial partition). In this case, the Tuareg and Toubou tribes agree to share power if it means having their own state in southern Libya.

Although the Tuareg and Toubou tribes share power in the Fezzan province, they are still economically dependent on the trade routes. This allows jihadists, migrant smugglers, drug smugglers, and arms smugglers to operate freely – crossing the borders of Libya’s neighbors and going into Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. The tribal state’s dependence on the trade routes causes smuggling rates to drastically increase. Once smugglers and jihadists cross over into the northern and eastern provinces (now “states”), they spill over into Europe, Egypt, and Tunisia. As the new states of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica prioritize the removal of Salafist threats, jihadists begin to shift their operations to bordering countries. Tunisia – which is already particularly susceptible to Tunisian-born jihadists returning from regional conflicts – begins to see an increase in terrorist attacks as jihadists migrate from northern Libya. Jihadists also begin to spill over to Algeria, Niger, Chad, and Egypt to join with other Al-Qaida or Islamic State groups. Egypt works with the eastern state of Cyrenaica to secure Egypt’s western border (see further details in sub-scenario 2.4.3). With Egypt’s assistance, nationalist forces in Cyrenaica are able to put heavy pressure on Salafist groups, which cause Salafist groups in the Sinai to support their fellow jihadists in Libya by increasing their attacks against Egypt.

With the three states of former Libya focused on building their own states, clashing over natural resources, and attempting to put down rivals, the migrant crisis continues to expand. Not having the ability or not wanting to waste precious funding on migrant masses, the northern and eastern states allow migrants on Libya’s shores to cross over into Europe. Unless Europe provides resources to help the new Libyan states deal with the large numbers of migrants, migrant spill over ensues and further exacerbates Europe’s migrant crisis.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.4.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The ability or desire to care for and contain migrants on Libya’s shore. With security efforts, the rebuilding of critical infrastructure, and the provision of basic social services likely taking priority after a partition, the new states would not have the ability or desire to care for and contain roughly 235,000 refugees and migrants on their shores. The lack of ability or desire to care for migrants can be seen in Libya’s current migrant detention centers, where detained migrants are reportedly “coerced into hard labor, beaten by guards, and cramped into tiny cells with little food or water…” (Alfred, Huffington Post, May 27, 2016). Without European assistance or pressure, it is likely that these conditions for migrants would persist after partition.
  2. The willingness of Europe to provide assistance in containing the migrant flow. If the European Union is willing to provide assistance to the new Libyan states to contain the migrant flows, the likelihood of this scenario decreases. A past indication occurred when the European Union signed a memorandum of understanding to help train Libyan coast guard and naval forces in preventing illegal migration across the Mediterranean (STRATFOR, August 24, 2016).
  3. Indicators 1 and 2 of sub-scenario 2.4.1 act here in a similar way.
  4. Indicators 1-6 of sub-scenario 2.3 act here in a similar way.
  5. Indicators 1 and 2 of sub-scenario 2.3.2 act here in a similar way.
  6. Indicators 1-10 of sub-scenario 2.2.2 act here in a similar way.
  7. Indicators 1-7 of sub-scenario 2.2.3 act here in a similar way.

Sub-scenario 2.4.3 Partition Along North-South Axis, Spill Over in Bordering Countries

The primary difference between this scenario and 2.4.2 is that the tribes maintain their alliances with the competing governments and agree to the east-west split, rather than form their own tribal states (see Mitchell, “Sc 2.3 Libya’s Partition” for an in-depth narrative on partition along a north-south axis). Furthermore, smuggling trends will not inflate to levels that would be seen in a 2.4.1 or 2.4.2 scenario where tribal states are reliant on the trade routes for state income. Rather, a partition along a north-south axis would allow the western Libya state to tap into oil resources and commercial trade instead of relying on smuggling.

Similar to sub-scenario 2.4.2, the competing sides are exhausted by civil war, but are unwilling to unite under one government. With the support of the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou, the rival governments partition Libya along a north-south axis – with the axis starting in Sirte and going through to the southern Libyan border.

Similar to the previous sub-scenario, the two new Libyan states are unwilling or unable to accommodate the large groups of migrants on their northern shores, and thus allow them to spill over to Europe. Furthermore, the two states are focused on destroying Salafist strongholds within their respective borders, which inadvertently causes spill over in all directions. As Salafist strongholds come down, jihadists begin migrating to neighboring countries with Al-Qaida or Islamic State groups – such as Algeria, Niger, Tunisia, and Egypt.

To secure its western border, Egypt invests heavily in the eastern Libyan state’s security forces – likely in the form of training and weapons. As Libya’s Salafist groups come under extreme pressure by the nationalist forces, Wilayat Sinai begins to increasingly attack Egyptian targets in retaliation for Egypt’s assistance to the eastern Libyan state. The cooperation between the eastern Libyan state and Egypt focused against Salafist groups prompts Wilayat Sinai to put out a global call of support for its struggle against Egypt. Unless Egypt withdraws its military support of the nationalist government and its new state, spill over from Libya increases Egypt’s instability.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.4.3 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The ability of the new states to provide alternate economic opportunities to southern tribes. Since the Tuareg and Toubou will be included in the new states, they will be able to benefit from the economic opportunities in the north – at least more so than if they had their own tribal states. If the new states invest in economic development for the tribes, and or include them in the economic benefits of oil exports, the tribes would be less reliant on smuggling routes. As a result, there would be less spill over from the smuggling routes, and the likelihood of this scenario would decrease.
  2. Indicators 1 and 2 of sub-scenario 2.4.2 act here in a similar way.
  3. Indicators 1, 2, 3, and 5 of sub-scenario 2.3 act here in a similar way.
  4. Indicators 1-3 of sub-scenario 2.3.3 act here in a similar way.
  5. Indicators 1-10 of sub-scenario 2.2.2 act here in a similar way.
  6. Indicators 1-7 of sub-scenario 2.2.3 act here in a similar way.


Featured Photo: Photo posted on King Robbo Twitter page, 21 September 2016

“A fierce battle for control in Libya’s desert,” Al Jazeera, December 5, 2014

Charlotte Alfred, “Libya is Saving Migrants at Sea, only to Trap Them in Dire Conditions on Land,” Huffington Post, May 27, 2016

Jean-Herve Jezequel and Hamza Cherbib, “Presidential Elections in Niger: Tense Climate, Uncertain Future,” International Crisis Group, February 19, 2016

Jon Mitchell, “Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Sc 2.3 Libya’s Partition,” The Red Team Analysis Society, September 12, 2016

“Libya, EU come to an Agreement on Migrants,” STRATFOR, August 24, 2016

“Libya’s Collapse is Changing North Africa,” Global Risk Insights, August 28, 2016

Paul Melly and Ben Shepherd, “Stability and vulnerability in the Sahel: the regional roles and internal dynamics of Chad and Niger,” Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, April 2016

Strategic Intelligence Assessment for Syria (6) – Scenario 2: No Syrian in Geneva

Scenario 2: No Syrian in Geneva

Geneva, conference, Syria peace conference The diplomatic talks fail and the international conference in Geneva does not take place or is a face-saving sham (see “Scenario 1: Peace in Geneva?” and its sub scenarios for what could result from a true international conference).

Considering the current forces on the ground and their balance, we would face a lengthening conflict (probably over years rather than months) with rising prospects of regional and global involvement and chaos. The scope and depth of regional and global spill over would increase with the duration of the Syrian civil war, and, in turn, fuel it.

The spill over and contagion would most probably take four shapes (not mutually exclusive). First, we would face any action ranging from covert operations to war-like actions to war between states (all probably escalating towards wars). This aspect, in its less intense forms, is actually already operating, although the states involved are very cautious not to cross the line (in terms of official statement and language) that would force them into war, as shows, for example, the two Israeli raids on Syria and the way they are reported (among others, see the US apology for confirming Israeli strikes – Jerusalem Post 19 May 2013) . The political part of this spill over is being continually enacted, reminding us of Von Clausewitz famous “War is the mere continuation of politics by other means.” Second, we would face a similar range of actions but between states and actors dubbed “non-state actors,” yet vying for state power). Those two forms of contagion are usually imagined or expected as occurring within the Middle East, lately enlarged to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). This is however too narrow a view, as Russia reminded us on 17 May 2013 when it sent “at least 12 warships to patrol waters near its naval base in Tartous, Syria.” (Times of Israel, 17 May 2013) to underline the importance of its interest in Syria and in the region, as underlined, for example by Eldar (AlMonitor, 19 May 2013). The American debate over the type, value and wisdom of an American involvement in Syria is another obvious example of the way the Syrian conflict spills over beyond the region.

Third, countries welcoming Syrian refugees (1,52 million people on 20 May 2013 – UNHCR – see detailed map below) will face a risk of destabilization stemming from the massive influx of people in countries that were not prepared for them, and were already sometimes facing difficult situations. Furthermore, refugees may be linked to fighting units and carry on activities linked to the Syrian war in the host country, thus heightening the risk of seeing those countries dragged into the conflict. Those factors and resulting tensions are already at work, notably in Lebanon (e.g. Euronews 18 May 2013), Jordan (e.g. C. Phillips, The World Today, Volume 68, Number 8/9), Turkey (e.g. Ibid., Krohn, The Atlantic, 17 May 2013).

Syrian refugees, Syrian civil war

A fourth, more unconventional, form of contagion must also be considered. As the crisis lengthens in Europe, European individuals attracted to Salafi-jihadi would increasingly travel to and from Syria (see ICSR Insight, April 2013), heightening not only the direct threat of terrorism within Europe (Europol TE-SAT 2013: 7, 20, 24) and possibly in the U.S. and Canada but also the spread of Salafi-jihadi cells. Considering the crisis and the “fragilising” policies of austerity and “externalization” – i.e. privatization of the state – (especially those concerning the legitimate monopoly of violence), actions by Salafi-jihadi cells could heighten the risk of polarization, for example by favouring further the rise and strengthening of already spreading right-wing extremist movements. Crisis-related unrest could be a favourable environment for violent actions from Salafi-jihadi cells, that would then feed into a more generalized political turmoil. The spread of Salafi-jihadi ideology in countries hit not only by the crisis but also by a lack of hope and vision as well as by denial – whatever the hardship and dangers faced by citizens – is not to discard. In this light, the novel vision promoted by the new Pope Francois 1st, warning against “the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly human goal” (Squires, The Telegraph, 16 May 2013) might be considered as a potential counterweight.

Similar heightened risks would exist for any country where nationals have found their way to fight in Syria, as for example, Tunisia (Sgrena, IPS, 6 April 2013), and increase with the fragility of the domestic political situation.

Until a real peace takes hold in Syria (and this is thus true too for scenarios 1.1.2. and 1.2.2., see previous post), it will be most necessary to use all anticipatory intelligence or strategic foresight and warning means, foreign policy instruments, and, ultimately, military intervention (which may also be seen as a de facto spill over of the conflict), to try preventing further spill over of the Syrian civil war, assuming this is still possible.

In scenarios 1 and 2, the efficiency of the support provided to the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces will need to be intensely monitored, and aid – lethal and non lethal, official and covert – will have to be steered according to results and potential consequences. In scenario 1, this specific aid, as well as all support (see state of play, part I, II, III) given to specific parties should disappear once a peace agreement is signed. In scenario 2, all aid will need to be monitored in the framework of the types of involvement chosen by the various international actors.

Estimating Likelihood for Scenario 2

What could enhance the likelihood to see such a scenario happening? Events happening currently in the MENA region – and beyond – as well as on the Syrian battlefield must also be read with this dimension in mind. The potential spoilers below must be seen as related  and most of the time feeding into each other.

  • It is finally impossible to find a solution that would be acceptable to all permanent members of the UN Security Council.
  • Crucial international actors seek to extract too many advantages from other nations – related or unrelated to the region – and diplomatic talks fail.
  • Events surrounding the Syrian issue, be it on the battlefield or internationally, finally derail the diplomatic talks by prompting the withdrawal of too many important (because of their involvement with and in Syria or because of their power) international actors. For example, the 15 May 2013 UN General Assembly adoption of the text “condemning violence in Syria, demanding that all sides end hostilities” was judged by both China and Russia as unhelpful, but it may also be read, as underlined by Nashashibi (AlArabyia, 20 May 2013) as an effort to stress the importance of a peaceful solution to the conflict, of “effective representative interlocutors for a political transition,” and thus of the necessity of an international conference. It is also possible that the terror attack in the Turkish town of Reyhanli is part of an effort to derail diplomatic talks (e.g. Seibert, DW, 14 May 2013).
  • It is impossible to bring the regime of Bashar al-Assad to the negotiation table. Similarly, if it were impossible to find a person to represent the regime of Bashar al-Assad that would be acceptable to all parties, then, the international conference could not take place, or, if it were still happening, it would most probably only be a sham, i.e. all parties would not be represented or those accepting to sit at the negotiation table would not be representative of what is happening on the ground.
  • A major surprise occurs that would change the international outlook on Syria and the war.The diplomatic talks could be terminated.

Evolutions for Scenario 2

Scenario 2 should lead either to Scenario 1 or to Scenario 3 (A real Victory in Syria, forthcoming). The main challenge we are facing here, as analysts, is to determine when one or the other will become likely or more likely. The timeline will depend upon what happens under the fog of war, knowing that the thicker the fog, the heightened the possibility for surprise. We shall thus have to constantly monitor the war situation, and, accordingly, revise – and improve –  all possible scenarios. For example, a potential break up of Syria would then also have to be included as sub-scenario (for Scenario 1 and Scenario 3).

Scenario 2 could also, theoretically, lead to a Scenario 4, the invasion and annexation of Syria by an external power. However, considering the current international norms and settings, such a scenario is most unlikely and may be put aside. Should those norms change, or should the current international tension and crises bring about severe upheavals, then the likelihood of scenario 4 would have to be revised and the scenario developed. We may note an unintended side-effect stemming from the international ban on war for conquest. If it improved greatly peace and stability, it also tends to remove an incentive on domestic actors to stop civil war: the warring factions do not risk to see an external actor use the fragility brought about by civil war to annex their territory, thus they can continue fighting.

Scenario 3: A Real Victory in Syria

To be continued….


Detailed bibliography and  primary sources forthcoming.