Now that General Khalifa Haftar's military offensive to take Tripoli has failed, and his Libyan National Army (LNA) was pushed back, it is worth examining how the Western governments reacted to his offensive and the implications on world order, or rather disorder.
Libya's case is somehow unique and almost unprecedented with regards to international law and the US-led world order. Back in 2011, Western countries led by France firstly, then by NATO, teamed up against the Muammar Gaddafi government, based on what they called international law to protect "civilians". Yet, the same countries indulge in completely counter policies. Nine years ago, they coerced the United Nations (UN) Security Council into adopting Resolution 1973, which gave them almost a free hand to intervene militarily in Libya. Paragraph 4 of the resolution contained a magical sentence that calls on all UN member states "to take all necessary measures" to protect civilians. The Libyan government was then accused of using excessive and indiscriminate force against "unarmed civilians". All measures taken by Western governments were carried out in the name of international law. But no one cares about Resolution 1973's call for an arms embargo, which is still in effect.
Today we can easily establish that instead of helping international order, the very UN resolutions are in fact helping to create international disorder, while destroying peace. Libya has never been peaceful since.
UN veto wielding powers including France, the US and the UK, presumed to be the guardians of world peace and order, have deliberately failed and continue to fail in that mission.
Between 2012 and today, the UN adopted dozens of resolutions aimed at ending the Libyan conflict – all of which take into account Resolution 1973. At least four major UN-sponsored conferences were organised for the same purpose, including Berlin earlier this year, Paris in 2017 and 2018, and the outcome is the same – stop foreign arms shipments and political meddling in Libya. Yet the same countries have done very little to enforce their own decisions, let alone what UN resolutions call for – enforcement of arms embargos on Libya as a way to help end the conflict. Furthermore, the same countries usually do not honour the commitments they make in each conference, to help the UN mission in Libya.
2020 saw the conflict taking a more dangerous turn – it became an outright proxy war between regional countries supported, or blessed, by major powers. Arms shipments increased, more drones were deployed and thousands of mercenaries from at least half a dozen countries flocked to join the war on Tripoli. Turkey, with its own agenda and regional ambitions, surprised Europe and the US by taking the military and political initiative after it signed a security deal with the government in Tripoli. Despite commitments made in the Berlin Conference, Turkey today is the main player in the conflict, sending drones, soldiers and Syrian mercenaries. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt intensified their support of the LNA. Western countries showed total disinterest, while continuing to watch the conflict grow bloodier.
After resigning from his post as the UN envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame spoke bitterly and angrily about how Europe and the US were telling him one thing, while doing another. In two recent podcasts, Salame described a rather holistic, hypocritical approach taken by most UN Security Council members.
In a podcast published by an Italian think tank, he talked about how the world order is becoming rather "world disorder" as "multilateralism" is becoming less relevant in international relations, as he put it. Countries, particularly major ones, are becoming less cooperative towards global conflict resolutions and peace-making.
In another podcast, published by the Oslo Forum, Salame claimed that most UN Security Council members gave their blessing for Haftar's attack on Tripoli from the start. A shameful contradiction, as their publicly stated positions call for peace and ending violence. The former envoy revealed that Haftar even quoted a conversation he had with one such country's official, during his meeting with Salame and the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on 5 April, 2019 – one day after launching his attack. The former envoy accused those countries of "stabbing him in the back" while praising him to his face. He is very critical of what he calls a "deregulated" international system when it comes to use of force. He also expressed that the same major countries were "plotting" against peace in Libya – an honest first-hand opinion of world order in which order is absent.
Yet, and in the name of the same "system", to quote Salame, Western countries were quick to bomb Libya into rubble in 2011, thinking that once Gaddafi is gone, the country will instantaneously recover. They even wanted to believe that a forcible regime change, without UN authorisation, was the wish of the entire Libyan population. That turned out to be wrong, and simply wishful thinking. As years went by, Libya became more divided and a danger to itself and the region, if not to the entire world peace.
The conflict became a stark example of UN failure, thanks to the hypocritical policies of its major members.
The increased use of sophisticated war technologies, like drones, and private combatants, lowers the cost for those intervening in Libya. Turkey or the UAE supporting different sides, for example, can sustain long-term interventions. At the same time, they continue to approve the UN resolutions banning this, with their empty talk of respecting world order. By the same token, the so-called world leaders are indifferent, if not blessing what they see. Now, the world disorder over the conflict in the oil-rich North African nation has become an example of failure in which the UN is paralysed.
In describing the lack of punitive measures against violators of UN resolutions on Libya, Salame once indicated that "no sticks" were on the table. A lack of sticks encourages disorder, and Libya is a perfect example.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.