July 11, 2017
Libya: From Intervention to Proxy War
By Karim Mezran and Elissa Miller
More than six years after Libya’s 2011 revolution against Muammar al-Qaddafi, the situation in the country is significantly more complex and dangerous. The failure of the 2011 NATO intervention to assist the country with a comprehensive stabilization process led to rapid deterioration on the ground and created an opportunity for external actors to pursue competing self-interests in the country. While in most cases the factional rivalries in Libya have real roots, they have been exacerbated by the interests of both regional and international actors, and the resulting proxy conflict in Libya has significantly weakened the UN-led negotiation process.
In this issue brief, Dr. Karim Mezran and Elissa Miller explore the dynamics of regional and international actors most involved in Libya’s proxy conflict, as well as recent incidents of escalation that threaten to further destabilize the country. The authors argue that ultimately, the stabilization of Libya should be the primary goal of any Western engagement. In particular, the failure of the UN-led negotiations and lack of cohesion between European actors necessitates a leadership role for the United States in Libya. The United States is the only country that can credibly employ both carrot—for those seeking to reach a negotiated agreement—and stick—for those aiming to defend entrenched criminal interests or support the establishment of autocratic rule. A targeted Western intervention built on robust diplomacy among Europe and the United States in support of a Libyan-created consensus government could stabilize the country. Given the critical national security implications of Libya’s chaos for the United States and its European allies, such an effort would in the long run be in the best interest of the Libyan people and of those states with an interest in a stable North African region.
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