The various foreign powers involved in Libya's conflict met in Berlin Sunday (Jan 19) for the much awaited conference, intended to coordinate the international community's efforts to bring an end to the ongoing civil war in Libya.
The meeting was hosted by Germany, and attended by the leaders or senior representatives from Russia, Turkey, the UAE and Egypt – who most directly back the various sides, as well as France, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States, Algeria who represented the Arab League, Congo representing the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations.
While there was much anticipation surrounding the meeting, it was not immediately clear what was achieved and what was meant to be achieved. We look at what happened in Berlin, what did not happen and what we can expect going forward.
Last week, and for the first time since intense fighting renewed in April, the GNA's al-Sarraj and LNA's Haftar agreed to an initial ceasefire, brokered by Russia and Turkey, although reports are rife that this was already broken. Already, Turkish troops and Syrian mercenaries continue to make their way to Tripoli, while Haftar supporters blocked oil export facilities in LNA held territory, effectively cutting Libyan government revenues in half as production halted to around 800,000 bpd.
What was on the table? What was achieved?
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who hosted the UN-backed summit, sought to get the powers involved on the same page, especially in regards to enforcing the UN arms embargo on Libya. One of the major criticisms levelled at Europe is that their lack of coordination and engagement in Libya has opened the door for Russia, Turkey and other regional actors to increase their influence. World powers indeed walked away from the conference after agreeing not to provide military support to either side and back a political solution. However, Merkel was “not under any illusion that this won’t be a difficult path”.
Egypt and the UAE, Haftar's main international backers, reportedly urged him to agree to the initial deal. The two countries also called for the UN to sanction any actor who violates the embargo. US secretary of state Pompeo met with the UAE foreign minister, to pressure the UAE to end its interference, while German Chancellor Merkel met with the crown prince.
The immediate result of the conference was getting the participating parties to sign on to a 55-point communique. It called "on all parties concerned to redouble their efforts for a sustained suspension of hostilities, de-escalation and a permanent ceasefire". This would build on to a fragile and somewhat broken cease fire process kicked off already a week ago by Russia and Turkey.
According to the agreement, obtained by CNN and AFP, the parties called upon the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on those violating the ceasefire arrangements, and called on UN member states to help enforce the terms. It also affirmed the states' commitment to refrain from interfering in the conflict, and on the warring parties to refrain from attacking Libya's oil facilities and energy infrastructure.
German Chancellor Merkel, announcing the outcome after hours of discussion, said the parties “"agreed on a comprehensive plan forward... all participants worked really constructively together.... we all agree that we should respect the arms embargo and that the arms embargo should be controlled more strongly than it has been in the past". Previously, Merkel had said getting everyone on board the embargo would be the priority of the summit. Merkel also called for a mechanism to ensure the fair distribution of oil revenues as part of the peace process.
Beyond committing to supporting the arms embargo and cease fire, the parties also committed to recognising the Libyan state oil firm NOC as the sole entity that can deal in Libyan crude oil.
The agreement further called for a demobilisation and disarming of militias, spurring talks to form a single government, establishing a group of economic experts to advise on development and preparing for free elections to endorse the new government. A commission would also be formed to track progress on these matters.
Analyst Wolfram Lacher pointed out that the “conference is trying to...get an agreement between the states meddling in Libya to stop their support of the warring parties...the problem is Western states are not ready to put pressure on Haftar's foreign supporters...so the promises...ring hollow”. The ICG's Claudia Gazzini added that the conference “could be a modest step forward.” Gazzini noted that the conference “was useful in showing that Europe... (is) more engaged on...Libya... and...more keen to liaise with regional powers directly involved in the conflict in order to pressure them to de-escalate”. She wonders whether this would be “sufficient to de-escalate the conflict,” and whether the foreign powers that back the conflict will adhere to their commitments. Gazzini stressed it was important to see “tangible changes” that can get the fragile process to move forward.
The communique's conclusions will be sent to the UN Security Council to adopt, however the agreement will in essence remain a “gentleman's agreement” without language that would impose sanctions on those who violate its commitments.
If the two sides agree, the next phase would be an inter-Libyan process to unite the country's split institutions and begin preparing for elections, not held since 2014. One of the main outcomes of the day was the agreement to establish a ceasefire mechanism, in which each side is to nominate 5 representatives who will meet in Geneva by months' end to work out the terms for a more permanent cease fire agreement.
However, analyst Tarek Megerisi of the European Council on Foreign Relations pointed out that “failure to make progress could undermine the process”. He added that if “its a very negative meeting.... we can probably expect a return to violence.”
International Monitoring Force
UK prime minister Boris Johnson raised the possibility of sending British and European forces to monitor the proposed ceasefire and uphold the arms embargo. The Italian and German defence ministers similarly expressed willingness to do so if there is a clear UN mandate to do so.
The language of the agreement did not specifically mention a peace monitoring force but did mention establishing technical committees to monitor the cease fire components.
Reactions from the Warring Libyan Parties
Fayez Al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar were in Berlin as well but were not a part of the talks, nor did they meet with each other. German FM Heiko Maas worked as an intermediary between the two.
GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha said the GNA would not consider a more permanent ceasefire agreement unless the LNA withdraws its fighters from Tripoli, dismantles its militias and ensures the departure of foreign mercenaries currently fighting on its side. Alternatively, Haftar demanded the GNA disband its militias and cancel the two agreements signed weeks ago with Turkey.
Reactions from Participants
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who attended the meeting, told reporters later he “cannot stress enough the summit’s conclusion that there is no military solution to the conflict”. Guterres questioned the motives of the various actors interfering in Libya, and noted that those who interfere to support the UN peace process are welcome to become involved. However those seeking to disrupt or support continued fighting “are not welcome”.
Russian President Putin expressed hope that “dialogue will continue and the conflict will be solved”. His foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who was also in Berlin, described the talks as “rather useful” and noted the progress the sides made since their meeting in Moscow the week before. However, Lavrov pointed out that it is "clear that it is not yet possible to establish a stable serious dialogue between them. The differences in approaches are too great."
Turkish President Erdogan accused the international community of backing Haftar and offering him impunity as he conducts “brutal attacks”, and ignoring the “actions of the putschist Haftar... which have been violating UNSC resolutions”.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who represented the US, called on the Libyan parties to “seize this opportunity”. The US has somewhat increased its limited role in Libya in recent months, out of concern for Russia's growing influence. Pompeo said that “all foreign forces should be out of Libya”. He added that "This is a region-wide conflict that is broadening and looking increasingly like Syria which is why the whole community the international community is getting together in Germany". Pompeo however said the US was moderating its expectations.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered to deploy British troops to monitor a potential ceasefire, if the parties agreed to it. Johnson noted "there is a case for us doing what we do very well, which is sending people, experts to monitor the ceasefire”. However, Johnson did not see the viability of reaching a cease fire at the moment. Johnson said “its time now to move on and bring Libya together under the UN”.
French President Emanuel Macron raised “acute concerns over the arrival of Syrian and foreign fighters” and called to end this.
German foreign minister Maas, who acted as a go-between for the two Libyan leaders, urged the participants to ensure “Libya doesn't become a second Syria” and described the conference as a “first step to peace for Libya
What the conference did not achieve
There are two main elements that were not achieved in Berlin. The first is any kind of binding document regarding the international participants. That is, although there was a call to sanction those who violated the arms embargo or those who helped break the ceasefire, there is no obligatory sanctions mechanism in place to uphold it.
Secondly, the conference did not achieve anything binding regarding the Libyan parties themselves. The agreement expects the two sides to establish a mechanism to continue the peace talks in the coming days (5+5). However the two parties must first either sign on to the Russian-Turkish document (which only Serraj did) or the Berlin document. Until then, it is more of a gentleman's agreement, according to Khaled Butou on Twitter, than any real agreement. Butou points out that there are currently no deadlines, timetable or sanctions if any party, international or local, is found to be violating its terms.
It is important to point out, as we have multiple times in recent days, that the major achievement of the Berlin meeting, as much as we can point to one, is getting the major international players in one place to discuss a way forward on Libya. Some of the actors' behaviour has been destructive (Turkey, Russia, Egypt, the UAE) while the Europeans, Americans, Arab League and African Union have been apathetic and uncoordinated. Therefore, pressuring some to fall in line and others to pick up their game can be seen as an achievement, at least to some extent.
Clearly the Berlin meeting, which comes on the heels of the Moscow meeting, is just a beginning and hopes should not be too high. However, one of the main obstacles to achieving a cease-fire and renewed political process has been increasing foreign involvement. Getting enough pressure from a united international community is crucial – pressure on the Libyan parties to return to the table, pressure on the main foreign backers to cease their military support, and pressure on the Europeans and Americans to increase their diplomatic involvement.
While Serraj and the GNA might be desperate for a cease fire, despite Turkey's entrance, Haftar might still feel like he has the upper hand at this point. The Europeans and the US, backed by the Arab League, will have to convince him that a political process is preferable to continued fighting. They will also need to pry Haftar from Russia's growing grip on the conflict. Getting Haftar to cooperate might be more difficult than expected. There are numerous reports of his stubbornness so far to cooperate with the diplomatic process.
The GNA's clear lack of authority and hold on power, combined with Haftar's unwillingness to cooperate might be a clear sign that the way forward politically will not be either the GNA or Haftar, rather a third figure that can work to unite all Libyans, with backing from the signatories of the Berlin agreement. Despite that everyone in the room might agree with this understanding, it was also obvious that nobody seemed to bring up such a possibility in their remarks. Nine years of conflict are more than enough. As we enter 2020, the European and international powers involved should be would be wise to think ahead at new and creative ways to bring an end to Libyan tragedy, and bring some much needed stability to the region.