Following the rise of so-called Islamic State (IS) in Libya, France and some of its allies – including the US and the UK – provided support to local forces. Some of these groups were those from the Libyan city of Misrata, who were aligned (albeit belatedly and conditionally) with the GNA, but some support – particularly from the French – also went to the LNA who have maintained a strong stance against the GNA, the internationally recognised government in Libya.
By working with these local groups rather than going through the GNA, these countries weakened the legitimacy of the GNA and emboldened rival groups. They showed how little [the GNA] was actually able to deliver to the forces on the ground in terms of weapons, money or political support. As a result, the GNA has continued to lack any real coalition of political and armed groups backing it and while some militias have mobilised against Haftar, it remains unclear how many will stay allied with the GNA once the immediate fighting has stopped.
Even amidst the recent violence, contradictory national policies have hindered concerted international efforts to stem the violence. France stopped an EU statement, calling for a ceasefire, from mentioning Haftar and the US (as well as Russia) said it could not agree to a UN Security Council resolution condemning Haftar. In fact, according to the White House account of the conversation, President Trump also went as far as to publicly praise the general's “significant role in fighting terrorism.” In doing so, both countries are providing tacit approval for the general’s policies and actively applying diplomatic pressure to prevent international condemnation of his actions.
As the international community seeks to stem the ongoing violence, it must take stock of the devastating impact of French (and to some extent US and UK) policy towards Libya. Not only have these policies stymied progress but they have also exacerbated tensions and instability within an already fragile political situation. Strongmen cannot provide stability in the long-term, the sooner we learn this the sooner we stop perpetuating instability and violence in the places we intervene. The international community must urgently reassess the operations of countries like France in Libya, which have emboldened General Haftar – potentially to the detriment of regional security.