UNSMIL & Libya: On Deadlock due to Foreign Interventions

Updated: May 26

Vasu Sharma,

Research Analyst,

Internationalism Research.

How does the UNSMIL Work?

UNSMIL was established on September 16, 2011, by the UNSC resolution 2009 (2011). Currently, the mandate of UNSMIL is extended till September 15, 2020, through UNSC resolution 2489 (2019). Under the leadership of Special Representative Secretary-General (SRSG) and his Deputy SRSG, is guided and supported by the United Nations Department of Political Affairs (UNDPA). Consolidation of governance, providing humanitarian assistance, monitoring and reporting Human Rights, supporting uncontrolled arms and counter-proliferation security can be termed as major objectives of this special mission. The UNSMIL is credited for the Libya Political Agreement in 2015 and its implementation. Major feature post-2015, of UNSMIL, was the co-ordination of International Assistance to assist the Government of National Accord (whose establishment was bolstered purely by UNSMIL) to stabilize post-conflict zones. However, this latter aim of UNSMIL, whether successful or not, is debatable.

Foreign Intervention in the 2011 Libyan Civil War

The 2011 Civil War in Libya, what was supposed to be a conflict between pro-Gaddafi forces and Rebellion forces, came to an end particularly due to Foreign Interventions. These interventions were military and diplomatic in nature. They were diplomatic because of the pressure created by the International Community through the United Nations declaring a no-fly zone over Libya, leading the African Union not getting a say in conflict resolution, France recognizing the Rebels led National Transitional Congress (popularly known as TNC) as the legitimate government of Libya, etc. To impose no-fly zones over Libya, Air defence systems and the Air Force of Libya had to be deteriorated. To do so, a coalition of the United Kingdom, France, and the USA (led by the USA) was formed to implement the mandate of the UNSC. Weeks after airstrikes were conducted by Coalition forces, many countries argued whether airstrikes were conducted beyond the limitations set by the UN, hence so forth foreign military operations in Libya to topple the Gaddafi regime was undertaken by NATO. All of this proved successful for the Rebellions when in October 2011, Gaddafi was killed and subsequently in 2012 fresh elections were held. However, since 2012, even the post-Gaddafi regime, post conflicts, stability, and harmony are two things citizens of Libya are quite unaware of. Major credit for this goes to the foreign entities washing their hands in what can be termed as 'Second Libyan Civil War' (April 2019 – till date) between forces of General Haftar led Libya National Army and UN established General National Accords. However, foreign interventions during 2011 were quite different from how foreign interventions exert their role since 2019 in Libya.

Government of National Accords versus Libya National Army

Libya was the third-largest producer of oil in Africa. The two most important institutions in Libya are National Oil Corporation (which overlooked operations of oil) and Central Bank of Libya (which monitored revenue of the country, largely due to ventures of oil). Soon Oil and both these institutions were set to become a token of power and subject to splintering due to conflict between General National Accords (GNA) and Libya National Army (LNA).

In December 2015, the UN initiated the 'Libya Political Agreement' a power-sharing agreement of Libya, established General National Accords (GNA) in Libya, a successor to NSG, and a government that obtained recognition from the United Nations Security Council. LNA refused to endorse and recognize GNA as a government for Libya. What precluded these politics of recognition was the division of NOC into Western Branch and Eastern Branch, which were dominated by GNA and LNA respectively. Furthermore, even the CBL was divided on these bases. A rift between Tripoli and Tobruk was inevitable then. Tripoli became a power centre for Western Libya, dominated by GNA and Tobruk became a power centre for Eastern Libya, dominated by LNA.

Oil and institutions, the token of power in Libya

Until July 2018, most of the oil ports were dominated by LNA. Since most of the International Community was keen to trade and recognize the Tripoli NOC, the operation of a few ports was given to GNA then. In January 2019, LNA recaptured and freed Libya's largest port El Sharara from certain militias. However, once taken over by LNA, the operations of the port were handed over to Tripoli.

The landmark event which is pushing Libya into a second civil war was the 'April Offensive' by LNA in 2019. In a pursuit to liberate northwest Libya from militias, LNA sought to divert its forces towards Tripoli. Since then rift has been increasing between both the forces.

LNA has successfully blocked exports and supplies of oil from Libya, thus rendering Libya’s economy at standstill. With reactions from the International Community, the spark between the two forces is transforming into a bush fire, which can destroy the stability of Libya and harmony for Libyans shortly. Russia and Turkey are two major foreign entities that are sparking the civil war between GNA and LNA in Libya respectively, while UNSMIL witnesses all of this.