U.N. talks in Libya: Dead on Arrival?

With the conclusion of the first round of Geneva talks between the two warring sides in Libya, one should commend the U.N. and UNSMIL for trying, I repeat, trying to find a peaceful resolution in Libya. It is hoped it will take the process forward next week towards nominating a government of national unity and ensuring a ceasefire together with the withdrawal of armed groups from the country’s towns and cities. Unfortunately, the outcome is in doubt even if there is an agreement. An agreement will not last long given that outside powers barely understand the two sides.

Let’s remember who is being represented at the negotiating table. On the one hand, there is the democratically elected House of Representatives in Tobruk, supported by Egypt, the Gulf, Italy and France. Tobruk’s military arm, is led by General Khalifa Haftar’s Operation Dignity. On the other side is the General National Council (GNC) in Tripoli led by Libyan Dawn - which includes a patchwork of former al-Qaeda members, Muslim Brotherhood supporters, and even alleged back up from ISIS representatives.

Libya’s crown jewels

The European Union is calling the Geneva talks the last chance to resolve Libya's crisis. The U.N. talks are aimed at forming a unity government, ceasing hostilities and putting the country's transition to democracy back on track. There is now a working list of action items going into the second round of negotiations. That fact is a noble first step. But fighting continues to escalate especially in and around Libya’s oil facilities. Clearly, these state assets, which belong legally to the Tobruk government, are the crown jewels in Libya’s future.

Historians may look back at the Geneva talks on Libya as the beginning of the end of Libya as we knew it

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Perhaps it is time again to consider the fracture of Libya. In the past week, on the eve of the Geneva talks, officials from both Tobruk and Tripoli, specifically and surprisingly Tripoli’s Foreign Minister Omar al-Hassi, started to make the rounds in the Gulf and Egypt. These officials are beginning to conduct shuttle diplomacy that is to include key European capitals.

With thousands dead, many in diaspora, and a hefty damage bill, one of the solutions could be to divide the country. “War is not the answer and the violence cannot continue anymore” argued an Arab analyst I spoke to.

The idea could be to box in those terrorists and extremists in South Libya on the Niger-Algeria border from Mali and in Derna in East Libya. South Libya and East Libya, of course, is full of oil and gas resources that Europe desperately needs for the future of EU energy security. Over 80 oil and gas fields are in production and other awaiting investment opportunities. With Libya's proven plus probable potential remaining oil reserves of 63 billion bbls and gas reserves of a whopping 89 trillion standard cubic feet, there is a lot at stake. With energy markets running wild, and the changes in European energy security because of EU-Russian acrimony, Libya’s destruction may be necessary for Europe to survive. Some Arab interlocutors are thinking about this strategic fact represents a major change in the geopolitics and geoeconomics of the Mahgreb.

Peace at any price

This strategic thinking is that gas will be necessary for Europe from the Libya’s former fields. By dissecting Libya into new states, so the rationale goes, the ability to build two gas pipelines from points of origin in Libya “towards Malta and Gibraltar” may be realized, the analyst added. There will of course be the requirement to trap the terrorists and extremists in the country and to conduct counter-terrorism operations and police raids within new boundaries. That some Arab interlocutors see this vision as necessary brings up an important point: international borders can be changed in order to guarantee future energy requirements and help to contain the growth of al-Qaeda and ISIS supporters and fighters.

Historians may look back at the Geneva talks on Libya as the beginning of the end of Libya as we knew it. What came next was the further fracturing of the country by neighboring powers who see that peace at any price is and was necessary. If the above comes true, then indeed the map of the Middle East in 2020 will be vastly different than what we see in 2015. Thus, the U.N. sponsored talks in Geneva may very well be DOA—more than we think.

Dr. Theodore Karasik is a Senior Advisor to Risk Insurance Management in Dubai, UAE. He received his Ph.D in History from UCLA in Los Angeles, California in four fields: Middle East, Russia, Caucasus, and a specialized sub-field in Cultural Anthropology focusing on tribes and clans. He tweets: @tkarasik

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:44 - GMT 06:44
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