Event Summary: Shifting Dynamics: Toward a New Era?
On Wednesday, June 17, 2020, the SETA Foundation at Washington, DC hosted a virtual panel of experts to discuss ‘Shifting Dynamics in Libya: Toward a New Era in Libya.’ The discussion featured Muhittin Ataman, director of the Foreign Policy Program at the SETA Foundation, and Silvia Colombo, head of Italy’s Foreign Policy Program at the Istituto Affari Internazionali. The panel was moderated by Kadir Ustun, Executive Director at the SETA Foundation at Washington, DC.
Ataman began the discussion by explaining that there are two significant developments in Libya that have forced realities to change on the ground. First, the signing of two memoranda between the GNA and Turkey in November of 2019 regarding the delimitation of maritime jurisdiction and cooperation on security and defense shifted the dynamics in Libya. Second, Turkey deployed soldiers to Libya on January 2, 2020 at the start of its new operation. In Libya, Turkey pursues its main objectives at both the national and regional levels. Turkey seeks to limit the threat of Russian forces in the eastern Mediterranean and show NATO that Russia is not just a problem in the East. In terms of Turkey declining Egypt’s ceasefire offer, Ataman explained that the biggest reason for this move is Haftar’s record. Haftar and his external actors have been trained to solve the problem through military means. While the UN claims that the GNA is the only legitimate actor in Libya, there is no support for the GNA other than Turkey on the ground. The LNA receives support from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia, and other actors, but the GNA is only supported by Turkey.
Colombo insisted that scholars cannot only look at Libya and other conflicts through an external lens; they must pay attention to internal developments as well. She explained that the coalitions in Libya on the ground are quite fluid at the moment, so it is difficult to disentangle the alliances on either side. In eastern Libya, Haftar’s former stronghold, there is a deterioration and questioning of Haftar’s military role. Others think that Haftar did the right thing by waging an assault on Tripoli but are concerned that Libya might not remain a unified country. Italy’s position on this conflict is predicated on historical connections at the policy making and intelligence levels. Italy knows that it cannot tackle this issue alone, so it develops its Libya policy through the broader EU policy framework. Given this, it still tries to pursue its own autonomous foreign policy in areas that concern its national interests, such as energy resources. Additionally, she cautions people not to expect the divisions in Libya to fall by the wayside just because Haftar has lost tremendous ground. Libya will remain a fractured country in which the economy will continue to play a negative role because one side will always feel marginalized. Here, she believes that Italy and Egypt could play a groundbreaking role in trying to open up new negotiations.