On 12 February, the UN Security Council adopted its long-awaited resolution 2510 on Libya endorsing the recommendations made by the Berlin Conference last month. International and regional powers met in the German capital and committed themselves to stricter policing of the arms embargo imposed on war-ravaged Libya since February 2011, but never really respected.
A regular supply of weapons and, more recently, fighters, is believed to be the lifeline for the ongoing battle to control Tripoli between the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. It is, however, more or less a proxy war being fought on Libyan soil by over a dozen countries across both sides of the conflict. History has shown that the UN is far from capable of changing the position on the ground when proxies are involved, no matter how many resolutions it produces. Libya is no exception.
Although resolution 2510 appears on paper to have a better chance of being implemented, which might lead to some progress towards a political agreement, the situation is changing quickly, which could easily render it worthless. While the fragile truce between the GNA and LNA forces is still holding, there are numerous violations every day, and now the LNA stands accused of bombing Tripoli’s port in yet another escalation.
In a statement yesterday, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) blamed the LNA for the attack, and pointed out that it could have had disastrous consequences if a liquefied gas carrier in the port at the time had been hit. The LNA at first claimed to have hit a Turkish ship unloading arms destined for the GNA, but later said that the target was an arms depot at the port. Whatever the real reason was, its political ramifications are likely to further delay UNSMIL’s peace efforts launched in Geneva earlier this month.
Hours after the port attack, the GNA suspended its participation in the UN-hosted military talks which resumed on Tuesday after the first round ended last week without any progress. The 5+5 military commission, made up of equal members of both the LNA and the GNA, was supposed to agree on the terms and conditions of a permanent ceasefire.
The GNA made its participation conditional on “world powers” making sure that no more attacks are launched by the LNA, which has been holding offensive positions in southern Tripoli since April last year. UNSMIL launched the talks two weeks ago. This was followed by discussions between economic experts hosted in Cairo, in preparation for a political discussion later this month. All that now seems to be very far-fetched, as the attack on the port in Tripoli looks likely to put everything on hold, frustrating UNSMIL’s tireless head Ghassan Salame even more.
Is resolution 2510 simply another UN resolution that is being violated by the very countries committed to what was agreed to in Berlin? After all, the international organisation has passed many resolutions on Libya, most of which remain unimplemented. The simple answer is yes, but there is some optimism coming out of the European Union that might give the resolution some teeth and make it enforceable. An agreement was reached on 17 February committing EU member states to deploy warships, satellites and aircraft to enforce the arms embargo on Libya.
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, hailed the agreement as critical in the effort to make sure that no more weapons and fighters flow into Libya. “Operation EU Active” is supposed to patrol about 100 kilometres of Libya’s coastline which is believed to be the main route for weapons into the country. However, Libya has three thousand kilometres of land border, of which around 1,200 km is the border with Egypt, one of the strongest backers of Haftar and the LNA.
It is not clear what effects the EU patrols will have on the flow of arms to warring parties in Libya. Does Operation EU Active have the mandate to stop, search and confiscate any arms found on ships in the area, as it did when the civil war erupted in March 2011? Or will EU personnel just pass details to the UN sanctions committee when the embargo is broken? The committee has been submitting its own reports of violations to the Security Council but little has been done about such countries mentioned therein, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.
The latter in particular seems to be determined to continue its meddling in Libya by providing military support to the GNA in Tripoli. Yesterday, the Turkish President criticised the EU’s latest move to reinforce the embargo on Libya. Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused EU countries of “interfering in the region.” He also hailed the GNA’s decision to withdraw from the now suspended 5+5 military commission talks.
If anything, this means that Erdogan will not respect any arms embargo in the knowledge that the UN is unable to take any punitive action against him. Egypt is likely to follow suit and continue whatever help it is providing to the LNA, if not by sea then overland though the long border it shares with Libya.
Resolution 2510, therefore, is likely to be notable for simply emphasising previous UN resolutions on Libya, and reminding member states of their commitment to international law, while pointing to the Berlin recommendations that it encompasses.
Meanwhile, Haftar has gone to Moscow for talks, in another indication that Russia is getting more involved in the Libyan disaster. Once again, he committed himself to a peaceful solution for Libya, but it was just words rather than action to end the violence.
Despite being adopted by 14 votes in favour, with Russia abstaining, this latest UN resolution is likely to fail Libya yet again. In what is now a fully-fledged proxy war, the people of Libya and their representatives have very little say in what is going on.