The EU and Libya: Rediscovering a Realpolitik

The EU bureaucrats believe that the Berlin conference on Libya has won back the initiative to resolve the regional crisis in the Middle East. This is a fallacy. The key to resolving the problems of this region is no longer in Washington, Brussels or Berlin – but in Moscow, Ankara and Beijing.

It is good that Europe is finally realising that Libya can quickly become a second Syria. Europe is now suffering severely from the disintegration of the Middle East and the countries of Africa. Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Mali, Libya, Syria – tens of “failed states” could be added to this list during the 2020s. They produce mass migration, international terrorism, civil wars on Europe’s doorstep.

Chancellor Angela Merkel does not want to face the same refugee problems and terrorist attacks at the end of her chancellorship.

Angela Merkel in Moscow: Key to Stability in the Middle East Is No Longer in Washington, but in Moscow and Ankara
Alexander Rahr
Merkel may have realized that successful peacekeeping in the region should be negotiated with Moscow rather than with Washington. With her visit to Russia, Merkel demonstrated that Germany and the EU will seek their own strategy toward Russia instead of letting themselves be harnessed against the rest of the world by the US.
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The EU is now wondering whether it did the right thing by unleashing the so-called Arab Spring revolutions ten years ago. The EU wanted to transfer democracy and human rights to its neighbourhood and tried to break resistance with violence. Western countries also supplied weapons to insurgents, to the opposition, so that they would drive out the local dictators. Finally, NATO helped with the bombing of the dictators. But none of the countries did well by the “Arab Spring”, let alone adopt Western democracy. Quite the opposite: chaos arose, states collapsed and civil wars occurred in Syria and Libya.

The rulers of Iraq, Libya and Syria were undoubtedly authoritarian, but they maintained order there, and even facilitated a degree of religious pluralism. The alternative to their brand of secular Arab nationalism, as it turned out, was unpredictable warlords and the so-called Islamic State, which wants to establish a fundamentalist caliphate encompassing the entire region.

The West blames Russia and Turkey for the militarisation of the Arab world. They could play off their great power ambitions at the expense of the stability of the region. However, the West was responsible for the initial chaos, when it interfered in the events of the Arab world without any strategy or plan.

Germany wants to enforce an arms embargo in order to stifle the civil war in Libya. Europe does not want mass extinction in Libya, nor the use of banned chemical weapons, nor the bombing of hospitals and civilians. Above all, the EU wants to dismantle the overcrowded refugee camps in Libya, which now resemble concentration camps. But there is a gap between “not wanting” and “doing something”.

What is certain is that uncontrolled migration to Europe further destabilizes the continent. So far, there is no practical solution in Libya on how to end the war. There are still enough weapons in the country to allow for the fighting to continue. It is also futile to believe that warlord marshal Khalifa Haftar, who has lived in the United States for a long time, has the support of the United States, Russia and most Arab countries, and has much of Libya under his control, recognises his opponent Fayez al-Sarraj.

The neighbouring Arab countries, which mostly have economic interests in Libya, will want compensation for their non-interference. Russia and Turkey will demand more respect and recognition from the EU for their role in shaping global politics. Even the US President does not know what future plans the United States has for the Middle East. In any case, the USA will not coordinate this with the EU.

The EU today overestimates its ability to work towards stabilising Libya. A European military intervention is rejected by all Arabs – the negative memories of the European colonial era are still alive in the countries of the region.

What is left of the Berlin conference? In the end, as it happens so often, the event was probably about money. The European powers are happy to be seen by the regional powers as donor countries for the necessary reconstruction aid, and, of course, also as investors. Vladimir Putin proposed a stability pact for Syria to Merkel in 2017. The economic reconstruction is intended to enable refugees to return home. Turkish President Erdogan has proposed something similar to Europeans for the Kurdish regions in northern Syria. The EU has not yet responded to these proposals, but it should.

With all its doubts, the EU should nevertheless do everything possible to seek its role as a shaping power in world politics. The rediscovery of a pragmatic realpolitik is the first step.

The Berlin Conference on Libya: Fragile Hopes
Grigory Lukyanov
The fragile hope presented by the conference in Berlin, is very vulnerable, because real, not formal, implementation of its decisions is possible only with the active participation of the Libyans themselves.
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