Now that we have identified and understood the actors in Libya’s civil war (see State of Play), we may outline the various scenarios regarding Libya’s future within the next three to five years. A civil war with two rival governments, armed coalitions, jihadists, and various tribes creates a complex climate, and we have constructed initially four primary scenarios, which, with their sub-scenarios, could plausibly play out, and thus set the course for Libya’s future, while also, to the least, impacting the fate of the region.
Here we shall briefly present each main scenario and the first level of sub-scenarios and explain why they are plausible. Throughout the following posts, we shall develop scenarios and sub-scenarios through their narratives. The initial ordering of the scenario may change and/or be presented differently as our foresight analysis progresses. We shall assess the likelihood for each scenario as well as develop indicators to monitor the possibility of their occurrence, or more exactly, of the happenstance of a similar scenario, as a scenario is an ideal-type for a defined range of real-life situations. At the end of the process we shall present the whole definitive set of scenarios.
The initial scenarios for the future of Libya within the next five years are summarized in the following graph.
By utilizing our methodology to identify scenarios in case of war (a specific instance of the overall way to build scenarios for international and national security issues – Lavoix, “Scenarios and War“, Red (Team) Analysis, December 30, 2013), we determine the main plausible scenarios that might come about, based on Libya’s current civil war status.
As explained there, this logical approach observes that war may only evolve in two possible ways: continued war and the end of war. If war continues, it can either continue with the same terms or with different terms, depending on dynamics. If war is to end, there are several ways to reach a conclusion, including a successful peace. In that case, the state can be conquered by an external player, the warring parties can exhaust their will to fight and peace ensue, one of the involved actors may achieve victory over the others – and thus takes control – or a peace agreement can be brokered by external forces, which can either result in failure, a fragile success, or a complete success and subsequent peace (for the possible evolution of war, see notably Luttwak, “Give War a Chance“, Foreign Affairs, 1999).
Our mutually exclusive scenarios build on these logical outcomes, adapted to the Libyan case.
Scenario 1: Towards Peace (All but the Salafi groups)
Libya’s actors (excluding the Salafi groups) take the road towards peace. In a first case, they achieve an external brokered peace, as could happen with the current United Nations-led negotiations (Scenario 1.1).
Indeed, on the ground, although the armed coalitions of both governments still maintain military positions and launch attacks, the political leaders are pursuing the road towards peace by participating in UN-facilitated peace talks (UN News Centre, April 29, 2015).
In a second case, main actors reach a point of internal exhaustion from conflict (Scenario 1.2) – thus creating the opportunity for a more organic peace, which would most probably then be finally brokered through an international conference.
This latter scenario is all the more plausible – but we shall come back more in detail to the evaluation of likelihood in forthcoming posts – that an increasing number of Libyan leaders and politicians are calling for an end to the conflict and the creation of a unity government (Kirkpatrick, April 13, 2015), as a result of internal exhaustion from war.
The dynamics of the two sub-scenarios should be noted, as the second makes the first increasingly possible.
Scenario 2: Continuation of Civil War
Libya’s civil war continues, either on the same terms or different terms – depending on actors and factors. We shall mainly focus on the evolution involving different terms for our scenarios (as continuation of the civil war with the same terms will evolve into peace – see above – victory, or conquest – see below)
Scenario 2.1: Intervention
External forces intervene in Libya, and their aim is not conquest. In a first case, we have an international intervention accepted by the UN and thus representative of the current International Community. The crucial variable, here, is the degree of acceptance of the intervention by as many states as possible, i.e. not opening the way to retaliation or counter-intervention. In the second case, an ad-hoc coalition of states, according to interests, intervenes to support one side in the ongoing conflict.
The various types of interventions, with which alliance, will be detailed in the various sub-scenarios.
There are indeed a host of plausible interventions considering the current actors and interests. For example, the existence of the new Joint Arab Force, although some analysts doubt its ability to actually be effective (see Wehrey comment in Yahoo News article, March 31, 2015), has enhanced the plausibility of an intervention in Libya, as suggested by Aaron Reese of the Institute for the Study of War. However, according to former deputy foreign minister and ambassador in Egypt Abdullah al-Ashaal, there are too many divisions between the nations involved in the Joint Arab Force to be able to form a united military force (Murdock, March 31, 2015). Even if the military force is united, “conflicting alliances could escalate the fighting,” – a possibility that could certainly play out in Libya, considering the divided backing of the General National Congress (GNC) and Council of Representatives (CoR) (Egypt, UAE, and Saudi Arabia support CoR, while Qatar supports the GNC) (Ibid; Mitchell, “Nationalist Forces II,” December 1, 2014; Mitchell, “Potential International Intervention in Context,” February 16, 2015).
Meanwhile, NATO has taken note of the security risk on its southern flank in Libya, although it is not preparing for a military role in any future interventions, thus far, which would make such an intervention currently improbable (but not implausible; furthermore, over the next five years, the likelihood to see such an intervention happen will change). The organization is waiting on an improved “security situation in Libya” before it can approve any requests to “help train Libyan security forces” (Croft and Karadeniz, May 12, 2015). However, countries may also choose to act outside NATO, as, for example, France and Italy have expressed serious concern over security issues stemming from Libya’s instability – specifically the possibility of Islamic State militants posing as migrants and crossing the Mediterranean into Italy (Ross, February 18, 2015; AFP, February 21, 2015). The EU may then be or not be involved in a future intervention.
Meetings in Cairo are taking place to discuss intervention plans for Libya, with France and Italy possibly partnering with an Arab force (Mustafa, May 10, 2015; SputnikNews, May 11, 2015; Eurasia Security Watch, March 4, 2015).
Scenario 2.2 Spill over
Here, we shall see the Libyan conflict extending and the theater of war reaching other countries, either currently peaceful, such as Tunisia, Niger, or further afield Italy, for example, or joining – as is already the case – with other ongoing wars, such as the war in Mesopotamia (Syria and Iraq). A best way to organize these scenarios will be sought.
Scenario 2.3: Partition
We broadly have two cases. First, Libya embraces federalism, with a possible division along provincial lines (Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, Fezzan). In the second case, the country breaks up, most probably along tribal lines.
The two regional governments in Cyrenaica – the Transitional Council of Cyrenaica and the Political Bureau of Cyrenaica – have already initiated federalism in Libya by announcing Cyrenaica as a semi-autonomous region (see Mitchell, “Nationalist Forces I,” November 3, 2014). Federalism in Libya could gain support and possibly turn into an option, provided that Libya’s federalist leaders present a more cohesive political agenda (see Eljarh, September 4, 2014).
As far as the second case is concerned, tribal declarations threatening secession on the one hand (see Tribes II and III), the strong regional component observed throughout the conflict which might be seen as nothing else than division along various Arab tribes lines, make this scenario plausible.
Scenario 2.4 Spill over and partition
This scenario will be a mix of the two previous scenarios.
Scenario 3: A Real Victory in Libya by a Local Group of Actors?
Any of the main group of actors is considered as able, plausibly, to achieve victory. The narratives will examine the impacts, while the indicators compared with the situation in the ground will help determine the likelihood for each case.
Either the General National Congress (GNC), including its armed coalition – Dawn of Libya (Scenario 3.1) – or the Council of Representatives (CoR), including the Libyan military and Nationalist forces (Scenario 3.2), achieves victory. Then, in each case, either the victor succeeds in stabilizing the situation and peace follows, or finally fails and we are back to civil war.
The plausibility for these scenarios is created by the fact that some leaders have expressed their preference for military victory rather than negotiated peace. Both Abdulrahman Swehli, a Misratan politician, and General Haftar, the leader of Libya’s military and Operation Dignity, have stated their preference for a military solution that would permanently decide the victor (Kirkpatrick, April 13, 2015; Al Jazeera, April 15, 2015).
Scenario 4: Salafi Conquest
Although we previously noted that, currently, conquest was outlawed, the Islamic State is currently obeying different sets of norms (see H. Lavoix, “Worlds War,” “Ultimate War,” and “Monitoring the War against the Islamic State or against a Terrorist Group?“). Furthermore, its competition for preeminence with notably Al Qaeda also impacts what the latter could do (see “Worlds War“). As a result, conquest of a sort is back on the international agenda, even if it is engineered through local groups. Note that, in terms of timeline, this scenario and its sub-scenarios will follow from the continuation of war with different terms, and, possibly also lead to war, also with different terms.
We thus have two plausible scenarios here. First, Libya succumbs to conquest by Al Qaeda (Scenario 4.1), whilst, second, we witness an Islamic State conquest (Scenario 4.2).
Indeed, Al-Qaeda has an established presence in regions of Southern Libya, and also has affiliates in Northern Libya such as Ansar al-Sharia (see Mitchell, “Islamist Forces II,” January 26, 2015). If Al-Qaeda is to offset the expanding Islamic State influence in Libya, it will likely need to draw increased support from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, notably Al-Qaeda in Tunisia, while also defeating the other actors. It may need to assert its influence on the Libyan battlefield in its battle against the Islamic State and other actors.
The Islamic State is already present in Libya, as seen in our previous posts “The Islamic State Advance and its Impacts” (Mitchell) and “Towards Understanding the Islamic State – Structure and Wilayat” (Lavoix). Its presence is growing everyday, as recently seen with the conquest of Sirte airport (BBC News, 29 May 2015) and several suicide bombers attacks in Misrata (Reuters, 31 May 2015), t the point that the GNC in Tripoli called for a general mobilisation against the Islamic State (AFP, YahooNews, 1 June 2015). Conquering Libya, or at least vital parts of it, would also provide the Islamic State as a “gateway” to Southern Europe (Sherlock and Freeman, February 17, 2015). Such a conquest will require a sizeable force, but if the Islamic State recruitment throughout Libya increases, in addition to the arrival of foreign fighters (Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Dairi claims 5,000 jihadists have arrived to join Islamic State and Ansar al-Sharia – Moore, March 3, 2015), the possibility to see this scenario take place may increase. Meanwhile, the Islamic State’s forces in Libya will most probably continue expanding by allying with other extremist groups, as noted by Squires and Loveluck (February 18, 2015).
The next post will start detailing the scenarios.
Featured Image: “Rebels Heading for Tripoli” by Surian Soosay [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr
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