US inaction is hurting the chance for peace in Libya
United Nations Secretary General António Guterres moved quickly to nominate a successor to Ghassan Salamé, who served as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations (UN) Support Mission in Libya from 2017 to 2020.
Unfortunately, the nomination is languishing after the expeditious assent of 14 of 15 members of the UN Security Council. Who’s the laggard? The U.S.A.
The nominee, Algerian diplomat Ramtane Lamamra, is well-regarded in the region and globally as a practical peacemaker, including in U.S. diplomatic circles for nurturing positive ties with Washington, D.C.
Recently Lamamra was the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security (2008- 2013) and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Algeria (2013- 2017), and was Deputy Prime Minister in the post-Bouteflika transitional government. He also served as ambassador to Ethiopia, Djibouti, and the United States. Before the appointment to Washington, D.C., he was Algeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. He’s just the guy who understands the regional situation, the state of play at UN headquarters, and the thinking of the interested parties.
Though U.S. President Donald Trump has spoken approvingly of General Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the opposition to the UN-recognized Government of National Accord, he said “I do not see a role [for the United States] in Libya” and reiterated his sentiment (speaking in 2019 specifically of Syria but generally about the region) “Let someone else fight over this long bloodstained sand.” And in case anyone misunderstood him, in the 2020 State of the Union address Trump said, “It is also not our function to serve other nations as a law enforcement agency.”
The nomination of Ghassan Salamé in 2017 was secured after a four month search for a suitable mediator, but that was before General Haftar widened the conflict by attacking Tripoli, so moving at the speed of government won’t work this time.
The U.S. needs to address the Lamamra nomination post haste. He’s the best man for the job, and — if the delay is due to foreign lobbying — the U.S. should either demand those interests provide a better nominee or get out of the way.
Though Libya is not a top concern for the U.S. administration, it is for friends of the U.S.
Egypt (which has unfortunately played in the shadow of the UAE) shares a 700-mile border with Libya and is concerned that continuing instability will fuel the free movement of fighters, weapons, and contraband. France is concerned about instability and migrants crossing the Mediterranean, and French energy giant Total is competing with Italy’s ENI on the energy front (the Italians considering their former Libyan colony as their preserve). Algeria’s 600-mile border with Libya is a concern for the new Tebboune government as the turmoil in Libya may further destabilize Mali and the Sahel on Algeria’s southern flank. Weapons purchased by Qatar and provided by France and the UK to anti-Gaddafi forces were blocked at the Algerian border where Islamists were trying to import them to Salafist groups in Algeria.
If the U.S. approves the Lamamra nomination, a renewed mediation process may stabilize Libya which will counter the Islamist terrorist threat in the area. A stable Libya will return to global oil and natural gas markets (it can easily ramp up to 2 million barrels of oil per day, with peace and proper repairs) bolstering Europe’s security by reducing Russia’s energy leverage.
Though the Trump administration wants to reduce the American troop presence in Africa, an energized diplomatic process in Libya can be backstopped by the U.S. forces’ light footprint in Africa. French President Emmanuel Macron has asked the U.S. to not cut support for French forces in Africa. U.S. commanders are pushing back against planned cuts in U.S. forces in Africa and are making a case for more military, diplomatic, and economic involvement in the continent. U.S. support for France’s efforts elsewhere in Africa will give France — a significant U.S. ally — more influence in the peace process in Libya.
President Trump sees nothing but trouble in the Middle East, but the economic damage caused by the Wuhan coronavirus may interest him in Libya reconstruction contracts to boost the fortunes of U.S. construction firms and suppliers.
And the sooner peace comes to Libya, the sooner economic sanctions against Libya can be removed. As then-Secretary of State John Kerry found in the aftermath of the Iran nuclear deal, investors won’t do business in a heavily-sanctioned country unless the American government provides a clear path through the thicket of sanctions it mandated with no thought of how they would be unwound.
The U.S. had a starring role in the bad decision to attack the Qadhafi regime under UN Security Council authority in 2011. It can help right the situation in 2020 and ensure mediation between the Libyan factions moves ahead smartly by supporting Ramtane Lamamra’s nomination.
James Durso (@james_durso) is the Managing Director of Corsair LLC, a supply chain consultancy. He was a professional staff member at the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission and the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Durso served as a U.S. Navy officer for 20 years and specialized in logistics and security assistance. His overseas military postings were in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and he served in Iraq as a civilian transport advisor with the Coalition Provisional Authority. He served afloat as Supply Officer of the submarine USS SKATE (SSN 578).
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