Analysis: The Outcome of the Berlin Conference

The Berlin Conference was aimed at mustering international support for a political solution in Libya. Will it ultimately be nothing more than another conference that failed to end the conflict? Or did it lay the groundwork for an eventual peaceful resolution?

Libya's rival leaders at an International Conference on Libya in Paris, May 2018 (Photo: AP)

Twelve countries and organizations participated in the Berlin Conference on Libya, which just ended. All of the countries and organizations that really count in Libya were present. Egypt, which obviously supports General Khalifa Haftar for the security of its particularly sensitive eastern borders, as well as to avoid the progressive expansion eastwards - starting from Tunisia and Tripolitania - of the Muslim Brotherhood, that is the axis of Fayez al-Sarraj's regime and the international point of reference, inter alia, of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Turkey.

Algeria also fears the spreading of political instability originating from Libya that would strike it immediately. It does not absolutely want to be excluded from the Libyan pacification "process", although it strongly opposes Turkey’s role in protecting al-Sarraj’s regime.

Congo wants to avoid the jihadization - resulting from the expansion of the Libyan jihad - of the recent internal conflict that originated from the militias called CODECO, with the further violent Islamization of the Lendu ethnic group.

Turkey wants above all to start to exploit the land and sea areas facing Tripolitania’s coast, through an agreement already signed with al- Sarraj’s government - an agreement which has both the economic and oil component and its corollary for the military "collaboration", i.e. protection, of Tripolitania, indirectly aimed against Italy and, in some respects, against the EU itself.

This is the reason why this Turkish choice is also good for Vladimir Putin.

Turkey's move in Tripolitania, which is also targeted against Saudi Arabia, has been condemned by Egypt, which does not want to have the Muslim Brotherhood in the way, not even in the distance. The latter is the political-military organization against which Al Sisi organized his coup.

Moreover, Greece, which is slowly being involved again in the economic and strategic game in the Mediterranean and trades much oil and gas with Misrata, wants to oppose - even militarily - Turkey’s designs on the Mediterranean, possibly with Israel’s and Cyprus’ support.

If the military leader of Tobruk and Benghazi, namely Khalifa Haftar - who is also the military leader of a government that won the elections, but had no international recognition - wins, Turkey will automatically lose access to the oil it is drilling in Tripolitania and on the Libyan coast.

The primary UN countries want to marginalize the current, albeit minor, points of references for the forces in Libya, but the member countries of the UN Security Council have chosen different and opposing military groups to operate with their interests in Libya. However, at least formally, the whole UN organization supports al-Sarraj’s Tripolitania.

In other words, a geopolitical Rubik's Cube.

What does Italy want from the Berlin Conference on Libya? First and foremost, the Italian government is "optimistic", which is not so usual in strategic and geopolitical thinking.

"Everyone is to be involved" to take a "step towards peace and stability". It seems like the appeal of a motivational speech for vendors. In other words, we are a very strong team.

Then, there comes a 1960s pacifist-style position, i.e. "a military solution is not a solution". But the military solution is already in place and hence the problem is no longer there.

The problem also lies in the fact that the real negotiation between al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar was already carried out by others, namely Turkey and Russia, on January 12.

It does not matter that much that the chief of the Tobruk and Benghazi Forces, namely Haftar, withdrew from the final bilateral document on the permanent ceasefire, just before its signing.

Those who will settle the matter anyway - and well before we may think - will be Erdogan and Putin.

The Turkish leader wants to maintain - in any case and in any way - his spot in Tripolitania, in a future of ever-increasing oil and migration conditioning vis-à-vis the unaware (and indolent) European Union. That is enough for him.

We now see the emergence of the the establishment - which we imagine to be very complex and cumbersome - of a 5+5 Committee between al-Sarraj’s government (and who knows why it is still recognized by the United Nations) and Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). A body which will be bound to fail if it remains a joint body fully based on members on an equal footing.

Again on the basis of the final statement of the Berlin Conference, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) will organize an International Follow-Up Committee, made up of representatives from all the countries and organizations that participated in the Berlin Conference on January 19.

A repetition? Probably not.

This sequence of similar documents will be a way to play all possible sides and make the Libyan conflict last ad infinitum.

In essence, as the final statement candidly admits, the Berlin Conference wanted to unite and muster international support for a political solution in Libya.

Here, there are two possible alternative options.

Either we go on with the potentially endless sequence of irresolute conferences, attended by countries which do not even dream of sending troops to Libya, if not to be used as traffic policemen.

Or a real international force is created, possibly under the UN aegis, which of course does not pacify Libya, but establishes those who win or lose power in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica.

Yet the question remains: do we really want a new Libya split up in the various Ottoman vilayets, as it was before the Italian pre-Fascist colonization, or do we still really want a united Libya?

In the latter case, which will be the small group of European or non-European powers that will manage their inevitable hegemony over the still united Libya?

Finally, it was also reiterated at the Berlin Conference that "there could be no possible military solution" for Libya.

Of course, because the military solution is already in place and it has been so for many years. It is made up of potentially equivalent forces, with equivalent protectors, who will therefore never be able to really find an agreement.

Ultimately, the final statement of the "Berlin process" refers not only to the embargo on all arms - which is completely useless, considering that Libya is full of weapons, and everyone can anyway get them from the south - but also to the "equal sharing and distribution of wealth", albeit it is not clear between whom, but we can here understand the very complex issue of the relationship between the NOC, the Libyan Central Bank and Khalifa Haftar’s LNA.

Finally, we speak of "legitimate and lawful use of force" to be granted only to states (or to the state).

Which state, in Libya? Tripolitania - which is now reduced to a few districts of Tripoli, with some katibe of Misrata, the military axis of al-Sarraj’s regime, already shifted to Haftar’s control - or the Tobruk-Bengasi one, for which Haftar is fighting, which has won the elections but has not been recognized by the external powers and the United Nations?

Who is really legitimate and lawful? It is hard to answer this question, even if we only thought - as it is now usual among Western powers - of a political and state legitimacy that is simply granted by Western countries or by the United Nations.