This paper explores the history and relationship between Libya and the United States (US). The author identifies the turbulent political environment that has shaped Libya’s civil and military landscape, in addition to its after-effects on the country. The author identifies the second and third order of effects that stemmed from these events, providing an analysis of the continued significance Libya provides to the US. The author then leads to the significant current events of Libya within the past three years, focusing on the country’s aim for political unification.
In conclusion, the author outlines a short and long term assessment of the potential outcomes of how these series of events will develop the future of US-Libya relations.
The history between Libya and the US is a relationship that is historically turbulent and filled with turmoil. During Libya’s liberation in 1951 with the assistance of the United Nations (UN), Libya immediately became of great interest to the US and its allies due to the presence of existing US military forces and the prospect of economic gain.
This fruitful prospect presented itself in the form of abundant oil reserves discovered within the Saharan desert. As US assistance and intervention increased within the country, this paved the opportunity for US oil companies to establish roots and create an impact on global economics (Zoubir, 2006).
Favorable prospects secured Libya as a significant and critical ally for the US’s strategy in maintaining a presence within the Middle East, with a secondary benefit of energy security.
Over the next couple of decades, US-Libya relations maintained a close partnership that facilitated a successful military and economic development for both countries. However, this newly-founded resource would be the focus of contention that would drastically alter Libya’s future. Although oil and petroleum sales provided substantial revenue for the country, decisions on the distribution of wealth and national progress remained with the monarch, King Idris. King Idris’s overly conservative view prevented Libya from political unification with neighboring Arab countries, generating resentment and discontent from his citizens. As a result, in 1969 a coup d’état ensued by the Libyan military expeditiously overthrowing its monarch, establishing a new leader in Muammar Gaddafi.
Muammar Gaddafi became the ruler of the country for the next 42 years. Under his governance, Gaddafi gained initial support through his sense of nationalism and socialism, but gradually developed into hostile governance that participated in terrorism, corruption, and human rights infringement (Muammar al-Qaddafi Biography, 2017). This gradual transition from an event was meant to signify positive reform for the country but deteriorated into an ongoing political struggle for the stabilization of Libya. As a result, US-Libya policies shifted on two issues: the integrity of the oil industry and the effects of the Gaddafi regime.
Following civil instability under the Gaddafi regime, the outbreak of the Arab Spring within Tunisia began to solidify influence over in Libya during early 2011. The Arab Spring began as a series of protests that triggered revolution within North Africa and the Middle East, with the objective of inciting regime reform within powerful countries. These countries included Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Libya (Zuber, Moussa, 2018).
The Arab Spring within Libya enabled a singular outburst of sympathetic protests, demands, and inspired the unification of rebel forces against the Gaddafi regime. In mid-2011, inspired by demonstrations of the Arab Spring in neighboring countries, the National Transitional Council (NTC) affirmed themselves as the legitimate government of Libya. Libya’s political divide quickly escalated into a bloody civil war killing 25,000 and injuring 60,000 people (Mulholland, Deshmukh, 2011).
With the control and distribution of oil at stake, in addition to the humanitarian crisis occurring in Libya, the international community began to intervene. The US and its allies identified the dangers of the Gaddafi regime, invoking the necessity to protect Libya’s citizens. The US and NATO initiated military intervention within the country, enacting the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. The result of the resolution provided an immediate ceasefire within Libya, established no-fly zones, and utilized all means to protect the civilian population (Security Council, 2011). Through a unified effort with US and allies, rebel forces successfully eliminated Gaddafi, abolishing his regime.
Despite Libya’s turbulent political nature, the country’s significance to the US remains advantageous. Libya remains one of the world’s largest oil providers, exporting an average of 1.28 million barrels per day (Turak, 2018). In addition to oil, Libya’s vast geographical territory provides excellent potential for renewable resources such as solar, wind, and geothermal energy. A positive partnership with Libya provides geographical advantages for US-Libyan military forces against Middle Eastern threats, in addition to an economic advantage on the global competition for renewable energy.
Seven years after the execution of Muammar Gaddafi, the country continued to experience internal political division. The Gaddafi regime’s collapse in 2011 provided the opportunity for the country to enact reform leading towards a more democratic future. With the absence of a ruling authority, faction groups and rival political groups began competing for control over the country. Due to recent events, the country may finally attain internal stability through recent diplomatic agreements.
On July 2017, Libyan National Army Commander General Khalifa Haftar met with French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss political concessions on the unification of the country through a cease-fire. The meeting facilitated a significant opportunity to focus on establishing official elections towards the legitimization of a Libyan government during mid-2018 (Pennetier, 2017). This declaration was a significant step for Libya’s political unification.
In contrast to progressive news, a secondary effect emerged. Conflict continued to ensue with political division and armed conflict, negatively impacting the country. On May 2018, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) suicide bombers attacked the electoral office in Tripoli, with the intent of derailing the upcoming elections (Elumami, 2018). In addition to the suicide bombing, Libya’s two major political parties, the UN-supported Government of National Accord (GNA) and the House of Representatives (HOR), failed to reach an agreement. The disagreements centered around the constitutional structure and the country’s future economic development. Interference from threat groups and political dissension created issues that continue to delay unification.
As a result of the events mentioned above, this created third order effects leading to Libya’s most significant and highly anticipated development. Libya’s national elections will occur during the spring of 2019. At this time, negotiations between Libya’s two dominant political parties are discussing an agreement on the exact date and proposed constitutional framework. This progress highlights the significance of Libya’s upcoming events that provide the country the opportunity for reform (Libya: Elections Postponed to Spring 2019, 2018).
The opportunity for political unification within Libya is significant progress for the nation. However, the prospect of an official election that will grant exclusive power to the winning party will immediately increase existing political tensions within the country. There are currently over 15 political actors within Libya that are a representation of either their religion or their cities (A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players, n.d). An official election will trigger minority political groups to gain votes from supporters through radicalization or, worse case, resort to violent extremism to expand their political ideologies. What initially intended to facilitate a peaceful election process could result with the opposite effect. Political parties will use this an opportunity to gain power and utilize their candidates as figureheads of intimidation against opposing parties. Inherently, territories will play a big factor in elections. Competitors who control territories will control election outcomes in that particular region.
In the short term, Libya will continue to pursue stability within the country. Attaining this goal will prove a challenge due to interferences between competing militia groups, in addition to international and regional political influences. The struggle for power will continue to exist, as stability in the country will not be attainable as long as the issue of internal security and political division remains. A political consensus will effectively pave the future for Libya’s security and economic reform.
In the long term, the establishment of a legitimized government would create an opportunity for international governments to influence Libya in their favor. Another aspect of this effect would be Russian interference within Libya. Libya’s role under Russian encouragement would grant the Soviet nation increased influence within the North African region, serving numerous strategic advantages. Soviet naval vessels would be able to occupy Libyan docks, increasing Russian military presence in the area. Russia currently possesses a naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus, with additional forces within Libya, allowing the Soviets dominance in the Northern African region. This strategic geographical presence will allow Russia to regulate maritime operations along the Mediterranean, Red and Black Seas (Litsas, 2015).
By controlling naval routes, Russian influence can affect Libyan economics. Through partnership and accessibility to Libyan oil, Russia would play a role in the regulation of the production and distribution of oil exports. The Russians can leverage their influence over energy security to put pressure on other countries. As a result, countries primarily reliant on Libyan oil and gas imports will shift towards Soviet affiliation to gain favorable economic transactions.
The future intelligence value of Libya to the US resides within Libya’s economic and political prospects. Libya’s future policy changes will be in response to its economic conditions, which centers on its global oil production. Economic revenue will fund political agendas, which in turn will benefit political parties through funding and external influences. This facilitates the potential for the misappropriation of revenue for ulterior motives and the potential funding of threat groups in support of Libya’s political agenda against US interests.