Why did the January-2020 Berlin Declaration on Libya fail to limit this country’s flare-up, and the more recent Cairo Declaration in June could face the same fate? It is because this Libyan case is but a reflection of the predicament of the East Mediterranean and the whole MENA insecurity complex: the inter-connectedness of different elements of instability, geopolitical as well as domestic, entangling several international/regional powers and local actors/militias. So-called “new wars” are multiplying and the State – this classical bedrock of international order – is declining. This insecurity complex tends to be dominated by what Thomas Friedman of the New York Times called in a different context Black Elephants. As a metaphor, Black Elephants is itself a combination of two well-known English metaphors: the “elephant in the room”, which denotes a basic or risky topic that we choose to ignore or neglect ; and “black swans”, which denotes unexpected occurrences. I use this double metaphor to indicate that both past policies and new events trap the East Mediterranean into multi-layered conflicts, and a thick insecurity complex. While here the emphasis is mainly on domestic dynamics will be also taken into account. Country examples such as Libya, Syria or Lebanon are cited to demonstrate the argument.
Conflict Predominance: Old and New
In 2014 the MENA region accounted for 15.7% of global conflicts, three times higher than its percentage of the world’s population of 5.2%. Since then, the region has continued to move, but without changing direction. While geopolitical inter-state conflicts continue (e.g. Arab-Israeli), they are now superseded by intra-state conflicts, so-called new wars. Amidst extreme fluidity and uncertainty, most issues tend to be securitized, i.e.to be conceived as threats and added to a constantly enlarging conflict map.
Many of these intra-state conflicts – especially the structurally basic ones or elephants in the room – have already existed for a few years. For instance, population growth is on average around 2.4%. However, without an equivalent growth of resources the existing resource gap is aggravated. Similarly, the present urbanization pattern led – under the pressure of migration from the countryside – to the ruralization of the cities with its rise of informal economy and tin-districts or slums. These structural problems reflected both misdevelopment and misgovernance, as symbolized by rising youth unemployment that largely motivated the 2011-Arab Spring. These uprisings were a consequence – and not a cause – of these aspects of mis development and mis governance aspects. The post-Arab Spring context, however, brought in “new wars”.
“New Wars Theory” Demonstrated
As is known, when we think of the common and widespread phenomenon of war, we usually think of inter-state wars and classic contributions such as those of the German General Clausewitz. But data over the last 20 years or so show a different pattern: decline in the number of these inter-state wars and the rise instead of INTRA-state ones (Kaldor 1991&2012). They are also different from conventional civil wars because of the multiplicity of their warring components: religious sects, tribal groups, identity factions, different militias. Though protagonstic among themselves, they are united against the state. Indeed, the state ends by losing its most important characteristic: its monopolistic use of force. The present situation in Libya – which boasts the largest oil reserves in Africa – concretizes this phenomenon of new wars.
Libya’s fighting groups and “new wars”cost:
- Government of National Accord (GNA): centered in Tripoli and led by Fayez Sarraj and backed up by UN.
- Libyan National Army (LNA): centered in Eastern Libya, led by General Khalifa Haftar, and supported by a number of militias and Special Forces unit.
- General National Congress (GNC): with the Libya Dawn (equivalent of an “armed forces” led by their ex-chief of staff General Jadallah al-Obaidi and Libya Shield grouping).
- Jihadist Groups: ISIS: still maintaining itself in the central coastal city of Sirte, eying nearby oil sites in Sidra and Ras Lanuf which acted as their source of revenue. Ansar al-Shari’a: pro-al-Qaeda group, active in eastern Libya and has battled the LNA in Benghazi. Also present in cities of Derna and Sabratha. Responsible for the attack on US consulate in September 2012 and assassination of Ambassador Chris Stevens.
There are also less well-known groups such as the Benghazi Revolutionaries: for example, Derna Mujahidin Shura Council, Ajdabiya Revolutionaries Shura Council.
Because of this multiplicity of protagonists and decision-making centers , new wars are wars within wars and could continue endlessly at a high level of human and financial cost. Though precise data are hard to come by, estimates are still indicative. To date Libya’s death toll is around 32,000 people since 2011. Financially the oil sector alone has lost $68 billion in revenues since 2013 with ongoing oilfield shutdowns and port disruptions. The destruction goes further as nearly half of the infrastructure and production facilities have been destroyed, with GDP falling from $81.87billion in 2012 to only $48.32 in 2018.
As in Syria earlier, foreign powers, especially regional ones such as Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or the UAE, are seizing the opportunity to increase their influence. As a result, the multiplicity of actors and factors gets more chaotic, and state authority declines further or even disappears.
State Fragility/Failure and Its International Spill-Over
It is no wonder that the phenomenon of fragile/failed state is increasing, both in number and in degree, quantitatively and qualitatively (for definition and measurement, Korany 2019). Lebanon’sdefault on its economic obligations internationally and domestically, amidst mass protests to “change the system”, is the most recent addition on the fragile/failed state list. Lebanon’s unprecedented doom and gloom is confirmed by a recent assessment of the International Crisis Group (June 9, 2020). “Highly import-dependent, Lebanon has run out of foreign currency to pay for what it consumes, while the state is printing money to pay salaries and is unable to service the public debt. Banks have imposed tight capital controls, which have staved off financial collapse until now, but only by bringing much of the economy to a standstill, manifesting soaring unemployment. Many businesses have failed, and the state of ‘medical emergency’ imposed since 15 March to combat COVID-19’s spread will likely be the last nail in the coffin for many more. While a curfew stifled demonstrations and police cleared away the protest camp in downtown Beirut, street actions in late April suggest that virus-related hardships could trigger more unrest. Crunch time may come when the state, strapped for cash as tax revenue collapses, cannot meet the public-sector payroll or when hyperinflation wipes out the real value of people’s incomes. State institutions, including the police, may start to disintegrate, and what have been mainly peaceful protests could turn violent”.
As the “State” has traditionally been since the 1648-Westphalia Treaties the basis of international order, its fragility/failure is affecting this order. Another international spill-over of state fragility/failure is the flood of refugees/migrants, demonstrating at more than one level the domestic-external interconnectedness. In its most recent report, the UN High Commission for Refugees specifies that out of the 20.6 million refugees for 2019 , Syria tops the list accounting for more than 30%, exactly 6.6 million. Already in 2015, Leonard Doyle, spokesman for the International Organization of Migration, said “[…] nothing has been like this since World War II. Millions cross the Mediterranean at great risk. For instance, of the 45 thousand that crossed in 2013, 700 died in the process. The following year this number rose more than four times to reach 3224.”
Indeed, the Mediterranean has shown itself across these recent years to be also a mass grave. The photo of Syrian child Alan Kurdi, found lifeless by a rescue ship on the Mediterranean beach, spoke more than a thousand words.
Securitization is replacing interdependence
Though refugees and migrants could be a needed source of new and youthful blood for Europe’s ageing population, their flood is now securitized- i.e. viewed as a threat. So are other instances of interdependence such as the discovery of new natural gas. The optimism of an IAI’s 2016-study (Gitlin) about the possibility of trans-border pipelines with Turkey as a security link between the Mediterranean and Europe has not materialized. Instead, conflict escalated with Turkey’s 2019-maritime demarcation agreement with Tripoli’s contested government and its increasing military involvement. Opposition by other Euro-Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Cyprus shows that Turkey’s link with Europe and even NATO is . Interconnectedness of conflicts and their widening/deepening continue to grow.
The way-out of this multi-layered insecurity complex is a regional architecture based on CBSM, confidence and security-building measures. But this is a topic of a separate article.
Cingoli, Janiki (2016),The New Energy Resources in the Centre-East Mediterrenean.Rome, IAI
Dris-Ait Hamadouche,Louise :“ A New Approach for Managing Conflicts “ in Korany ,Bahgat (editor,2014), Arab Human Development in the 21st Century (10th anniversary UNDP Arab Human Development Report) . Cairo and New York: American University of Cairo Press, pp167-214
Kaldor,Mary (1991 & 2012), Old and New Wars. Cambridge, Polity.
Korany ,Bahgat (2019)”The Middle East Since the Cold War: Movement without Progress “,in Louise Fawcett (editor) : International Relations of the Middle East. Oxford, Oxford U.P. (5th edition): pp80-94