Unconditional Commitments? Germany and the EU in Libya

The Libya conference in Berlin has reached a consensus between all parties involved: a militaristic solution to the conflict is impossible. However, the path towards peace will not be an easy one. Nonetheless, the EU and Germany are inclined to play an essential role in facilitating a long-lasting solution.

On Sunday, all protagonists were present, including President Erdogan, President Putin, Sarraj, and Haftar. All committed to upholding the arms embargo and ending military support for the conflicting parties. Any violation against these points is supposed to get sanctioned.

After the summit and the agreement, Germany’s Foreign Minister Maas was confident that it was the first step to end the conflict and open a political process for peace, while Chancellor Merkel spoke of a comprehensive agreement towards a peaceful solution under the umbrella of the United Nations. Both also emphasized that the summit was only the start of a long process. “I have no illusions that this will, of course, still be a difficult journey,” said Merkel, while Maas said that the summit only provided “the keys” to resolving the conflict in the long-term.

While the result is a positive step in the right direction, it also raises the question of how the implementation of the decisions will be monitored and safeguarded and what the sanctions for violation could look like. For this reason, the foreign ministers discussed the results in Brussels on Monday, while also attempting to establish Europe’s contribution to the crisis further.

After the meeting, EU’s Joseph Borrell stated that the EU countries had agreed to refocus its efforts in the Mediterranean Sea towards the adherence of the UN arms embargo in Libya. As so often within the EU, details on what precisely this entails were infinitesimal. However, Borrell stated the issue would be discussed in more depth over the upcoming weeks in order to facilitate a coherent solution swiftly.

However, indications suggest that the EU could deploy military to Libya that would be a task with monitoring the process and the ceasefire. On Saturday, Borrell had already suggested the latter. His statement on Monday did not recant his original idea but did not provide any clarity either.

Nonetheless, European member states such as Italy and Greece have already pledged their commitment to sending soldiers. Other foreign ministers did not rule out a deployment of troops either. Europe’s proclivity for a potential military operation is not a surprise nor an act of human kindness. It is, first and foremost, an attempt to avoid yet another migration crisis on the continent. Thus, a stable and peaceful Libya remains on top of the EU’s agenda these days.

However, as Germany’s Defense Minister Kramp-Karrenbauer rightfully stated, a sustainable ceasefire and lasting security will not merely occur automatically. The deployment of personnel is the next necessary and logical step in the process.

Given its initiative so far, Germany would be forced to participate in such an operation also. Kramp-Karrenbauer has stated that Germany was ready to evaluate what this contribution could exactly look like, however.

However, Chancellor Merkel has already dampened the idea and warned that one should not discuss the next but one step before the first one, meaning, the circumstances, must be appropriate and security guaranteed. It leaves little doubt that Merkel will not risk casualties amongst German nor EU soldiers on a peace mission in Libya. Moreover, Maas also rebuffed the idea at this point, as the current fragile ceasefire had to become a permanent one first.

The issue with these statements is obvious. With Europe remaining reluctant to pledge its commitment for a military mission at this stage, the steps now are taken will become obsolete with no presence to monitor the agreements immediately.

Time is of the essence, however, as all Libya summit participants and the EU assured to meet again during the first half of February. Till then, Germany, in particular, will have to display that its leadership role in this matter is more than lip service and a diplomatic charade, but that it will hold when the chips are on the table, i.e., action follows of diplomacy.