x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Diplomatic tools needed to fix a broken Libya

As Col Qaddafi digs deeper, a diverse set of tools, both carrots and sticks, are needed to avoid a protracted stalemate in Libya. Most importantly, it's clear that more active diplomacy will be critical to ending the impasse.

At the close of the London conference on Libya's future on Tuesday, the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon dispatched his special envoy to Libya. In doing so, Mr Ban told delegates, the UN would seek to maintain direct channels of communication "with all sides on the conflict".

It might seem odd that, at an international gathering with the unstated aim of aiding rebels to overthrow Col Muammar Qaddafi, the UN chief would encourage a diplomatic mission. And yet, as the stand-off between opposition fighters and loyalists drags on, it's clear that diplomacy will be critical to end the impasse.

As Col Qaddafi digs deeper, a diverse set of tools, both carrots and sticks, are needed to avoid a protracted stalemate. Over-reliance on force alone won't end this crisis any time soon. As the Turkish diplomat Selim Yenel said: "More and more military actions will push people into a corner." That principle has kept Ankara talking to the regime even after it voiced support for the Nato campaign.

Another way to isolate Col Qaddafi, but not harm ordinary Libyans, could be to increase economic pressure. While an arms embargo and sanctions have cut his supply lines, it hasn't eroded enough support to force his hand. About $33 billion in Qaddafi assets is already frozen; high-ranking loyalists should realise that they will also be targeted for perpetuating this fight.

In charting a political path forward, Turkey has offered to mediate and Italy has suggested Col Qaddafi honour a ceasefire in exchange for exile. The US president Barack Obama, in his first clear statement of US Libyan policy on Sunday, left the door open to diplomacy while at the same time threatening to supply weapons to the rebels.

It is little wonder that world leaders doubt carrots, by themselves, to lure Col Qaddafi into exile. He has proved viciously tenacious when backed into a corner. And even if he agreed to leave, his sons including Saif al Islam might resist going quietly.

This is a delicate juncture. It might be possible to prevent a protracted civil war or territorial stalemate, but the risks are high. If the coalition does decide to arm the rebels, it would require western boots on the ground to train and support them.

So a diplomatic foray is welcome; indeed Turkey has been cautious in keeping communication lines open. But the Qaddafi regime should make no mistake - diplomacy is backed by a military commitment that is shared by Nato and Arab states alike. If the regime refuses these overtures, it faces a war that it will lose.