22/07/2011

The Libyan Deadlock.

The situation in Libya does not seem to be showing signs of improvement. While Western forces continue to push for a negotiated outcome to avoid a recrudescence of violence as rebel forces are knocking threateningly on Tripoli’s door, Gaddafi has insisted that he will not go down without a fight.

Rebel forces have regained momentum in their quest for Tripoli and the strategic oil installations of Brega. It is difficult to say how long will be needed for rebel fighters to reach the Libyan capital, but the confidence of rebel fighters is growing. Rebel leaders in Misrata firmly believe that with increased logistical support from Western forces, the gates to Tripoli, Gaddafi’s last stronghold, could be broken in the coming days.

Back in Tripoli, Muammar Gaddafi is increasingly on the back foot but appears not to have given up. In his latest public audio statement, Gaddafi has refused to sit around the negotiating table with rebel leaders, reiterating that “there will be no talks between me and them until Judgment Day” (Al Jazeera). According to opposition officials, Gaddafi forces would be prepared to destroy Libya’s biggest oil installations in the port town of Brega if they were to lose this prime strategic location to rebel forces. Rebel forces and the West have been warned, Gaddafi will want to go down with a bang, quite literally.

Thus, the role of the West in preventing the conflict degenerating into a generalized bloodbath seems as paramount as ever. Until now, the West has pushed for a negotiated political outcome, while offering logistical support to rebel forces and carrying out targeted strikes against the Guide’s army.

As a negotiated political outcome remains the most sensible option, all eyes are now on the UN envoy whose proposals will seek a negotiated outcome to the conflict. UN Special Representative Al Khatib will be returning to Libya next week for discussions between the two parties in light of a potential negotiated outcome. The US and France have also put forth the possibility of allowing Gaddafi to remain in Tripoli if the latter agrees to stand down according to the terms of the UN proposals.

Meanwhile, both parties appear to shy any form of negotiating outcome, suggesting that NATO-led interventions over Libya will be set to continue. Indeed, the appointment of Leon E. Panetta as US Defense Secretary earlier this month has coincided with increased willingness of the Pentagon to strengthen NATO’s surveillance capacity in Libya. New US Defense Secretary Panetta had insisted that reaching a successful outcome to the NATO-led involvement in Libya was a top US priority.

Hence, while the outcome of next weeks’ talks must not be buried prematurely, the latest developments suggest that the Libyan chapter of the Arab Spring is far from over, as is NATO’s involvement in this messy affair. Should NATO have intervened in the first place? It is difficult to say. But it is now clear that, after Afghanistan and Iraq, a long and costly conflict awaits Western forces in North Africa.

 

Andrew Bower