Italy Sets its Sights on Libya

Libya is one of the most critical flashpoints in the Mediterranean and the broader Middle East region. The consequences of its instability have already spread throughout North-West Africa and Southern Europe, above all Italy, and are a major security threat for the whole international community. To raise awareness on the Libyan crisis and on the challenges stemming from it, the Italian Atlantic Committee, in partnership with “Abhath” – Al Thuraya Consultancy and Researches in Abu Dhabi, the Mediterranean-Gulf Forum and the Atlantic Treaty Association, organized the Roundtable “Libya and the Future of Cooperative Security” which was held in Rome at the Center for High Defense Studies, Italian Ministry of Defense, on May 7, 2015. Government authorities, prominent political leaders and experts from Italy, Europe and the Middle East, took part in this initiative featuring two working sessions.

The first session addressed the causes of the crisis, paving the way forward for The Stabilization of Libya. After the fall of the old dictatorial regime and the establishment of new institutions, no extensive stabilization and reconstruction plan was implemented, precluding the consolidation of a central authority able to prevent the proliferation of militias, terrorist groups and criminal syndicates, these latter being the makers of human trafficking and the refugee emergency. Thus, Libya plunged into a state of unceasing disputes and increasing fragmentation. The internal conflict between Tobruk, where the internationally recognized government and parliament are located, and the Islamist-dominated forces in Tripoli further enhanced the power vacuum until the recent rise of militants tied to ISIS. While the calls for lifting the arms embargo to the legitimate Libyan government have intensified in order to establish the basic security and stability conditions, the ongoing negotiations under the UN aegis have not yet delivered a political settlement and a new national unity government stabilizing the country and warding off its division. Against this backdrop, the session examined the security fallouts of the Libyan crisis on neighboring states; the course of the military operations conducted by the legitimate government against militias and terrorist groups; the involvement of regional actors and the chances that the UN negotiations will bring about the national reconciliation putting an end to the internal conflict.

The second session promoted the discussion over the adoption of A Strategy for Italy in Libya. Terrorism, the immigration emergency, energy security: Italy is exposed to the effects of Libya’s instability more than other European countries. The ISIS appearance prompted the Italian government to advocate the use of force to timely address the terrorist threat before it can expand without hindrance reaching also Italy. However, the statements issued by the most authoritative exponents of the Italian government were probably more intended to raise the attention of Italy’s allies in NATO and EU, who do not seem prone to an active engagement in Libya, rather than to show Italy’s actual willingness to assume the leadership of a new military operation. The Libyan scenario is liable to a further deterioration and, in this view, it is crucial for Italy to develop a consistent strategy, one able to identify the national interests at stake, and to serve as a beacon to Rome’s action in Libya and in the region. This session focused on the necessity to outline such a strategy, including the measures to effectively face the terrorist threat and the immigration emergency. As Libya’s privileged partner in the Mediterranean, a major diplomatic role of Italy was endorsed in favoring the formation of a new national unity government ensuring the stability, territorial integrity, political moderation and socio-economic development of the country.

With the Roundtable “Libya and the Future of Cooperative Security”, the Italian Atlantic Committee aimed to foster cooperation between decision makers and experts on the stabilization of Libya. Solving the Libyan crisis is a crucial test for the commitment to the principles of solidarity and cooperative security in the Mediterranean. Therefore, the UN, the UE and NATO’s allies, along with regional strategic partners such as Egypt, are called on to undertake common policies with a view to guaranteeing a future of security in Libya and across the Mediterranean.