Each of us has his own definition of “geo-history”, and mine is the interface of the “geopolitical” and the “world-historical.”
We are marked by two anniversaries, that of the start of WW II in 1939 and its end in 1945. Fascism was a unique regime of terror, with a strategy of unbridled ‘exterminism’ and therefore constituted a unique political evil in world history. However, outside of its type of regime, strategy and tactics, was its ‘grand strategic’ goal also unique or was it not? Is there a resemblance or homology between, on the one hand, the doctrine of Ein Reich, the telos of world domination, a Thousand Year Reich, and the military moves of Germany and its Axis partners in the run-up to WWII, and on the other, that of a unipolar world order and global military expansionism; of open-ended unipolar global leadership? Is there a continuity or homology between on the one hand, the wartime US Grand Area planning for the postwar world (the documents of which were unearthed by Noam Chomsky), and the present Indo-Pacific strategy and on the other hand, the notorious earlier search for Lebensraum? Is the Indo-Pacific strategy an insistence on “maritime Lebensraum”?
If the answer is yes, and the two paradigms can be superimposed upon each other, then history provides only one answer: the united front and its extension, a global grand alliance. But a united front and grand alliance with whom, to what end?
Politics is combat. International politics is international combat. By the “suicide” of the Soviet Union (that post-mortem verdict was Fidel Castro’s), the Empire was unbound and it is now threatening world peace and the future of humanity itself. Every single arms control agreement (bar one) has been unilaterally renounced, but before that came the rollback of the Yalta and Potsdam agreements with the destruction of former Yugoslavia and the expansion of NATO. Now the empire seeks to dominate the entire global theatre in all possible spheres. This should not come as a shock or surprise. It is almost a law of physics (perhaps it should be called ‘geophysics’) that once unwisely unbound, the Empire would uncoil, spread, expand, and seek to dominate—in short, that the Empire would seek to behave as an empire.
The geohistorical question facing humanity today is how to constrain the Empire, but not return to the old delusions of how to do so. The Empire must be initially counterbalanced and then constrained– bound– permanently, until, as in the case of the Roman Empire, there is a benign change of beliefs (in this case, political) from within its own society, its own citizenry and not as before, a change in its external posture which proves in the long geo-historical term, to have been merely ephemeral, conjunctural, even tactical.
The Empire’s strategy as concerns Russia is quite simple to understand. It is a re-run of the strategy that enabled them to prevail in the Cold War. It is to provoke Russia into an arms race and exceed prudent spending limits, cause economic hardship and generate enough discontent that the citizenry, especially the young, will agitate, thereby causing psychological exhaustion and catalyzing peaceful democratic “regime change”, bringing into office a capitulationist/collaborationist administration sooner or later, in the wake of the end of President Putin’s term. Meanwhile, what is being played out in Hong Kong foreshadows the geohistorical endgame envisaged by the Empire for China and Eurasia as a whole.
By its global offensive, imperialism has potentially overstretched itself morally, ethically and politically. Not since Vietnam has imperialism had a potential target profile which is so large and so exposed. The targeting of Iran when that country has not violated the JCPOA can be turned into a massive indictment on the twin grounds of reason and logic as well as of natural justice. Similarly, the targeting of Venezuela can be exposed for the absurdity that someone who did not even run for Presidential office should be recognized as the legitimate President of a country. So also, the unilateral withdrawal from arms control agreements can be exposed for the danger this poses to humanity.
One of the most important principles of asymmetric political resistance is the identification of the most important strategic real estate as the moral high ground. The moral or moral-ethical high ground is the seizure and occupation of that terrain of argument which is recognized and recognizable as more rational, reasonable and of broader benefit to humanity, assuring “the greatest good of the greatest number” according to universal values and norms and not merely national or regional values and norms.
The main axial routes and themes of the political struggle should be Peace and Sovereignty. Firstly, these are themes that have a universal or near-universal resonance. Secondly, they allow the critic to fight for and occupy the moral high ground because the West has only a toehold on the moral high ground in all these cases. Thirdly, they are also the main achievements of humanity that are threatened by the Western offensive. Fourthly, they are themes that are likely to have resonance among peoples the world over, albeit with greater or lesser emphasis in different areas of the globe.
This great struggle cannot be waged with the guiding ideology solely of or governed solely by “State Interest” or “National Interest.” It can only be waged by the recovery of the spirit of “internationalism” that was present in the entire Soviet period. It is little appreciated that Stalin, the father of ‘Socialism in One Country,’ and political leader of the Great Patriotic War waged an international campaign against fascism. Even in periods of isolation and siege, Stalin’s perspectival approach was never one of a cultural or civilizational preoccupation. The struggle for Peace and Sovereignty, Against Interventionism and Global War, requires the building of global opinion and a global movement.
A contemporary Realist would immediately grasp the opportunity which has opened up in post-Cold War history, namely of compensating at least partially for the loss of those territories and Russia’s Western buffer, the rollback of Yalta and Potsdam and the USSR’s wartime gains and the advance of the NATO borders up to Russia, by the geostrategic gains on the Eastern front through the renewal of partnership with China. Obviously, this has been recognized and acted upon but it has yet to be optimized by the kind of diverse yet solid strategic relationships that the USA has through NATO in the West, and Japan and many other states in other parts of the world. A Realist would recommend a re-visiting, retrieval and revision of Article 1 of the 30 Treaty signed by Stalin and Mao, which recognizes that the security of Russia and China are indivisible and that any aggression against one will be regarded as aggression against the other and responded to accordingly.
There is a contradiction between the Western project of the encirclement of Russia and the intellectual response to that encirclement. One of the reasons for that contradiction is the fact that academies and think tanks have been shaped and formed by and sometimes in the decades of ‘peaceful coexistence’ and later ‘détente’ with the West and are almost structurally unprepared for the change in the global geopolitical-geostrategic ‘ecology’ as it were. These institutions were formed or reshaped by party edict as adjuncts of the tasks of negotiation with the West and the competition (which became enmity for a period) with China. They are structurally oriented towards the West; their institutional faces are turned westwards. Their entire spirit and ethos are those of partnership with the West and suspicion of China stemming from the 1960s and 1970s.
Institutions need to reflect the tasks of the new times, those of facing the West as an adversary in a protracted Cold War encompassing a global hybrid war; facing encirclement by the West and the global offensive of the West. Perhaps new joint analytical and academic institutions should evolve as intellectual-scientific superstructures of the SCO, BRICS, the Astana process and most importantly the partnership with China. A Russo-Sino joint think-tank or ensemble of think-tanks of Advanced Studies, as an intellectual microcosm or advanced prototype of a strategic alliance (not merely a strategic partnership) seems an imperative need.
The threat to Russia is nothing less than deeply, profoundly existential. If Iran is disaggregated by military action two things will result simultaneously. In a small scale equivalent of the collapse of the USSR and the dawning of the unipolar moment after the Cold War ended, there will be a dramatic shift of the balance of forces within the global Islamic community or ummah, to the Wahhabi/Salafists, just as in return to pre-1979, Western power is projected right back into an arena dangerously proximate to Russia’s ‘soft underbelly’ as the western analysts have always seen it. The intermediate ‘buffer state’ may not always remain so. Any deep damaging of Iran will also have global grand strategic implications of tightening the encirclement of Eurasia and weakening China.
Iran’s capacity for deterrence and if deterrence fails, its capacity for prolonged resistance and the same of Venezuela, will decide the level of resistance far away from Russia’s frontlines. If Afghanistan ended the USSR by bleeding it white, then the most effective Western policy in that theatre was to equip the so-called mujahidin with shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles to neutralize Soviet air power. If the USSR had not been so enmeshed in détente as to hold back the SAM-6s from and provide only a minimum supply of SAM-7s to the Vietnamese, then the damage inflicted on the US may have been such that it could not have gone on the offensive in Afghanistan a mere three years after the withdrawal from Saigon. While the US had no compunction in providing shoulder-fired to the Afghan mujahidin, with whom they had nothing in common ideologically, knowing full well that they would cause Soviet casualties especially among pilots, the USSR did have compunctions in providing SAM-6 batteries and a far more generous quantity of SAM-7s to the Vietnamese who were ideological comrades. The Vietnamese used to wryly remark to those of us in the Vietnam solidarity movement in Asia, that had the USSR provided them with the quantity and quality of air defense missiles that it gave the Arab states in the same period, the early 1970s, the Vietnamese would certainly have used them more effectively and with less losses than did the Arab armies.
That is perhaps the best single piece of explanatory evidence as to why the US recovered so fast from the Vietnam defeat while the USSR unilaterally withdrew from the Cold War and collapsed. It was a matter of will, and the consistent clarity of the US that the USSR was the enemy, and the determination to prevail over it. Later, the successor state of the USSR, the Russian state, with the Russian armed forces as its core, was seen as the enemy—even when the Russian administration and leadership may have been seen as a useful quasi-ally, partner and even ‘friend.’ Thus, on the questions of Iran and Venezuela, a contemporary Russian ‘dialectical and historical Realist’ analysis would consider a ‘reverse Brzezinski.’
China appears caught in a contradiction within an irony. The contradiction is that having entered the world capitalist order dominated by the West and become a major player within it, it now finds itself vulnerable to both economic and military threats simply because it proved to be strong enough to be an economic competitor but not strong enough to prevent, deter or prevail over a military build-up triggered by the inherently hierarchical and hegemonistic character of the system it had bought into. The irony is that China had found itself caught in a contradiction because it had forgotten Mao’s theory of contradictions which draws a fundamental distinction between antagonistic and non-antagonistic contradictions. China regarded the competition between itself and the West as a purely economic and therefore non-antagonistic contradiction, but the world system being not only an economic system but one of power, China’s peaceful rise was perceived by the West not as a ‘friendly’ or non-antagonistic contradiction but precisely as an antagonistic one, to be responded to not merely by economic means but also by military means, namely the biggest build-up of an armada in recent history through the Indo-Pacific strategy.
The irony is a dual one, because it was China that first cautioned the USSR about the idealistic and utopian nature of the project of “peaceful economic competition” with the West, but later pursued it with greater zeal and success than the USSR ever did or could. In the 1960s and 1970s, China had established a methodology of identifying the contradictions in the world at any given period and went on to hierarchize those contradictions. The listing would naturally shift over time and became irrationally anti-Soviet at one point; an irrationality that lasted a long period. However, the methodology of discerning, identifying and ranking contradictions was a realistic one, because it alerted China or anyone who used the dialectical framework, to the reality of antagonism, of hostility, in the world arena.
If the world’s foremost military power which disposes of the greatest destructive force known by history, regards one or more countries as adversaries, indeed as The Other(s), and backs up this policy perspective with the actual offensive disposition and concentration of men and material over time, then basic survival instinct should dictate that the states designated and treated as adversaries should seek to combine their military and non-military strengths to countervail and deter such a power which regards them with hostility and as threats. There are several such countries but only two such great powers, and these are Russia and China, in whichever order. Those who opine that Russia can slip out of this siege by living down a perception of a special relationship with China and associating as closely or even more closely with other great or big powers, seem to forget that Western moves against Russia’s interests preceded its renewed hostility to China.
The bottom line is that in any objective, dialectical and historical Realist analysis of Russia’s core interests, no relationship with Europe can be a substitute or even on par with a partnership with China. Not all vectors are equal, and some are certainly more equal than others.
Since neither Russia nor China can countervail the US-led Western alliance on its own, a closer equation is needed between the two than between either Russia or China and any other big power or powers. No other big power, however friendly, is the target of unremitting and adversarial Western action, and therefore will not take the same risks for either Russia or China as each of them should logically do for each other, since they both stand threatened and targeted. A Concert of Big Powers cannot be a substitute for a defensive United Front or coalition of states, of which the Russia-China relationship will be the main alliance, consisting of those sovereign states actively threatened in a military-economic sense by the West.
These are the strictly personal views of the author.
From our partner RIAC
Su-57 = Next-gen Eurofighter
As I have demonstrated on other occasions, the “best” US combat aircraft for export, the F-35, is basically worthless. The decades old F-16 and F-18 in updated configurations are better. F-22 is truly remarkable but is in limited numbers, will not be built anymore (tools destroyed), and is not for export. The EU Eurofighter is behind in the generation race for modern combat aircraft. The French too. The West is losing out.
The EU wants has now embarked on the creation of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) which includes a next-gen Eurofighter. The initiative is right – but the EU is hopelessly behind.
France is laughable. A paper linked to in a Euractiv article (link now removed) described France trying to even develop an aircraft-carrier able next-gen fighter aircraft. For one single French aircraft carrier? Ridiculous.
To have a truly competitive next-gen combat aircraft, we need an aircraft with superior flight and combat parameters for tomorrow – and we need an integrated electronic & human combat-system with a generic package with avionics, sensor, weapons control & battlespace to put into not one but a range of aircraft platforms (manned and unmanned). The EU has neither.
The EU will never reach the finish line even in 2040
the EU teams up with Russia.
Russia has a big vital part of what is needed: A truly superior aircraft platform, the Su-57. The EU has what it takes to develop the rest and turn that into a true No.1 global leader in combat. Together, the EU and Russia can and will do it.
This will be a game changer. It will not only revolutionize combat. It will also be a peace project for the EU and Russia – sharing with each other some of the most sensitive technologies in security. The EU would grow independent of US military technology, and Russia would stay independent of Chinese military technology. Both will be boosted up in the global tech-race. Win-win.
Pakistan and India are vital to both Russia and the EU. Two important countries with immense human resources.
India is vulnerable because of the lack of remarkable next-gen aircrafts for export from the West. And though extremely strong in R&D, India cannot lift such a project on her own. India needs a truly competitive combat aircraft to balance China’s great products, the J-20 and the FC-31/FC-35.
Pakistan needs superior combat aircraft too. The only thing which should keep Pakistan away from buying next-gen combat aircraft from China (J-20 and FC-31/FC-35) should be, if there is a better combat aircraft available to Pakistan, than what the Chinese can offer. And that is exactly what this idea is all about.
I sense that Russia (and probably the EU) in such a project would be willing to export a possible EU-Russian combat aircraft to both Pakistan and India. But we must think further.
We should put this into the frame of peace between Pakistan and India. Peace between Pakistan and India means that they are not enemies which should fear each other’s air forces. But more than that. A peace agreement is a step – a crucial one – but still a step to bring lasting peace. Lasting peace means peace in the minds of people on both sides – and cooperation.
Can you imagine a better area to cement peace between Pakistan and India than establishing joint work-teams on a common defense project? A lot of the knowhow needed (incl. IT & communication) is readily available in both Pakistan and India. So why not involve it for the common good?
In the frame of peace between Pakistan and India, there should be every reason to involve both Pakistan and India as development partners in a joint EU-Russia defense system. That will speed up the development-cycle widely beyond what the USA and China are capable of. It will also make the project much more affordable and expand the total sales-basis to pay for much more R&D.
Going further. The F-35 has a ridiculous short range of operations, no super-cruise to overcome long distances in a short time (key in modern warfare), and modest payload. The Su-57 as platform is superior in all these and more parameters. A Su-57-nextgen-Eurofighter will because of its vast range and speed widely make aircraft carriers obsolete. Together, Pakistan and India will command the Arabian Sea and the oil-lanes with such an aircraft. No foreign aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean could operate against Pakistan-India safely out of reach of such a Pakistan-Indian air force. It will of course be integrated with space-assets and surface/subsurface assets. Imagine for yourself the game-change that this could bring in the Pacific and Arctic too.
The EU and Russia will remain the core. And this project will have to start in practical ways. Starting by gaining trust between the EU and Russia by working on concrete sub-projects. Small beginnings for big ends. The same with involving Pakistan and India – together.
Small beginnings for big ends.
Comments are welcome.
From our partner RIAC
Afghanistan: The US Withdrawal, India and the Future Possibilities
Afghanistan is the worst affected state due to the great game, cold war politics and now emerging Asian power rivalry. The latest US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021 has led to the speculations over the anarchy and terror rule that may engulf the country.
The division of India was triggered not only by the internal political dynamics but by the external factors too. The ‘Churchill Plan’ that envisaged a trifurcated India in order to protect the future interests of Britain in Indian subcontinent has still its vestiges alive. Churchill wanted to ‘ensure the continuation of British hold over India through a division of the sub-continent into three independent constituents under British hegemony in one form or other. Besides India and Pakistan it had the option of ‘Princestan too’ (Krishna Balraj). As part of the ‘great game’ in the post-world war II era the state that has suffered the most at the hands of cold war actors is Afghanistan which is still struggling for a free and responsible government devoid of the civil war nightmare.
The Afghan politics has remained divided over the decades between the tribal forces and the political institutions and the failure of the unstable political institutions have provided a space for tribal groups, Islamic organizations and the local warlords to throw stakes in state power. The disintegration of USSR in a more fragmented world led to the revived interest by global and regional powers in the Central Asia and Afghanistan which provide a significant outreach to Indian subcontinent, China, Russia and the natural resource reservoirs of Central Asia. Now Afghanistan has turned into a centre of power rivalry not only between the old cold war actors but also with the stakes from India and China, the newly emerged powers in the continent.
The Background of the Current Syndrome
Since the fall of monarchy in 1973 and the interim period of political instability (that saw assassinations of Afghan leaders like Prime Minister Mohammed Daoud Khan and his family, President Nur Mohammed Taraki and President Hafizullah Amin) and the fall of Afghanistan to communists under Soviet invasion in 1979 that ended in 1992 with the resignation and assassination of President Mohammed Najibullah several centers of power have emerged. There have been several ethno-linguist groups (about 14 major groups, mostly Sunni and some smaller ones) which have emerged against the communists and in the post-Najib era for grabbing power. Taliban, founded by Mohammed Omar, a fanatic commander emerged as a major force that according to Carole Hillenbrand (2015) rose from ‘the US-Saudi-Pakistan supported mujahideens’ and grabbed power in 1996 from Burhannudin Rabbani (who had found Islamic States of Afghanistan in 1992) and controlled about three quarters of Afghan territory till 2001 when US Coalition forces dethroned them in view of 9/11 for the establishment of a democratic government.
Taliban’s rule, though recognized by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE only, from 1996 to 2001 has been the worst phase in Afghan history on account of retrogressive policies and was opposed by Northern Alliance. United Nations and OIC never recognized the Talibani government that controlled around 90 p.c. of the territory in 2001. Northern Alliance that controlled rest of the area is the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan formed against Taliban and is a group of leaders like the former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, former Defense Minister Ahmad Shah Massoud, leaders of several other ethnic groups like Karim Khalili, Abdul Rashid Dostum, Abdullah Abdullah, Mohammad Mohaqiq, Abdul Qadir, Asif Mohseni and others. After the removal of Taliban a transitional government was founded under Hamid Karzai who got elected in 2004 and ruled till 2014 when the current President Ashraf Ghnai replaced Karzai on the issues of failing to check corruption and illegal drug production. The flourishing of democracy in Afghanistan has been a welcome development and the National Assembly represented Islamic fundamentalists, reformists, communists, and many Talibani leaders too.
The Return of Taliban
Since the interim government of 2001 till 2021 the Taliban has grown stronger and the US has lost interests in stemming its tide and decided to withdraw. Since invading Afghanistan in 2001, the United States has spent $2.26 trillion on the war, which includes operations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Taliban has still a stronghold in the southern and eastern Afghanistan and US troops who have suffered over 2442 causalities over a period of two decades and have failed to crush it and are left with no option but to go for negotiation table and settle for Taliban’s share in governance (Watson Institute Report). “Sealing the border would be politically difficult, and the burden of doing so would fall primarily on the United States. In addition, it would take time, since the Taliban have the momentum. Defeating the Taliban would require at least 100,000 new reinforcements as long as the Afghan–Pakistani border remained open to insurgents. Neither the United States nor NATO is willing or able to pay the human and fiscal costs of reinforcements at this level” (Gilles Dorronsoro 2021). So a convenient withdrawal of US forces marks the return of Taliban.
Democratic Institutions and the question of Legitimacy
Since 2004 democracy in Afghanistan has failed to earn legitimacy and has been going though testing times against the insurgents and retrogressive forces. While the Karzai government completed successful two terms and engaged in great reconstruction project it couldn’t earn legitimacy among the diverse sections due to different reasons. The Ghani government has also performed moderately since 2014. The National Unity Government (NUG) under Ghani failed to deliver what it had promised in uniting all power groups in Afghanistan, reduce conflict and bring stability in military situation and begin a peace process with the Taliban. President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah have so far failed in meeting the objectives. Taliban’s gaining control over Kunduz, Farah and Gazni has dwarfed the status of Ghani government to the extent that US itself bypassed the government to enter into an agreement with Taliban in Feb. 2020. As part of that agreement, the US committed for the full withdrawal of international forces and the Taliban promised to prevent other groups like Al Qaeda from the use of Afghan soil against the US, a major US security concern.
Keeping to the words, ‘US president Joe Biden announced in April 2021 that all American troops would withdraw from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021’. NATO allies have said they would do the same, and troops have already begun leaving. The Pentagon has said there were about 2,500 US troops there in recent months, and General Milley said in an interview that the total rises to 3,300 if special operations forces were counted. Military commanders feel that additional forces would flow in temporarily to help with security and logistics for the drawdown (The Guardian). However, as the US troops start withdrawing Taliban has increased pressure by targeting government forces which are left on their own to fight with Taliban.
US Secretary Antony Blinken’s March 2021 counsel to Afghan government regarding forming of a united front and planned diplomatic efforts for negotiation of peace and formation of a ‘transitional interim government’ as it happened in 2001 has met a rejection from President Ghani. In fact he forwarded a counter ‘ceasefire plan’ to Taliban and appealed them to take part in elections promising an early conduct of elections too. The primary issue is negotiation of the nature of future government. While the government looks for strengthening of the hard earned democratic institutions, Taliban looks for a Sharia based state based on Islamic laws that scares the Afghans, especially women who still remember the retrogressive conservatives exhibited by Taliban in its previous tenure.
The US Withdrawal, India and the Possibilities
The US decision to withdraw its forces reminds of the 1988 agreement between the United States, Pakistan, Afghanistan and USSR though which USSR had committed to withdraw its troops (completed in 1989) so that Afghanistan could return to normalcy, nonaligned status and democracy. However, various rebel groups joined by several rebellious government troops conquered Kabul in April 1992 and overthrew President Najibullah’s government. Consequently Afghanistan fell to Taliban (a force strengthened after the failure of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in meeting the US-Pakistani ends) and entered into a permanent state of civil war. It also reminds of the failure of US to sustain against longer wars as Taliban has proved to be another ‘Viet Cong’ for them.
The withdrawal of US troops implies several possibilities ranging from sustenance of democracy to derailing of it by the Islamic forces. Afghanistan may fall to the same old power rivalry of eighties as Russia this time sides with Taliban, a force created by US, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The Russo-Chinese understanding over the BRI and South Asia of which Pakistan appears to be an important partner excludes the Indian role. India has played a significant role in reconstruction of the war torn state but its presence has not gone well with Pakistan, China and now Russia. While Russia and Iran have been strengthening Taliban against US India’s role in future negotiations of Afghanistan has been overlooked by Russia recently, perhaps under the pressure from China and Pakistan. One more thing that didn’t go well with US was India’s opposition to deferring of the elections and forming of the ‘interim government’ as proposed by US.
Indian concerns also emanate from the fear that once Taliban gets a free sway in Afghanistan they might create problem in Kashmir, as they have done in the past. However, the recent US initiative of March 2021 when Secretary Blinken suggested a six member panel of the foreign ministers of China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States under United Nations to develop a “unified approach” to peace brings India to the discussion table which will definitely help it safeguard its interests in Afghanistan (The Hindu). For India it’s a time of taking some tough preemptive measures in order to plug the vent of terrorism against India. The consolidation of the Afghan government’s security alignments that includes the possibility of the revival of a ‘new national security alliance’ engaging the anti-Taliban warlords against the 70000 strong Taliban contingent is the need of the hour.
Prospects for a Settlement of the Libyan Conflict: Three Scenarios of the Mid-Term Forecast
More than ten years ago, in February 2011, the Arab Spring began in Libya. The armed uprising quickly escalated into an armed conflict that had Muammar Gaddafi overthrown. Since then, the civil war has not stopped in the country. At the heart of the current conflict in Libya is the confrontation between the Government of National Accord (GNA), located in Tripoli, and the Libyan House of Representatives, located in Tobruk. The government in Tobruk is supported by the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. In April 2019, the LNA attempted to seize Tripoli, but it was forced to retreat following months-long siege of the city.
2020 was marked by unprecedented efforts by international organizations, world powers and regional players, as well as attempts by both sides of the Libyan conflict, to resolve it by political means. On January 19, 2020, an international conference was held in Berlin, the participants of which called for the disarmament of all paramilitary groups and devised specific mechanisms for controlling the arms embargo. However, neither the conference resolution nor the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic led to—at least—a cessation of hostilities.
On October 23, 2020, representatives of the GNA and LNA signed a ceasefire agreement in Geneva, which the UN labelled historical. In November 2020, the Joint Military Commission, composed of representatives of the warring parties, agreed on practical steps to implement the agreement. In particular, agreement was reached on the creation of a military subcommittee to monitor the withdrawal of troops. On December 27, 2020, an official Egyptian delegation arrived on the first visit to Tripoli since 2014, where they discussed the prospects for mending Libyan-Egyptian relations as well as the economic agenda and security issues. Parliamentary elections in Libya are scheduled to be held in December 2021. Besides, there was agreement to hold a referendum on the Constitution in 2021.
Some politicians, scientists, and representatives of the expert and analytical community are optimistic about an early settlement of the Libyan conflict, but many of their colleagues, on the contrary, are quite skeptical. On the one hand, the escalation of hostilities that began in April 2019 has indeed subsided. On the other hand, experience shows that setting any specific dates for the electoral processes in Libya and provisions for transparent mechanisms to establish legitimate government bodies do not mean that elections will be held and their results will be subsequently recognized.
When predicting what the Libyan conflict will be in the medium term, it is necessary to take into account that the war in Libya is an absolute disequilibrium system. While the existing trends are susceptible to change sparked by the course of how things unfold, the conflict may take on new trajectories.
Scenario I. Political settlement
The civil war in Libya has been going on for more than ten years, and there have been repeated attempts to come to a political solution to the conflict over this time. The hope that this will happen remains. The efforts undertaken in 2020 to reach national consensus may not have been in vain as they could become a solid foundation for a political settlement of the conflict. The country may well manage to hold all-Libyan elections, with the people who will come to power enjoying relative legitimacy, both in the eyes of the world community and among ordinary Libyans.
Libya has 44.3 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. Cessation of hostilities will allow counting on Libya’s oil exports partially restored and, possibly, on new oil pipelines constructed. The long-awaited reconstruction of the transport infrastructure, oil production and oil refineries will ensue, which will play an instrumental role in the economic renaissance of the united Libyan state.
The new Libyan authorities will face a number of important tasks, including restoring production facilities, infrastructure and the housing stock of the country. Russian and foreign companies will have the opportunity to participate in the restoration of the Libyan state. At the meeting of the Minister of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation with the Libyan delegation on January 28, 2021, they discussed not only the prospects for diversifying trade between Russia and Libya but also avenues for participation of Russian companies in restoring energy, agriculture, industry, social and transport infrastructure in Libya.
China will certainly show its interest in the post-war revival of Libya. The GNA has welcomed the possible participation of China in reconstructing the country’s infrastructure once the war is ended. Over the past few years, Chinese diplomats have repeatedly met senior officials from the GNA to ultimately sign a Memorandum of Understanding under the Belt and Road Initiative.
There will be an opportunity to resume the deliveries of Russian weapons to the country. However, although the economic situation in the country will stabilize, the Libyan leadership is unlikely to have enough financial resources to pay for military imports. Competition with manufacturers from Europe and the USA may lead to a forced decrease in export profitability.
At the same time, there is a strong imprint of tribal relations on the Libyan society. Even if political peace is established in Libya, it will be quite fragile. The society will remain fragmented, which means that the risk of social tensions growing will remain. Extremist and terrorist organizations operating in Libya can use this to destabilize the situation in the country. Weapons proliferation (mainly small arms)—which for many years were virtually freely distributed throughout the country—will serve as an additional factor in a hypothetical social explosion.
Scenario II. Escalation
It is possible that the establishment of even a fragile peace in Libya will not take place at all. One of the possible scenarios may be another escalation of hostilities. There can be many nominal reasons for the opposing sides to bring forward mutual accusations. These range from provocations during the pre-election period to non-recognition of the results of electoral processes. As a result, this can lead to a sharp escalation of tensions.
As Stephanie Williams, head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, noted, every time the situation in Libya seems to have reached its lowest point there is a surge of violence. In September 2020, the UN announced that the LNA and the GNA—despite the relatively calm situation on the front line—will resort to receiving help of allies from abroad, thus accumulating modern weapons and military equipment. In two months, some 70 aircraft with suspicious cargo for the LNA landed at airports controlled by Khalifa Haftar’s army, and three cargo ships stopped in the ports in the east of the country. 30 aircraft and nine cargo ships delivered cargo for the GNA.
At a meeting on the Libyan political dialogue on December 2, 2020, Stephanie Williams announced that there are ten military bases in Libya that are fully or partially occupied by foreign troops and that host about 20,000 foreign mercenaries. The cessation of hostilities was used by the government in Tripoli and the LNA to cement their positions and enhance the combat effectiveness of their troops, including through assistance from abroad. In January 2021, it was recorded that the mercenaries were building a defensive line and fortifications—presumably, in order to repel a possible attack by the GNA troops on the LNA-controlled territory.
Against the background of the confrontation between Russia and the United States likely to intensify, the degree to which the conflict is internationalized may increase, much as the control over the arms embargo tighten and the role of private military companies as a foreign policy asset of individual states expand. Private military companies help reduce political risks that a state’s engagement in the war in Libya entails, while actively supporting one group or another by sending weapons, military instructors or mercenaries.
There is a danger of destroying the remnants of Libya’s oil infrastructure, the backbone of the country’s economy. Artillery shelling of residential areas will cause additional interruptions in water and electricity deliveries to Libyan cities. Illegal migrants attempting to enter the EU countries, especially Italy, will become more frequent.
The Republic of Turkey, which claims a leading role in the region and seeks to revive the “former greatness” of the Ottoman Empire, is sharply intensifying its actions. Most likely, Ankara will support the government in Tripoli, not only with weapons, but also with troops, as it happened in January 2020. Egypt will continue to support the LNA, as it hopes this can minimize Libyan weapons being smuggled into Egypt. At the same time, the possibility of direct military intervention by Egypt remains extremely low. Even if Turkey sends large military units to help the GNA, Cairo will be reluctant to enter into a protracted military conflict, the outcome of which is unclear. Moreover, a direct military clash between Turkey and Egypt is practically impossible on account of their belonging to military and political blocs. Rather, in response to Ankara’s decisive actions in Libya, Cairo will deploy troops on the border with Libya or transfer part of its units to the LNA-controlled Libya’s eastern regions. However, the prospect of the Egyptian troops advancing further to the West seems unlikely.
Scenario III. Maintaining the status quo
Despite attempts by both sides to embark on political dialogue, official statements by representatives of the opposing sides contain aggressive, accusatory rhetoric. For example, in a video message to the delegates of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, Faiz Saraj referred to Khalifa Haftar’s offensive in Tripoli in April 2019 as “a tyrannical attack of the aggressor.” In addition, he urged not to compare foreign support for the “militants of Khalifa Haftar” with the help provided to the government in Tripoli “within the framework of legitimate agreements.”
In today’s conditions, it will be rather difficult for the main political forces in Libya to organize the work of the central electoral commission and other bodies in preparation for the elections. Besides, it should be borne in mind that the GNA, the LNA and a number of independent armed factions operating in Libya can control the electoral processes and, if necessary, sabotage them. One of the parties may try to disrupt the elections altogether. At the same time, the escalation described in scenario II seems rather unlikely to occur, as the world community is paying greater attention to the war in Libya.
The war in Libya provokes conflicts in at least 14 countries in Africa and Asia, mainly due to weapons smuggling. Despite the possible strengthening of international control, maintaining the existing balance of power in Libya will provoke new conflicts and serve as a hotbed of destabilization in the neighboring countries, such as Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt. Should the next plan for a political settlement of the conflict fail, Libya risks becoming another Afghanistan, close to Europe.
What of the Libyans?
The last two scenarios seem to be the most likely. In 2019, the Arab Barometer. conducted a sociological study that clearly shows how Libyans themselves perceive the situation in their country and what they see as key problems .
Top challenges (Figure 1) cited include foreign interference (19%), fighting terrorism (16%), corruption (14%), security (13%), economy (12%), internal stability (9%) and political issues (8%).
It also turned out that Libyans have little confidence in political institutions (Figure 2). Among the most trusted institutions are the army (59%), the police (46%) and the judiciary (37%), while the least trusted are the government (10%), parliament (9%), and political parties (4%).
Figure 3 offers an interesting view of the surveyed Libyans on democracy. According to the polls, democracy is always the preferable political system (58%). At the same time, many rated democracy as indecisive (37%), unstable (34%) and bad for the economy (34%). With this in mind, it is possible that the Libyans are unlikely to trust their single government.
No matter how the conflict’s landscape changes, there is reason to believe that the Libyan society will in any case remain divided for quite a long time. Its further fragmentation will almost certainly occur against the backdrop of hostilities coupled with the pandemic and a decrease in Libya’s oil exports. Socio-economic problems will create additional space for radical sentiments growing. The Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations have high mobility as well as an ability to regenerate, which means that an attempt may well be made to revive a new Islamic Caliphate, albeit not as large as it is was a few years ago.
In the report of the Valdai International Discussion Club “The Middle East: Towards an Architecture of New Stability?”, Vitaly Naumkin, Scientific Director of the RAS Institute of Oriental Studies, and Vasily Kuznetsov, Head of the RAS Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, noted that the situation in Libya will affect the entire Maghreb in the foreseeable future. It is almost certain that Libya and the neighboring countries will be overwhelmed by a new wave of radicalization. According to the Arab Center for Research and Political Studies report, 2% of Arabs have a positive attitude towards ISIS and other radical groups, with another 3% having an extremely positive attitude towards them. This is the highest percentage since 2014–2015.
The situation in the region may aggravate, and it is necessary to increase effectiveness of the control over the transportation of weapons to and from Libya. In October 2020, the UN Security Council, chaired by Russia, adopted a resolution that extended the permit to inspect ships on the high seas off the Libyan coast. Indeed, this was the right step. With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, humanitarian aid to Libyans also remains relevant, and it may include supplies of the necessary medical equipment to equip hospitals as well as personal protective equipment, of which Libya is now experiencing a shortage.
From our partner RIAC
- Fedorchenko, A. Krylov, D. Maryasis, N. Sorokina, F. Malakhov. The Middle East in the Focus of Political Analytics: Collected Papers: on the 15th Anniversary of the Center for Middle East Studies, 2019. P. 49.
- Ibid. P. 452.
- Ibid. P. 12.
- V. Avatkov. Ideological and value factor in Turkish foreign policy [Vestnik MGIMO], 2019, no. 12(4). P. 124.
- Fedorchenko, A. Krylov, D. Maryasis, N. Sorokina, F. Malakhov. The Middle East in the Focus of Political Analytics: Collected Papers: on the 15th Anniversary of the Center for Middle East Studies, 2019. P. 24.
- Arab Barometer is a nonpartisan research network that provides insight into the social, political, and economic attitudes and values of ordinary citizens across the Arab world.
- Libya Country Report /Arab Barometer V. 2019. P. 2.
- Ibid. P. 3.
- Ibid. P. 5
- Ibid. 2019. P. 7.
- V. Kuznetsov, V. Naumkin. Middle East: Towards a New Stability Architecture? 2020. P. 16.
- The 2019-20 Arab Opinion Index: Main Results in Brief, Arab Center for Research and Political Studies. P. 58.
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