The Mediterranean of Tomorrow

German foreign policy makers are calling for the Bundeswehr's deployment to Libya. The influence of European powers is dwindling

BERLIN/TRIPOLI (Own report) - New demands for deploying the Bundeswehr to Libya are being raised in Berlin. Already last week, Wolfgang Ischinger, Chairman of the Munich Security Conference, was pleading for the deployment of the navy or air force. On the weekend, Johann Wadephul, the CDU's foreign and military policy expert declared, "we may have to face difficult security policy tasks." At the same time, the revival of the EU's "Sophia" naval operation to prevent arms trafficking to Libya is being discussed. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas announced a UN Security Council resolution to enforce the arms embargo against the country, albeit apparently without material sanctions. If they were imposed, they would affect countries whose cooperation Germany depends on for its Middle East policy. According to experts, countries such as Russia and Turkey are replacing European powers as major influential external forces in Libya. The country could thus be "a preview of the Mediterranean of tomorrow."

"Not Duck Away"

Last week, influential politicians repeated demands for the Bundeswehr's deployment to Libya, which had been made particularly on the occasion of the Berlin Libya Conference on January 19.[1] Wolfgang Ischinger, Chair of the Munich Security Conference declared, should the UN Security Council decide an intervention in Libya, the German government, as "initiator of the Berlin process could of course not duck away." He suggested the possibility of deploying the German navy in the Mediterranean and the participation of German Tornado or AWACS aircraft on air surveillance missions.[2] Wolfgang Schäuble, President of the Bundestag, has principally spoken out in favor of expanding German military operations.[3] Germany should not simply "duck away" and "leave everything up to the French and Americans." Last weekend, Johann Wadephul, Vice Chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, in charge of foreign and military policy, also pleaded in general for new Bundeswehr missions. Asked about Libya, he declared "we might have to face difficult security policy tasks" in the near future.[4]

Arms Trafficking to Libya

At the same time, the debate on deployments is continuing within the EU. "We are discussing very intensively and energetically, what the EU can do with its own mission to monitor the arms embargo against Libya," Foreign Minister Heiko Maas explained on Sunday.[5] Maas had already called for the revival of the EU's "Sophia" naval operation shortly after the Berlin Libya Conference. "Sophia" was also supposed to prevent arms trafficking to Libya, which, it, in fact, hardly did. Whereas German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Josep Borrell support Maas's initiative, some EU member states firmly reject it because they expect that EU warships near the Libyan coast could again take in refugees. Austra's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is quoted as saying: it is "an obvious trick, to revive the 'Sophia' rescue mission under the guise of monitoring the UN arms embargo: Austria strictly rejects it, and several other countries do not want it either."[6] The EU should not be "controlling arms smuggling to Libya" in the Mediterranean, but rather "on the ground and in the air."

Sanctions without Sanctions

In fact, it is unclear, how a ceasefire in Libya or an arms embargo on that country is supposed to be enforced. On Sunday, Maas announced that a resolution being drawn up in the UN Security Council will "make it clear that all, who violate the arms embargo, must suffer the consequences."[7] When asked about the "consequences," Maas responded that a new "sanctions committee" should "name those responsible for the violations," then no one can believe that, "if he continues to supply support to Libya, that he will be able to get away undetected." Maas did not mention any form of material sanctions.

Allied Arms Suppliers

In fact, if Germany intends to enforce a ceasefire, it would have to take vigorous action against countries, on whose cooperation it depends in the Middle East. This is the case of Turkey, the main supporter of Prime Minister Fayez al Sarraj, and also of the United Arab Emirates, who is supporting Sarraj's rival, Khalifa Haftar with arms deliveries and air force operations. If Turkish arms exports would be stopped in the Mediterranean by EU warships, the tensions with Ankara could further escalate. That would not be in Germany's interests. Chancellor Angela Merkel had recently visited Turkey, to reduce tensions between the two countries.[8] The United Arab Emirates, on the other hand, are among Berlins most important partners at the Persian Golf - at a moment when relations with Saudi Arabia are very tense and Berlin needs Middle East allies. The Emirates are also among Germany's arms industry's best customers. This is why the war in Libya is also being fought with German weapons. ( reported.[9]) Given the fact that the Emirates deliver the weapons to Libya by land, the deliveries can only be halted with Egypt's cooperation, which, in turn, is also among the countries with which Berlin seeks close cooperation. ( reported.[10]) If Turkey, the Emirates and Russia - another Haftar supporter - do not consider it in their interests to impose a comprehensive ceasefire in Libya, Berlin's scope of political power to enforce it would remain limited.

Returning and Emerging Powers

Since some time, experts are discussing the problems Berlin and the EU are having in their attempts to restrain other countries' influence in Libya - Turkey, Russia, the United Arab Emirates. The Berlin Libya Conference "did not deliver what it promised," noted a specialist from the German Marshall Fund: "The developments on the ground suggest that the truce is fragile."[11] This has since been confirmed. "Europe’s incapacity of exerting influence in Libya" will also "weaken more and more its role in the broader Mediterranean," the expert continued. "The region’s countries will increasingly engage the returning and emerging powers." The expert sees Russia and Turkey among the "returning powers" and the United Arab Emirates and China among the "emerging powers." The development in Libya could be "a preview of the Mediterranean of tomorrow," one in which "returning" and "emerging" powers are shaping the regional dynamics, while the incentive to engage "with European countries" is dwindling.

War Danger

If this diagnosis is correct, after their loss of influence in Syria and, with demands for the withdrawal of their troops growing louder in Iraq, the European powers, are now facing further loss of influence in North Africa. From the perspective of German elites, it may be possible to reverse the situation with a military intervention. Because Berlin is hardly willing to give up the predominant position of European powers in their former North African colonies, the danger of a Bundeswehr deployment to Libya is growing.


[1] See also Berlin Libya Conference (II).

[2] Deutschland kann sich "nicht wegducken". 28.01.2020.

[3] Wolfgang Schäuble fordert mehr Auslandseinsätze der Bundeswehr. 31.01.2020.

[4] Hans Monath: "Wir sollten uns an nuklearer Abschreckung beteiligen". 02.02.2020.

[5] Stefanie Reulmann: Maas kündigt UN-Resolution zu Libyen an. 02.02.2020.

[6] Elisalex Henckel, Christoph B. Schiltz: Die nächste deutsche Regierung dürfte schwarz-grün sein. 03.02.2020.

[7] Stefanie Reulmann: Maas kündigt UN-Resolution zu Libyen an. 02.02.2020.

[8] See also Konfliktreiche Beziehungen.

[9] See also Arab Brothers in Arms.

[10] See also Mubarak 2.0 (II).

[11] Dario Cristiani: The Berlin Conference Showed Europe's Dwindling Influence in Libya. GMF Transatlantic Take, 24.01.2020.