A number of countries around the world have staked a claim to being the most dangerous country in the world. In recent years, anarchic Somalia, war-torn Syria, unstable Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan have all given analysts good reasons to award them this dubious distinction. However, one country may have emerged to overtake all of these contenders, Libya. Since the civil war that resulted in the overthrow of long-time strongman Muammar Qadhafi, Libya has descended into chaos, with rival governments and militias battles for control over different parts of that country. As a result, Libya went from being a highly centralized country during the Qadhafi dictatorship to one that has turned into the Somalia-of-the-Mediterranean.
In Africa, the chaos in Libya has allowed militant groups to gain access to vast amounts of weapons and to sow chaos across much of West Africa and the Sahel. In Europe, Libya’s chaos has allowed it to become the transit point for migrants seeking to reach Europe from all parts of Africa. Given its strategic location, the unrest in Libya cannot be ignored by the international community, or else it will severely destabilize a much wider region.
At the moment, Libya is a deeply divided country, with no central power exerting its authority over a majority of the country.
In the capital Tripoli, an internationally-recognized government is in place, but its authority extends little beyond Tripoli, and its control over the capital is tenuous at best. In the eastern part of Libya, a rival government under the control of the renegade General Khalifa Haftar controls Benghazi and most of that region’s other main cities. In between these two rival governments are a number of powerful militias based in cities such as Misrata and Zintan, with each rival government attempting to gain their support. General Haftar has even reached out to Russia, hoping that it will play a role in Libya similar to its intervention in Syria’s civil war, only this time backing his forces rather than the government based in the capital city. Regardless, Libya is a mess, with weapons and armed militants throughout the country and with many areas of the country under the control of small, but heavily-armed, local militias. Add to this mix radical groups such as the Islamic State and a array of human trafficking organizations, and it is easy to see just how dangerous Libya has become.
Obviously, it is Libya itself that has suffered the most disruptions from the collapse of state control inside that country. However, the longer the chaos lasts in Libya, the greater the impact this chaos will be outside of the country’s borders. The immediate concern is in adjacent areas of Africa, as countries such as Mali, Algeria, Tunisia, Niger and others have already experienced severe disruptions as a result of the flow of militants and weapons from Libya to those countries. As long as the situation in Libya remains as it is, militants will continue to have a base in the more remote areas of southern Libya from which to operate, while having access to arms and new recruits.
Meanwhile, Europe is also facing major potential threats to its security as a result of the chaos across the Mediterranean. Already, Libya has become the main route for migrants from other areas of Africa as they make their way across the Mediterranean Sea in a bid to first reach Italy and then travel to other destinations across Europe. Last year, nearly 180,000 migrants used Libyan ports to reach southern Europe and this number is just the tip of the iceberg, given the rapid population growth, and the lack of jobs and security, across many areas of Africa. Furthermore, Libya has become a route for terrorist groups to infiltrate Europe via Italy, sending militants disguised as migrants northwards. For Europe, Libya’s descent into chaos is akin to having Somalia or Afghanistan located just across the sea.
At present, it appears that there are few prospects for peace and stability in Libya, as no single power is yet able to gain control over the entirety of the country. The country’s most powerful militia, that controlled by General Haftar, will need external support if it is to expand its territory to the west, hence its efforts to woo Russia in recent months. However, there is little appetite for external action at present, as the United States moves to reduce its footprint in the region and Russia is tied down in Syria. Meanwhile, Europe, the region with the most to lose should Libya’s anarchy continue, has been blamed by many inside Libya for the country’s current situation, as France and the United Kingdom rushed into Libya’s civil war in 2011, but had neither a plan nor the capacity to secure the peace in that country once Qadhafi was ousted from power. As a result, if General Haftar’s forces are not backed by an international power, Libya will certainly remained a deeply divided state and one that has the potential to severely destabilize both Africa and Europe.