At the end of the Libyan Civil War in 2011, the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi largely reset Libyan foreign relations and the state’s overarching foreign policy. The National Transitional Council (NTC) put forth its “Founding Statement” on March 5, 2011, proclaiming that the new government “request[s] from the international community to fulfill its obligations to protect the Libyan people from any further genocide and crimes against humanity without any direct military intervention on Libyan soil.”
With Libyan autonomy setting the stage for the state’s foreign policy in 2011, the NTC then requested assistance from the international community in order to completely dislodge Qaddafi and his loyalists from the country. This foreign aid was requested in the form of medical supplies, money, and weapons, rather than foreign boots on the ground.
With oil being the primary source of Libyan national wealth, relations with foreign oil companies and countries with nationalized oil sectors have been of great importance since the transition to the NTC in 2011. Companies like Eni (Italy), Total (France), BP (UK), and many major American oil companies continue to be invested in Libya’s stability and economic success.
Foreign Policy under Qaddafi
Foreign policy under Muammar Qaddafi’s regime (1969-2011) in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya underwent much fluctuation and change. Tension with the West - especially with the United States - marked Qaddafi-era foreign relations until just before the Libyan Civil War of 2011. Over his forty-two year rule, Qaddafi’s foreign policy greatly impacted the nations surrounding Libya, characterized by the Libyan government’s financial and military support of paramilitary and rebel groups across the region.
At the beginning of his regime, Qaddafi’s principal foreign policy goals included Arab unity, the elimination of Israel, the support for Palestinian armed groups, the advancement of Islamism, and the riddance of foreign influence in the Middle East and Africa. With a revolutionary mindset, Qaddafi sent financial aid along with military armaments to numerous armed groups around the world, from Fidel Castro in Cuba to the IRA in Ireland.
Due to Qaddafi’s support for anti-Western groups and throwing support behind many global attacks, tensions formed between Libya and the United States. In 1979 the U.S. government declared Libya a “state sponsor of terrorism,” leading to reciprocal tension in both Washington, DC and Tripoli. Additionally, the UK and Germany, among others, saw Qaddafi’s regime as threatening, with Libya-funded terrorist attacks taking place across Europe.
Islamist and communist groups around the world saw support from Qaddafi, with relations between Libya and the Soviet Union producing major arms purchases and communist advisors within the Libyan Jamahiriya. After the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, Libya focused on expanding its diplomatic ties with Third World countries and increasing commerce with Europe and East Asia. However, when the UN imposed sanctions in 1992, these ties diminished over the years, causing Qaddafi to choose bilateral relations versus a “Pan-Arab” mindset.
During the 1990s, Qaddafi’s shift away from Pan-Arabism led to closer bilateral ties with continental African countries, particularly with Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco. Looking south of the Sahara, Qaddafi proposed a borderless “United States of Africa,” and sent significant financial aid to fuel internal African disputes in the DRC, Sudan, Somalia, CAR, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, among others.
After attempting to create several chemical weapons facilities in Libya, Qaddafi eventually abandoned the idea after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. In the same year, Qaddafi also paid compensation for several terrorist attacks that the Libyan state had funded years earlier, attempting to normalize its relations with the West. By 2004, U.S. President George W. Bush lifted sanctions on Libya, resuming official relations and opening a liaison office in Tripoli. Subsequently, The United States removed Qaddafi’s regime in 2007, after twenty-seven years, from the “State Sponsor of Terrorism” list. In 2009, Qaddafi was selected to be chairman of the African Union and spoke at the 64th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York, marking his first visit to the United States.
With the start of the Arab Spring in 2011 in Tunisia, Gaddafi condemned the revolution in the neighboring country, voicing solidarity with ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Authoritarian crackdowns on protests in Libya that same year swiftly set back the improving relations between Libya and the Western world. The United States, the UK, Italy, and other Western countries, condemned Qaddafi’s brutal use of force on regime dissidents. Subsequently, Libya was suspended from the Arab League on 22 February 2011, causing Qaddafi to mock the league’s efficacy.
In March 2011, a coalition of UN member states began military operations in Libyan airspace and territorial waters after the approval of UNSCR 1973. The goal was to prevent further attacks on civilians as Qaddafi-loyalist forces closed in on the National Transitional Council’s (NTC) headquarters of Benghazi. During the Libyan Civil War of 2011, all EU and NATO member states withdrew diplomatic staff from Tripoli, shutting down their respective embassies. On 23 October 2011, the NTC announced that Qaddafi had finally been caught and killed, marking the end of the brutal regime and its consequential foreign relations.
Post-Qaddafi Foreign Policy
With the Qaddafi regime on the run, Libya was reinstated on 27 August 2011 into the Arab League under the leadership of the NTC. A month later, the African Union officially recognized the NTC as the legitimate representative of Libya, allowing the country to rejoin the organization. In addition to this, the NTC was asked to represent Libya in the UN, with then-Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stating that the UN would work with the “Libyan authority” to help the country transition towards democracy.
Under the NTC, representative missions were sent abroad during the Libyan Civil War, with several countries recognizing the NTC as the sole “governing authority” in Libya. Many of these countries invited the NTC to take over their respective Libyan embassies and diplomatic offices.
Today, the Government of National Accord (GNA) was seen by the UN as replacing the NTC (and later the GNC) after the Second Libyan Civil War. The GNA was formed on 17 December 2015 under the terms of the Libyan Political Agreement - a UN-led initiative - and was unanimously endorsed by the UN Security Council.
As for foreign policy, the GNA has ardently opposed foreign influence in Libya’s political processes, however, major regional and international players have posted stakes in Libya’s future as the country continues to be rife with conflict.