Liberté, Egalité…Complicité? Is French Foreign Policy Undermining Peace in Libya?


Following the Berlin summit, serious questions remain concerning French involvement in Libya. Do French interests align with UN resolutions and can President Macron remain committed to promises on domestic security whilst toeing the international line?

Present at Sunday’s summit were Fayez al-Saraj, prime minister of the UN-backed Government of National Accord and General Khalifa Haftar of the Libyan National Army. Whilst both leaders declined to meet or participate directly in the talks, provisions were made for both sides to meet in Geneva at a later date, hopefully enabling an enhanced ceasefire to take effect. The key principle agreed by participating dignitaries at the summit was the immediate removal of foreign elements from Libya, a vital step in containing the conflict. Other resolutions included a reiteration of the much maligned arms embargo, a ban on foreign mercenaries (principally directed against notorious Russian contractor Wagner), alongside a demand for all parties to “respect international humanitarian law and human rights.” These and other provisions represent positive steps in the quest to reduce civilian suffering and promote peace in Libya.

However, numerous political commentators have questioned the willingness of the summit’s participants to enforce these resolutions. Chatham House analyst Tim Eaton called the resolutions “a gentleman’s agreement that could be enforced if the will is genuine, or could soon fall apart with allegations of violations and mutual recriminations.” Whilst the culpability of ‘usual suspects’ Russia and Turkey in transgressing prior edicts on Libya is well established, a reticence to comply with UN resolutions has proved equally detrimental to France’s diplomatic record.

Since acceding to the presidency in 2017, President Macron has continued to engage in the interventionism that characterized the rule of his immediate predecessors. In July 2017, Macron hosted formal peace negotiations between al-Saraj and Haftar in Paris, in a gesture of statesmanship designed to remind the world of France’s re-emergence onto the international stage. Whilst prompting a short-lived ceasefire and promises of future elections, these negotiations resulted principally in affording Haftar’s LNA a greater sense of legitimacy. As such, even before Macron’s involvement, and ever since, serious questions have persisted as to France’s role in sustaining the conflict.

Despite French claims to ignorance as the LNA advanced on Tripoli last year, few commentators have accepted this expression of denial as believable. That France has been covertly arming and training troops loyal to the LNA is an open secret. And despite President Macron outwardly lending support to the UN-backed GNA, French political and economic interests, namely the elimination of extremism and access to Libya’s oil and gas reserves, suggest a policy geared towards retaining at least some stake in the fortunes of General Haftar. The discovery of French missiles in an LNA camp, Haftar’s claim that he is supported “morally and from a security point of view” by Paris and France’s vetoing of a UN statement condemning the LNA advance on Tripoli, all serve to subvert the mirage of international consensus presented in Berlin.

Unpopular domestically, with vehement protests undermining his government, Macron may well deem it unthinkable to renege on promises made to protect France from jihadism. If, as has previously been the case, this ensures that France continues to covertly support the supposedly anti-Islamist LNA, those resolutions agreed in Berlin may indeed “soon fall apart,” as one of Europe’s stalwart powers places domestic security above the ideal of peace expressed in Libya. The political chic of exchanging human suffering in the West for demonstrably disproportionate suffering in other regions is a tragic indictment of western foreign policy – that requires urgent recalculation in order to to further prospects for peace globally.