NATO powers Britain and Germany are at odds over how to help Libya’s new so-called “unity government” push back against the growing threat of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).
Three days after world powers met in Vienna to offer aid to the UN-brokered “unity government” in Tripoli, NATO foreign ministers are considering their role in stabilizing the country.
“NATO has a clear mandate that we should stand ready to support the new government in Libya if so requested,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said before the meeting.
“We are not addressing any potential combat operation.”
Areas of NATO support are likely to include the setting-up of a Libyan defense ministry in the lawless country, and to work with the European Union to train police and coastguards.
Britain would like to see the training of personnel take place in Libya itself, whereas Germany is adamant training should be conducted over the border in Tunisia.
Allies are also divided over whether NATO should be training a new Libyan military, targeting arms smugglers or stopping flows of migrants across the Mediterranean as calmer summer weather approaches, something Italy and Spain support.
“We have to define how we coordinate European Union and NATO efforts to reduce migrant flows,” Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said.
Diplomats say Libya would have to make a formal request for NATO and the EU to go after smugglers in Libyan territorial waters, and NATO would possibly even need a UN Security Council resolution.
The new Libyan government, which has yet to establish itself across the country, is also wary of being seen as a Western puppet and is keen to prove its independence.
“We have a NATO offer to the Libyan government to do more training and capacity-building there, which the Libyans have not yet opened formal conversations with NATO about,” a senior US State Department official said.
IS seized control of the former Gaddafi stronghold of Sirte last year and has secured its most important base outside Syria and Iraq in the Libyan coastal city. It has struggled to hold on to territory elsewhere in Libya, however.