While the media focusses on Libya through the Benghazi and Hillary Clinton lenses, the current geopolitical situation in Libya is basically ignored. While the leaders of the West dreamt of dispatching the despot of Libya to the hereafter, it has turned out that Libya and Libyans were far better off under Muammar Qaddafi's rule than they are now. As well, with Syria, Iraq and ISIS getting all of the mainstream media's attention, the collapse of Libya has gone pretty much unnoticed by the world. In this posting, I will first look at the collapse of Libya's oil industry and follow it with an examination of Libya's security issues.
As most of us are aware, Libya is a key repository of African oil. According to OPEC, Libya has 48.363 million barrels of proven oil reserves and 1505 billion cubic metres of proven natural gas reserves. Here is a map showing Libya's current oil and natural gas infrastructure:
Here is a graphic showing how Libya's oil reserves stack up to the world's largest oil holding nations:
Here is a graphic showing what happened to Libya's oil production levels between 2010 and 2014:
While the oil industry stabilized after Qaddafi's departure in 2011, it soon fell apart as the nation's oil facilities were taken over by different militia groups.
Here is a graphic showing where Libya's oil ended up in 2013:
The United States reinstated Libyan oil imports in 2004 after sanctions were removed, however the annual amount imported has remained quite small. In fact, if we look at this table, we can see how Libya's net oil export revenues have plummeted since 2013:
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, prior to the collapse of Libya, the government had plans to increase Libya's oil output to 1.7 million BOPD by the end of 2013 and 2 million barrels thereafter. Investments in enhanced oil recovery techniques were undertaken to offset the depletion of reserves in some fields and increase production rates in others. Prior to Qaddafi's ouster, Libya's oil industry was run by the state-owned National Oil Corporation (NOC) which was responsible for granting and managing exploration and production agreements with foreign oil companies. It also took part in exploiting Libya's oil resources through the Sirte Oil Company and the Arabia Gulf Oil Company.
Complicating the oil picture in Libya is the inability of the nation to sell its product. In mid-2013, the Petroleum Facilities Guard, a militia that had been responsible for guard key energy infrastructure facilities, tried to sell 7.5 million barrels of oil on its own authority, leading to a standoff with government forces. This has led to a further fragmentation of the nation's oil infrastructure with the only infrastructure still in operation being found in the Sarir region (eastern Libya), the Hariga port at Tubruq (held by the internationally recognized government) and the producing platforms located in offshore Tripoli (held by the Islamist government).
Now, let's look at Libya's security issues. The ongoing post-war divisions within Libya have rendered the nation militarily insecure. The borders with neighbouring nations have become very porous, allowing the movement of both jihadists and criminals into Libya. The length and remoteness of Libya's borders have proven to be a complicating factor when it comes to providing border security, particularly along the 1680 mile long southern border. As well, the fact that Libya was awash in small arms and light weapons including anti-tank missiles, mortars, assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and Grad rockets have led to even greater risks. According to RAND, the problem is very significant:
"France, Qatar, and other countries had also supplied the rebels with weap- ons during the war, with Qatar contributing more than 20,000 tons of weapons, including assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and other small arms. Qatar and France both also supplied the rebels with Milan anti-tank missiles. More important were Qaddafi’s own weapon stocks, most of which had been let loose during the war. The UN estimated that, at the time of Qaddafi’s overthrow, Libya’s armed forces held between 250,000 and 700,000 firearms, the majority of which (70–80 percent) were assault rifles. MI6 estimated that there were a million tons of weaponry in Libya, more than the entire arsenal of the British army. These weapons now threatened Libya’s security."
It is also estimated that Qaddafi had purchased as many as 20,000 Soviet-made man-portable air-defence systems (MANPADS), better known to the non-military public as shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles that can be used to shoot down aircraft. As well, there were 6400 barrels of partially processed yellowcake uranium stored in a facility near Sabha in southern Libya.
The rebel forces that overthrew Qaddafi were highly fragmented with divisions along tribal and regional lines as you can see on this map:
This will make it very difficult to create a centrally controlled and united national security force. While many militias are well-armed, they are far from capable of defeating infiltrating jihadists located in the east part of Libya where a significant part of the nation's oil infrastructure is located. ISIS has taken notice of Libya's weak border defences and has been making inroads into the nation by aligning its brand with existing Libyan Islamist groups. ISIS now controls Sirte and Derna which provides the group with in-country bases to attack Tripoli and Tubruq. In August 2015, ISIS affiliated quelled a major tribal rebellion in Sirte and in September 2015, ISIS unsuccessfully attempted a complex attack on a military facility in Tripoli to free prisoners.
What should be of concern is the fact that all of this is taking place within 450 miles of Europe's southern shores, a long and unguarded border. If there is any way of exporting ISIS-style violence to Europe, there appears to be very little that the West will be able to do to stop it, particularly since Syria and Iraq are getting all of the attention.
While the Qaddafi regime was less than palatable, its successor, a geopolitical vacuum, has left Libya and Libyans in far worse shape. On top of the problems created for Libyans by the sudden departure of their dictator, the world's oil markets could find themselves suffering from additional supply overhang if both post-Qaddafi Libya and post-sanction Iran contribute their ample supplies to the world.