Russia is seeking more access and freedom of movement in the Mediterranean region, and is bolstering its military footprint to achieve this objective. The United States and NATO could respond by developing a more robust southern strategy, with a reinforced air and naval presence, respectively.
The Libyan conflict, now entering its ninth year, could well be a testing ground for how wars will be fought in the future. External nation-states have long interfered in other countries' civil wars, so what is new, exactly, about what is happening in Libya?
Weapons proliferation has been a security concern for Libya and its neighbors since the revolution of 2011. If foreign arms transfers into Libya aren't reduced, the country's security situation will continue to deteriorate, giving militant groups a chance to increase their lethality and further destabilize the region.
The Libyan Civil War has largely been contained to pockets of violence. Prolonged battles decimated cities such as Benghazi, Derna, and Sirte, but the majority of the country has been spared large-scale destruction. However, that could change soon.
The prospect of a U.S.-North Korea summit has led to analogies between the present case and that of Libya, which abandoned its longstanding quest to develop nuclear weapons in 2003. But a better precedent would be the 2015 deal that froze Iran's nuclear weapons program.
Many of ISIS's surviving fighters will seek out new battlefields to continue waging jihad. By coordinating with its allies around the globe, the U.S. could work to help alleviate the conditions that lead states to fail, making them less appealing as sanctuaries where terrorists can rest, rearm, and recuperate.
Treating migration from Libya as a border security issue has reduced migration across the Mediterranean. But efforts to keep migrants in Libya are fraught with risks, exacerbate a massive human rights problem, and do not address Libya's long-term economic and political stabilization.
Since Gadhafi was removed from power, Gulf nations have been vying for position in Libya through proxy forces to influence political outcomes. Libya's rival militias — armed and funded by their respective Gulf sponsors — set the framework for the civil conflict that erupted in 2014 and continues today. Current tensions between Qatar and its neighbors are adding to the instability.
Steps are needed to fill the vacuum left as the caliphate collapses, lest forces on the ground turn on each other to gain control. The answer is for NATO to act under U.S. leadership. The alternative is either chaos or Iran, backed by Russia, filling the void.
The countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea are facing unprecedented stress. A former lieutenant with the Italian Navy is now a RAND researcher, working to help others appreciate the scope of the crisis.
The fight against terrorism in Tunisia is a shared priority and responsibility with the U.S. and Europe but will also depend greatly on solving the security issues in neighboring Libya, according to participants at a March 23 conference at RAND.
Five years after the uprising against Qaddafi and the civil war that followed, Libya is now home to the second-largest and fastest-growing Islamic State group affiliate outside Iraq and Syria. The U.S. and its allies need to step in to help restore Libyan sovereignty.