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Armed to the Teeth: The Security Problem with Libya and its Weapons Cache


A Weapons Market in Libya

A Weapons Market in Libya

When the Libyan Civil War ended with the death of Muammar Gaddafi in October of 2011, the country rejoiced, as they had finally rid themselves of tyrannical rule that lasted 42 years. Shortly after, the National Transitional Council (NTC) declared Libya “liberated” and announced the plans to hold elections in eight months time. This revolution was viewed with admiration across the globe and was seen as the sign of a Libyan democracy for the first time in history. However, rebel forces and rogue militias continued to operate independently from the NTC and chaos ensued, with clashes erupting between conflicting factions and terror reaching its culmination in the infamous Benghazi attack on the U.S. consulate office in September 2012. The liberation and relative peace that many expected falling the overthrow of a ruthless dictator slipped away.

For present-day Libya, the installation of an effective, democratically elected government now seems little more than a pipe dream. Groups that originated as anti-Gaddafi rebels transformed into armed militia groups, which the national government has been unable to control. The result is a country that is mostly lawless, with the same militia groups providing protection and border security, but simultaneously terrorizing people and committing grave human rights abuses. The insecurity in the country came to the forefront of global attention when Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was abducted by armed militia men in October 2013.

While a lawless Libya may not be at the top of Western agendas of global affairs, the conditions that exist have created a scenario that could have extremely adverse effects on global security. It is a situation that requires sincere attention before the environment spirals out of control.

Libya lies on the North Africa coast and stretches well into the heart of the Sahara Desert, giving militia groups inroads into terrorist hotbeds in North Africa, Sahel and West Africa. This expanse and the lack of security throughout  provide the perfect conditions for terrorist groups to operate unabated across much of the country. Recently, armed Libyan groups composed of former employees of border security and units of the Petroleum Facilities Guard have seized control of the oil industry, blocking ports and oil fields and limiting oil production, the backbone of Libya’s economy. These groups have taken this economic opportunity to show their ability to stand up to the fragile government and enforce demands. Bold actions such as this display exactly how weak the central government really is.

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of a lawless Libya is the arms trade. With millions of weapons leftover from the Gaddafi regime and the civil war, and little control by government officials, outdoor food markets have been transformed into massive arms markets, where dealers display a variety of illegal weapons that can be had for the right price. The United Nations is investigating alleged illegal transfer of weapons to 14 different countries, fueling armed conflict. Here in lies the problem.

With virtually no control over the country and a huge cache of weapons readily available to be bought inside and outside of the country, Libya has become the supermarket for terrorist groups and armed militias. This is in spite of an arms embargo imposed by the U.N. at the onset of the 2011 uprising.

By showing the initiative to negotiate illegal international arms trade agreements while lying in close proximity to many international terrorist groups, Libya has become a major threat to world peace. The extent of the arms present in the country even include larger  weapons, such as man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS). If Libya militia groups and arms traders are allowed to continue to operate unfettered, how long will it be until larger weapons are being bought and sold by terrorist networks?

While the U.N. is trying to clamp down on the illicit arms trade pouring out of the country with expert panelists and potential sanctions, the reality is that unless powerful governments such as the United States and Western Europe take a greater interest in the situation, the environment will only become that much more volatile and the dealers that much more astute. In an area that lies near safe-havens for known terrorist organizations, such as Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Al Murabitun, access to more powerful weaponry is the last thing that the world needs. Luckily in early 2014, the U.S. and other governments were able to facilitate the destruction of Libya’s toxic arms collection or these would be at risk of hitting the international market.

Investment in security services to the centralized government are vital in stabilizing Libya and cutting off the illegal arms trade market before it becomes to much of a threat to control. With a plethora of violence across the continent the world does not need a facilitator to provide the means for terror groups to unveil their wrath. A unified initiative showing support for the Libyan government is the first step to preventing the continued illicit arms trade and avoiding transforming Libya into another hotbed for terrorism. If nothing is done soon to control this situation, then the consequences could be catastrophic for global peace.



Daniel Donovan

Daniel is the Executive Director of a non-profit development organization that focuses on building infrastructure and training in rural Sub-Saharan Africa called the African Community Advancement Initiative ( . He has a Master's degree graduate in International Relations with an emphasis on conflict resolution and development in Sub-Saharan Africa. Coupled with his extensive financial background, Daniel also works as a consultant for Consultancy Africa Intelligence in Pretoria and the Centre for Global Governance and Public Policy in Abu Dhabi. In addition to his work at FPA, he is also a regular contributor to The Continent Observer and International Policy Digest. He currently resides in Denver, CO.