During conflict, coercion and violence are used to enable and block political change, and also to obtain economic advantage. This makes efforts to transform the function and possession of the associated capabilities for violence both politically sensitive and delicate. Powerful vested interests will resist it. SSD is by definition a highly politicised process in the sense that conflict actors will try to use it to create a competitive advantage. The risks of instrumentalization of support offered by international actors are substantial. These risks do not necessarily decrease in the ‘post-conflict’ phase because contemporary intrastate conflicts are typically protracted and hybrid in nature, with violence continuing in certain areas of a country and/or exhibiting rapid changes in intensity. This makes it harder to delineate clear war-to-peace transitions, more difficult to focus on the longer-term, and more challenging to initiate effective SSD efforts. An obvious point to make is that SSD at national level can and should not take place without either a clear prior victory/defeat, or one/several political agreement(s) that unite(s) key warring factions around a common way forward on major governance issues – such as the distribution of (state) power, the nature and modalities by which it is exercised, the allocation of revenues, and how to reconstruct a halfway functional bureaucracy.[48]

Against this backdrop, reflections on SSD in Libya may seem to come at an odd moment as, since April 2019, the country has sunk back into more intense fighting after years of relative and negotiated calm. Large parts of the country are run by makeshift coalitions of armed actors that feature a broad variety of motives and intentions. Yet, if it is accepted that there is no place for SSD at scale in Libya at present, the time for reflection is in fact propitious because it can be undertaken without pressure for immediate action.

Based on the review of key episodes of the Libyan civil war between 2011 and 2018 and of 12 major security initiatives undertaken in this period, a number of critical observations on prospects for SSD in Libya can be identified to inform further thinking:

Key assumptions underlying the global SSD paradigm are not necessarily relevant in Libya, in particular that a unitary state exists that can be worked with and that there is a coherent bureaucracy (including security forces) that can be strengthened.
The central challenge for SSD in Libya is the fragmentation of the political and security environment with numerous armed factions competing to establish and maintain their authority. There is no permanent material or ideological connection between most of these factions. The nature and intensity of their relations varies significantly across place and time.
While, arguably, the main priority should be to consolidate these armed groups, this needs to be accomplished in a way that takes account of their interests, is reasonably well regulated and contributes as much as possible to ‘people-oriented’[49] security and professionalisation/ institutionalisation at the national level.
None of the modest efforts to strengthen the Libyan security sector have so far achieved these objectives. Instead, many exacerbated the fragmentation that undermines SSD prospects. Past operational and strategic fail factors must be prominently addressed in future SSD efforts.

Building on these observations, Table 2 below proposes eight points of departure for future SSD in Libya. They are relevant to any international actor wishing to engage in such initiatives, both at the strategic level of thinking through what SSD efforts should aim to achieve, and at the operational level of devising how SSD efforts need to be implemented.

Table 2
Strategic and operational points of departure for future SSD in Libya


What would SSD need to achieve?


How would SSD need to be implemented?

(1) Focus on the composition, professionalisation and institutionalisation of newly created national security forces to promote national loyalties and a shared sense of identity

(1) Possess a clear political strategy to negotiate change, underpinned by adequate diplomatic resources

(2) Cater to armed group interests to incentivise their cooperation and demand concessions from them that would enable SSD progress

(2) Organise entrepreneurial support in donor bureaucracies to deal imaginatively with the many challenges that will arise and avoid getting stuck in a ‘train and equip’ format

(3) Accept a plurality of security provision organised via reasonably good regulatory arrangements, a backstop capacity and a measure of citizen input

(3) Use an adaptive approach to programme design and implementation to ensure lasting flexibility and sensitivity to changing context

(4) Ensure coordinated international support to avoid stimulating conflict

(4) Craft a long-term engagement, meaning six years or more, to build the relationships and confidence essential for working towards SSD progress

Note: The details of each point are elaborated in Sections 3 and 4.

It is important to emphasise that these points represent an interlinked set of factors. They are not a menu of options. Moreover, in our analysis they are necessary conditions for the success of future SSD efforts in Libya, but not sufficient. This is because many other pieces of the puzzle required for effective SSD have not been discussed in this paper. These include: a) the need for a detailed mapping of the interests, relations and power dynamics between Libya’s top-20 armed groups, b) dissection of the nature, composition and interests of coalitions like the LNA, c) analysing political and security developments, in particular geographic areas with their own power dynamics such as Tripolitania, the Fezzan and Misrata, d) understanding the influence of ideologies like Salafism on the conduct of the war and expectations of future governance, and e) assessing the precise objectives, relations and type of support of key foreign countries such as the UAE, Egypt, Turkey, Russia and France for particular Libyan armed groups. Together, analysis of these issues will generate the strategic insights and operational parameters necessary to develop pathways for future SSD in Libya.

See for example: Development Transformations, Libya Security Actor Mapping Project an overview of Security Sector Reform in post-2011 Libya, Washington DC: DT, 2017.
While a little vague, we prefer the term ‘people-oriented’ over the term ‘citizen-oriented’ in our recommendations since the latter can create a divide in security status and provision between Libyans and migrants on Libyan territory. Given Libya's traditional attraction to migrants from across the Sahel region and beyond, this is undesirable.