The prospects for security sector development (SSD) in Libya have been bleak since at least April 2019. Although unlikely to change in the near future, now is the time to consider what kind of SSD initiatives should be set in motion once a window for such work opens in the country. The main challenge is a matter of conceptualisation. The Libyan civil war has caused widespread and intense social, political and military fragmentation. Many of these sociopolitical ‘fragments’ are both mistrustful and armed. Despite this, most previous SSD-type initiatives in post-2011 Libya attempted to pursue a form of centralised security. The analysis underpinning this report indicates that this is one of the principal reasons they failed.
Our research points to the need for a decentralised post-conflict model of security provision, with territories and communities in charge of their own security based on a shared set of principles and rules. It is inevitable that current militias will come to undertake state-sanctioned security roles. Yet, some leadership vetting and buying off a number of the more egregious individuals can limit the risk of entrenching the status quo. Moreover, to prevent a decentralised model from turning into an archipelago of warlord-run militia, it will need to be clearly regulated and feature a central backstop capacity that is able to mitigate abuses and excesses. This could consist of reconstituted and well-equipped ‘intervention brigades’ that represent the whole nation, and which, initially, may need to be provided by UN-mandated forces from across the region. Moreover, a decentralised model needs a credible mechanism that enables regular dialogue and renegotiation between ‘peripheries’ and the ‘centre(s)’ about the exact allocation of authority and security resources. In the meantime, under the umbrella of such decentralisation and continuous conversation, national security organisations can institutionalise and professionalise. Other essential preconditions for SSD – which must be included in any ceasefire agreement – include the centralisation of security funding, of modalities for force capability training and of the authority to promote security leaders to higher ranks, as well as an effective halt to partisan support by foreign powers.