US Foreign Policy

Stimson Experts Respond to Events in Libya

in Program

By William Durch and Ellen Laipson – Secretary-General
Ban Ki-Moon is sending his special envoy for Libya,
Abdel-Elah Al-Khatib, and his special adviser on post-conflict planning for Libya, Ian Martin, to Doha, Qatar,
to discuss how the United Nations might support the multi-faceted transition
from Moammar Qaddafi’s eccentric rule to a new political, social, and economic
order. Ban has offered support in the realm of security, rule of law, social
and economic recovery, constitution-making and electoral processes, human
rights and transitional justice, and coordination of support to Libya from its
neighbors and the international community. All of these are subjects that UN
peace support operations (PSOs) have addressed elsewhere, with varying degrees
of success. None of them have been in the Middle East,
however, although the region is the cradle of traditional peacekeeping – the
kind that monitors ceasefires between states, but stands apart from the
political process. Although such an operation in Libya would be a first for the UN
in the region, the politics involved are distinct from the region’s other
political struggles and the operation could be deployed without crossing any lines or
confronting issues related to those struggles.

UN PSOs have implemented peace accords growing out of battlefield stalemate in
long-running conflicts and thus power-sharing agreements between former
adversaries. Other places have
suffered relatively brief but intense conflict that has ended, like Libya’s, in the
equivalent of military victory – although not necessarily at the hands of a
principal domestic political player. Thus, NATO air action pushed Serbian
security forces out of Kosovo, while international pressure induced Indonesia to pull its occupying forces and their
affiliated militias out of East Timor. In both of these cases, the UN itself assumed temporary administration of these
territories. In both cases, however, internal factions fell upon each other, in
Kosovo almost immediately and then five years later, taking NATO (and the UN)
by surprise both times. In Timor, it happened six years after the initial
intervention, taking a downscaled UN operation by surprise.

the NTC is the recognized, if interim, governing authority. Its win is due in
no small part to NATO dominance of the air, its willingness to share
intelligence with the NTC, and its use of force against Qaddafi. But NATO
ground forces will not move into Libya
to provide high-end security, as they still do in Kosovo, nor will a sequence
of coalition, then UN, forces provide it, as was the case for several years in East Timor. The winning side(s) in Libya will wish
to see to the country’s security themselves. Threats to that security may
persist from pro-Qaddafi diehards but the greatest threat will likely emanate
from the tendencies of semi-professional fighting forces to split along ethnic,
regional, or egotistical lines, or to engage in reprisals against erstwhile
enemies. Since, in Qaddafi’s case, many of his forces appear to have been
imported, they may be at risk of reprisal, as are immigrant workers from the
same countries or those who bear resemblance to them.

the UN deploys a PSO to Libya,
it may face some difficult choices or at least some difficult to implement, but
mandated, tasks. One of these may be monitoring the peace with unarmed
observers. Another may be disarming, demobilizing, and repatriating expat
Qaddafi fighters. A third may be protecting civilians – a logical extension of
the mandates laid down by Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973, this time
focused on the NTC and its forces – but the UN is unlikely to be allowed to
field armed forces to do so, and certainly could not do so in sufficient numbers or agility
to confront triumphant militias. Libya, nonetheless, will need modern police to maintain
public safety. Militias, or militaries of any stripe, are blunt and awkward
instruments of law and order, and poor substitutes for police – at least the
sort focused on protecting communities rather than rounding up and torturing
opponents of the regime. History testifies that such institutions take a decade
or more to build to a sustainable level of professionalism, as do their
necessary counterparts in courts and corrections. The UN’s record in building
such institutions is mixed – as is the record of most other outsiders who have
tried. In the meantime, Libyan public safety and security will be assured by…what?

democratization, and especially elections are elements of political
transformation with which the UN also has experience. It is better at elections
than in the other two areas, since constitutionalism and democratization may require both political and cultural transformation. Libya, then, offers a kind of test
case for the thesis that governing institutions – the apparatus of the state
and the public services it generates – should precede electoral politics; that
legitimacy should be earned first by action and then ratified by vote.
Elections can be messy and divisive, but the unanswered question that
accompanies this approach is: what keeps the apparatus from stopping short of
elections? And who will raise their voices if it does?

Bill Durch, Senior Associate and Director of Future of Peace Operations Program


The imminent collapse of the Qaddafi regime adds an important new dimension
to the Arab revolt.  Unlike the largely peaceful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt,
change has been achieved through armed conflict between the forces of the
Libyan state and an impromptu rebel army supported by NATO air action. 
Also unlike Tunisia and Egypt, which are still working through legal,
political, and constitutional changes (leading some to judge that those
“revolutions” are incomplete or have failed), the outcome in Libya
cannot be seen as anything other than complete regime change.  The
idiosyncratic policymaking of the Qaddafi era will be replaced by new
institutions and processes.  The Libyan case in both its means and its
outcome is more dramatic and more comprehensive than what has transpired so far
in Libya’s
two neighbors and elsewhere in the Arab world.

For the United States,
the decision to work through the United Nations and to have NATO allies take
the lead has proven right.  Despite the criticism that NATO forces, absent
a more robust American leadership role, were taking too long to finish the
task, US
policy has been validated on several scores.  First, the Libyans
themselves determined the pace and the strategy for ousting Qaddafi. 
Ground action and shifts of loyalty by key communities and groups were critical
in causing the collapse of the regime.  The NATO contribution, focused in
particular on protection of civilians, contributed to but did not determine the
outcome.  Second, the US
stuck to its position that allies with a greater stake in Libya should
shoulder more of the burden for taking action.  It is a clear message
about a more sustainable distribution of responsibility and resources for
international security.

For the region, change in Libya
is a great opportunity.  Libya’s
population and weight in regional politics are modest, but it is rich in
natural resources and can, over time, achieve social and economic stability
that its poorer and more populous neighbors might envy.  But Tunisia and Egypt
have much to offer Libya
in transition, and outside actors seeking to support democratization efforts
would be wise to work on a regional level and promote strong Libyan ties to its
more politically advanced neighbors.  In fact, once Qaddafi goes, the
outlier in North Africa will be Algeria. 
From Morocco to Egypt, only Algeria’s leaders are resistant to
the spirit of reform.  Their own tragic and failed experiment in
democratization in the early 1990s led to a decade of violence and civil
war.  Many efforts at regional integration across North
Africa have foundered on the divergent politics of the distinct
nation states.  Change in Libya
creates an opportunity for greater similarities in the political cultures of
the region, so that economic and political cooperation could be less prone to
the deep rivalries and competition of the past. 

Ellen Laipson, President and Director of Southwest Asia Program

Photo credit: Crethi Plethi, Flickr.[email protected]/5466890626/


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