When NATO’s Non-War Ends

Can post-Qaddafi violence be prevented?

As US President Obama tries to convince the country that the military action in Libya is not technically a war (why only Libya?), it is beginning to seem as though the intervention in the North African country may be coming to an end. The rebels are beginning to march towards Tripoli under the protection of continued NATO air strikes and Vegas odds are probably against Qaddafi retaining power of the country. Though it is clearly good that the fighting may be over soon, Libya’s problems should continue for sometime now.

I had previously predicted that the fall of Qaddafi would be met with national confusion and violence as the new government is attempting to fill the large vacuum that will be created by Qaddafi’s downfall. Philip Eliason predicts that the fall of Qaddafi’s Tripoli could result in the slaughter of anyone associated with the regime:

We know from Iraq, various African states, Bosnia and Afghanistan that turfing out a dictatorial regime which has made lifetime enemies leads to some frightening retribution. In Iraq, pilots, academics, the literati, those working on anything linked to nuclear science, business people with Ba’ath links, wavering co-religionists, those of other religion, various ethnic groups, suspected agents, the remnant middle class and more were targets for killing and kidnapping.

This is what we face in Libya. Can the leadership of the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) hold back decades of aggrievement when its militias reach the capital?

Obviously, with Qaddafi’s forces located mainly in Tripoli, this type of violence will not be nationwide. Yet, as the Iraqi example points out, such vengeful violence is contagious and will likely harm the ability of the transitional government to tackle other pressing issues. Eliason offers several suggestions to the TNC and NATO:

First, obtaining explicit recognition by the TNC that it controls its fighters and has ordered and can enforce international norms on treatment of civilians and non-combatants as its forces advance under Western protection.

Second, that the TNC agrees to halt outside Tripoli and NATO ceases attacks for a period of political bargaining over steps towards a post-Qadhafi Libya (which is likely to fail through distrust but needs to be given a chance).

Third, NATO and its members declare that it will apply international legal sanction against either side which contravenes applicable laws, treaties and conventions relating to protection of civilians during the final settlement and post-settlement periods.

Fourth, NATO should convene a supervising but humanitarian and protective force to take control of Tripoli and other western population centres to facilitate transition, as occurred, for example, in Sierra Leone. The object is to create among regime beneficiaries enough confidence to give up and decrease the benefits to the rebels to do more than restructure governance arrangements along lines generally acceptable to NATO states; wholesale disbanding of police and military formations should be avoided. The Arab League needs to be invited into this process.

Fifth, NATO states should establish long-term joint judicial processes to handle accusations against former regime members. NATO also needs to advise on and support prison arrangements. No equivalent to de-Ba’athification should take place.

Sixth, the TNC is clearly in need of governance capacity-building across all sectors, including civil society and nascent business groups, especially farmers’ organisations. Libya has yet to catch up from its period under sanctions and upgrade its water, sewerage and telecoms infrastructures. Caution needs to be shown about privatisation in an economy heavily state-dominated and where public dependency on the state is high.

It is wise to create a way to avoid such retributional violence and the steps offered by Eliason are instructive. I believe that the last point is important on a national level. As I wrote earlier, the lack of governmental institutions on a national level will hurt the ability of the TNC to quickly and ably control the country. For decades, all ruling institutions in Libya have been personally linked to Qaddafi; the fall of the leader will mean the end of such temporary, dependent governing structures (the General People’s Congress, for example) will be finished. NATO will need to aid the TNC in recreating a national government that is able to quickly and efficiently meet the needs of Libyans across the country.

I am slightly skeptical about Eliason’s fourth suggestion – to convene a multinational force to keep control in Tripoli. There would be much uncertainty surrounding not only the mission and mandate of such a force, but also the composition of the military group. Charged with preventing violence between supporters of Qaddafi and rebels, it seems likely that the international force would need a mandate allowing a certain level of force in order to keep the peace. Without the ability to truly fight both rebel groups and Qaddafi loyalists who may decide to take up violence, an international coalition would be useless. However, a ‘humanitarian and protective force’ with a real ability to maintain the rule of law in Tripoli would be quickly seen as a colonial enterprise by Libyans.

It will certainly be interesting to see how Libya and the TNC handles the fall of Qaddafi. With some luck, the transition will be smooth and very much unlike the situation in Iraq. However, even with the steps offered by Eliason, i predict that the end of Qaddafi’s reign will not be the end of Libya’s civil war.

Photo from ABC

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4 thoughts on “When NATO’s Non-War Ends

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