Thoughts on Libyan Nation Building After Qaddafi


Is the TNC able to provide security for the whole country?

James Dobbins and Frederic Wehrey have an article up at Foreign Affairs discussing the role of western governments in post-Qaddafi Libya. It is clear that Libya will be facing severe challenges as it tries to build a nation from scratch; a lack of institutions, competing tribal militias, and the potential for an insurgency movement, for example. Dobbins and Wehrey share their thoughts on how the west can ease the transition to democracy, using the experiences in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan as precedents:

All these factors suggest that post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction will be easier in Libya than in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Three other, less favorable conditions, however, might diminish Libya’s prospects.

First, although Libya is more economically advanced — or at least more prosperous — than the other countries, it is also more politically backward than all but Afghanistan. Having moved from Fascist Italian colonialism to one-man rule, with a brief period of constitutional monarchy in between, Libya has little experience with participatory politics.

Second, there are no Western forces on the ground to help establish reasonable security so that economic and political reconstruction can go forward. The presence of such forces was essential to consolidating peace in Bosnia and Kosovo. The early inadequacy of ground support in Afghanistan and Iraq allowed seemingly clear-cut victories to mutate into renewed conflict as resistance movements organized, recruited, and took up arms…

Security should be the first priority. The United States’ experience in Iraq shows that a critical window exists for the rebel leadership to establish its legitimacy, win the trust of the Libyan people, and prevent the onset of looting, vendettas, and warlordism. Societies emerging from conflict invariably have too many soldiers and too few police. The international community must help Libya quickly demobilize the combatants on both sides of the conflict and build a competent police force. Much will also hinge on the swift but magnanimous application of justice, which should emphasize reconciliation rather than retribution…

Developing representative institutions is the second most pressing task. Here, the international community should be cognizant of how well-intentioned economic aid can inadvertently promote a country’s drift back toward authoritarianism. Currently, the National Transitional Council, the rebel government based in Benghazi, is the only executive governing body up and operating. As its name suggests, it is ultimately temporary. Any outside economic and technical aid to the NTC must therefore be focused on encouraging the development of local governing structures, municipal councils, civil society, and a culture of representative politics. The fact that this is already occurring in some areas under NTC control is grounds for guarded optimism. The real litmus test, of course, will be whether the NTC can implement its ambitious 37-point constitution, which calls for the creation of an elected national assembly within 20 months.

The ability of the TNC to reestablish a system of national security and to create a functioning democracy is greatly reduced by a number of factors, including the existence of over 40 independent militias, the potential continuation of fighting through a pro-Qaddafi insurgency, and the lack of existing national institutions. Indeed, the currently inability of the TNC to police most of the country will make the creation of a Libyan democracy much more difficult. As the authors mention, there are a number of steps that the west – particularly the United States – can take to help facilitate these two aims. Yet reestablishing order after a civil war is no easy task. Without a peacekeeping or police presence in Libya, the west is very limited in its ability to directly reinforce the Libyan security situation and, as mentioned here, sending western troops into Libya is a major risk.

With reports of infighting amongst TNC members – including the death of the rebel general Abdel Fatah Younis – it should be interesting to see how quickly the TNC will be able to reign in the various independent militias, restore a sense of calm and provide basic security across the country. Without such a sense of security, the development of democracy on a national level will be difficult and easily disrupted by violence.

Dobbins and Wehrey conclude that:

Underpinning all of these efforts should be a sober recognition of how quickly the narrative of national liberation can sour in the face of day-to-day insecurity and economic deprivation. Avoiding this fate will require the Libyan people to translate the euphoria of their recent gains into patience and steadfastness in the months and years ahead.

In other words, the various celebrations that are currently taking place in Tripoli will soon need to be replaced by a sober understanding that the revolution is far from over. For the west, the next step must be to find ways to enhance the security credentials of the TNC, giving the interim government legitimacy in the eyes of Libyans.

Photo from Sipsey Street Irregulars


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