Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Job Half Done in Libya

Back in March I wrote about the rebellion in Libya and the need for The West to take action. It’s time to do it again. This will not, however, simply be a repetition of what I said back then because, since March, western democracies, in particular European ones have been heavily involved in Libya, supporting the rebellion and helping to overthrow Gaddafi. In short, doing exactly what I, and many others, called for.

I regret that I’ve not mentioned the war at all in this blog since March, but there hasn’t been a lot worthy of comment: The West has actually done a pretty good job of using the right amount of military presence and generally leaving most of the fighting to the rebels. NATO has been very careful to keep its involvement to ‘protecting civilians’ and taking out important strategic sites through air strikes, rather than helping the rebels on the ground. Likewise other European nations have helped the rebels indirectly, but have not put troop on the ground.

The reason I’m comment on this conflict now is that the rebels took Tripoli, the capital of Libya, last week, a significant step towards winning the civil war. Gaddafi has been ousted from power and the war is largely over. While Gaddafi still has some support and the ability to strike back against the rebels, he can only really delay defeat. Only his capture remains as a significant milestone in the path to victory.

So it is time for The West to step in. Not in order to help capture Gaddafi, although that would not go amiss, but to help stabilise the country in the face of the regime change, to aid in the rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure and to ensure that a free and fair election follows the defeat of Gaddafi’s forces.

War inevitably disrupts the infrastructure of a country, from disruption to the power supply to the destruction of roads and other means of transport. Rebuilding those link is really important to rebuilding Libya; there are already deep divisions between east and west (the rebellion started in the west and most of the pro-Gaddafi forces were based in the east) and if communications and transport between east and west are disrupted, that division will continue to grow. In order to establish political unity in a country already split by civil war, good infrastructure needs to be established.

More importantly, Libya faces a humanitarian crisis. In Tripoli alone, hospitals are under massive strain from the war-wounded, especially with many doctors having fled at the start of the war. With essentials like water and power disrupted, and people unwilling to leave the house to buy food, given that there is still some fighting in the city, there is a risk that the casualties of war will continue to rise, especially in the civilian population.

NATO’s reluctance to put solider on the ground and get heavily involved was admirable in the early stages of the conflict. It ensured that the war was a revolutionary one led by the Libyan people. That should continue and the hunt for Gaddafi should be led by the rebels, however, if NATO wants to continue to claim that it is protecting the citizens of Libya, then they don’t really have a choice; they have to step in and help the relieve effort.

This, of course, does not necessarily mean troops of the ground, but working with the UN and various international aid agencies to help facilitate giving aid to the Libyan people where they need it most. If fighting does intensify in Tripoli, it may become necessary to put troops on the ground in order to protect civilians, given the high concentration of them in Tripoli.

The West has generally done well to learn from the mistakes of Afghanistan and Iraq, in that they have not had a large presence on the ground in Libya and has generally kept out of the way. However they must continue to learn from past mistakes and work hard now that the war is almost over to ensure that Libya does not devolve into warring factions and destitution. The provision of aid to Iraq and Afghanistan was poor, mostly because troops have never really been in complete control. In Libya they need to ensure that aid gets to where it is needed and that it does not get too disrupted. This may even involve taking military action against pro-Gaddafi forces to force them out of heavily popularised areas, or at least to protect already liberated areas from further attacks. With any luck the rebel forces will be sufficient to do this, but NATO should not balk at putting some peacekeepers into Tripoli to maintain some level of order until the country can get itself back in its feet.

The war may well be all but won, but the peace that follows it might well be much harder to win than the war. The rebels have never been a particularly unified group, with Islamist and Berber factions, as well as a number of competing tribes, long time opponents of his regime and recent defectors. Opposition to Gaddafi is all that has held them together thus far and there are fears that his fall will cause the rebel movement to fall apart. The worst case scenario would be for Libya to fall into another civil war between competing factions, all vying for power. To prevent this requires strong leadership on the rebel’s part; someone who can hold them together long enough to establish a new political system based around democracy and elections.

The problem is that such a leader cannot appear to be a puppet of The West. He needs to be a Libyan leader, not a leader appointed by the UN. The West cannot be seen to be interfering, but can ill-afford to let Libya slide into a much more disastrous civil war. Some form of light touch diplomacy and careful supervision is needed to help establish a democracy in Libya without forcing the Libyan’s hand; this needs to come primarily from them.

There is one thing that The West can do that will help immeasurably; make funds available to the rebels in order to rebuild the country. Getting aid to where it needs to be, rebuilding the infrastructure and getting Libya back to some semblance of normality will require a lot of money that Libya simply does not have at the moment. The Libyan economy needs to get back on its feet and for that a large injection of money will be needed.  Obviously, with the state of the world economy as it is at the moment, such aid might prove hard to come by, but remember that Libya does has assets that were frozen in the early stages of the war. Getting access to those funds would go a long way to helped Libya get back on its feet.

As I said at the start if this post, it’s time for The West to take action in Libya. The first half of the job has been handled very well, but the second half may well be a much more daunting task. The West needs to ensure that the people of Libya get the aid they need now and also that the rebels set up the necessary infrastructure to facilitate an election. The Libyan state needs to be rebuilt from the ground upwards. This requires aid from The West, both in terms of money and also in terms of charity and aid work, but also needs to be led by the Libyans themselves. It will be a difficult balancing act and if handled badly, Libya could end up in a state of civil ear much like Afghanistan and Iraq are now, with a number of different factions fighting for power. The confidence of The West as international peacekeepers and world leaders in democracy cannot afford such a failure, and nor can Libya, which stands to set a bench mark for the rest of Africa to become much more stable democratic. I hope that in a few months time I will be able to write a blog post praising the aid effort and looking forward to a bright future for Africa.

No comments:

Post a Comment