Before the Fall: Planning for Post-Qaddafi Libya
Posted by Jacob Stokes
A while back on this blog there was a debate about how and when to measure whether the war in Libya was worth it. Eric Martin made the observation that:
Despite these harbingers of future unrest, there has been a dearth of planning for the postwar transition period. Which organizations/nations will be overseeing that period and acting as peacekeepers? Under whose auspices? On whose dime? For how long? Backed by what political will? What if peacekeeping forces come under attack?
As the TNC rebels continue to advance towards Tripoli and slowly choke off the city, it’s time to start trying to find answers to these questions. Daniel Serwer and CFR have released a report that looks at the both the challenges that a post-Qaddafi Libya will pose and suggests some ways of dealing with those challenges. The whole thing is worth reading; Serwer also wrote an op-ed length version.
First off comes the question of how much of Qaddafi’s apparatus to wipe away. Serwer explains the central paradox: “In general, both the opportunities and risks diminish with the increasing role allowed to the Qaddafi regime: decapitation could open the door to widespread disorder or civil war, but it could also increase the longer-term possibilities for democratic evolution.”
The Australian reports that the TNC’s official planning assumes a significant amount of the apparatus will remain in hopes of avoiding an Iraq-like destabilization:
Western governments have helped prepare a blueprint for a post-Gaddafi Libya that would retain much of the regime's security infrastructure to avoid an Iraq-style collapse into anarchy.
The 70-page plan, obtained by London's The Times, charts the first months after the fall of the Gaddafi regime. The document was drawn up by the National Transition Council in Benghazi with Western help.
Officials say the blueprint draws on lessons from the disastrous regime change in Iraq in 2003 and the rebel takeover in eastern Libya in March.
The plans are highly reliant on the defection of parts of the Gaddafi security apparatus to the rebels after his overthrow. This is likely to prove not only risky, but controversial, with many rebel fighters determined to sweep away all vestiges of the regime.
Seems like the TNC has the right idea here. Assuming you're able to keep most of that Qaddafi infrastructure in place once he's gone, it's worth erring on the side of keeping people on in government instead of cutting them loose to start trouble in the streets. Inclusivity is key here.
Serwer’s report also makes a good point about defining success in post-Qaddafi Libya:
There are many possible gradations of success. Libya could achieve a measure of unity and stability without being fully democratic or open. Even a successful transition could lead to release from prison of extremists and trafficking in MANPADS, chemical weapons, or other arms, thus representing an indirect threat to U.S. interests.
A failed transition leading to chaos, breakup of the Libyan state that sets an unwelcome precedent elsewhere, or restoration of a dictatorship would all damage American and allied credibility and likely also cause major problems for the United States’ European allies, including shortfalls in energy supplies, loss of major investments, and a continuing refugee flow. Refugees could also cause problems in Tunisia, Egypt, and the rest of the Mediterranean. Failure could thus have indirect but unwelcome effects on the United States. Failure could also produce a state prepared to harbor international terrorists, as Qaddafi himself once did, but there is little indication thus far that those supporting the rebellion would be inclined in that direction.
To prevent such an outcome, Serwer suggests a number of options, with the preferable being an EU/UN peacekeeping force. If such a configuration isn’t possible though, Serwer suggests:
If a UN/EU effort fails to ensure stability in Libya, the United States should be prepared to mobilize and support a NATO-led effort, including if necessary the deployment for a limited duration of U.S. ground forces. Only NATO has the military capacity required. Unilateral U.S. intervention would entail risks without commensurate gains to vital national security interests.
This seems like a bridge too far. If the United Nations, working in concert with the EU, cannot put together a legitimate force, I’m not sure NATO has the collective will or capacity to mount such an operation, which could quickly dissolve into more-or-less an American effort with token participation from other NATO members. The U.S. should be willing to aid a UN effort, but should refrain from boots on the ground.
If the TNC doesn't prove as reliable as we hope, there's really no good solution here—which makes planning ahead of time to get the transition right all the more important.