Post-Qaddafi Libya: The Next Quagmire?

By: /
July 4, 2011
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Consider this scenario:  NATO and the Libyan rebels get their wish and Moammar Qaddafi loses power as a result of a coup d’état, a NATO bomb, or a negotiated deal.  Then what happens?

Last week, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague offered a brief glimpse of the emerging plan for international involvement in Libya after Qaddafi.  In a statement to the House of Commons, he reported that officials from the UK, US, Turkey, Italy and Denmark had visited Libya “to assess stabilization needs.” (Another report suggested that Canada participated in related consultations.)  Hague also nudged the United Nations to move forward with its own plans for post-conflict Libya, noting that the UN will play the leading role in such efforts.

However, detailed information on planning for post-Qaddafi Libya is scarce.  Beyond the Libyan rebels’ own statement of principles, and tidbits leaking out of national capitals, very little is known.

In the Globe and Mail today, I wrote this:

After stumbling into an Afghan mission based on mistaken assumptions, surely we have an obligation to scrutinize the details of any plans for international participation in Libya’s reconstruction…

For starters, is there a plan to deploy ground forces in Libya? If so, under what circumstances? Who would provide troops? How quickly could they be deployed, where would they go, what would they do?

Another priority may be restoring basic services to the population, including food, medical supplies, health care, electricity, fuel, policing and justice. How can international actors help to provide these services without engendering problems of dependency, economic distortion and local resentment that are sometimes the unintended effects of massive aid interventions?

What about the work of rebuilding Libya? The rebel council’s democratic principles offer a foundation, but a thin one. What role will the UN and other outsiders play? The notion that Libyans should “own” their political transition makes sense, but what does this mean in practice? What if Libya can’t support Western-style democracy? In the wide spectrum between Col. Gadhafi and Thomas Jefferson, what outcomes would be acceptable, and to whom?

These questions are not easy, but they are crucial to address now, not later – because we may find ourselves knee-deep in a messy, multi-year, statebuilding effort in post-Qaddafi Libya before we realize what has happened.

Photo courtesy of Reuters.