Louise Hemfrey on the implications of NATO’s mission in Libya and its effect on Libya’s future

Hopeful for the future, or yearning for the past?

It all seemed so sudden; Libya as a topic had failed to make headlines since the Rupert Murdoch Scandal, but then quite unexpectedly the rebels (or, more appropriately, freedom fighters) were entering Tripoli. In the gentleman’s game of war and peace gaining your enemy’s capital is generally considered the final curtain, however for the 21st century combatant the post-war road ahead is far from peaceful.

I think it fairly reasonable to assume that until Gaddafi is captured or killed, the Libya situation will not be put to rest. This hasn’t stopped international intermediaries from outlining the future of the Libyan state, or from arranging their own exit routes. The Libyan conflict has experienced the latest kind of intervention: as cash-strapped Western nations attempt to enforce austerity measures, they cannot outright deny aid, so instead they provide air cover. NATO’s air-strikes have been invaluable to the progress of the opposition forces, and have the added bonus for member states of not having to drop any of their own troops on enemy turf.

Of course, when one delves into the details some form of ground presence is inevitable. Britain and France have assertively put their fingers in the Libyan pie, providing military ‘advisory missions’[1] to Benghazi in February. A few lesser Arab nations have also been helping out, such as Qatar. The benefits to a state power in pledging its support do largely resemble the tenets of a colonial protectorate; the assisting state will have first pick of natural resources, development opportunities and industrial outsourcing. Particularly in the Libyan case, where the outside presence is not so great as to be usurping the power of the transitional leadership, this would seem to be an ideal scenario for all parties involved.

Greater bodies such as the UN and IMF are treading more cautiously towards the brink. With past experiences such as the UN Observer Force in Rwanda, and the Permanent Observer Mission in Palestine preying heavily on their consciences, the UN has openly admitted it does not intend to provide any sort of security assistance to the National Transitional Council (NTC). They intend to secure election dates for next year, and begin the implementation of post-war reconstruction and economic development programmes. They have deemed their efforts to be an ‘integrated advance political mission’[2] with no more than 200 military observers. Similarly the IMF has recognised the NTC as the official leadership of Libya and is now attempting to secure frozen monetary funds for post-conflict projects.

Even with current global economic tensions there are just as many practical reasons to try a more innovative method than the traditional storm in with guns blazing and troops everywhere, or throw money at the crisis and hope it goes away approaches. Despite the fact that ground troops are placed to ensure security, they do tend to make actual citizens of a country feel less secure. There is also less personal ownership of a resistance movement when third parties become involved. In addition the toppling of a dictator can lead to the revival of previously suppressed ethnic and tribal tensions, or the internal fracturing and ideological division of the party who lead the uprising in the first place. Putting one’s own soldiers in the middle of these situations does not often provide much material gain.

I am not advocating that the international community should avoid all civil wars and revolutions in order to maintain personal wellbeing. However the events of the next three, six and nine months will be the defining features by which global public opinion judges the success of the Libyan mission. Perhaps economical intervention will prove to be the most efficient adjudication of a conflict to date.

Louise Hemfrey

Image Credit- Wikimedia Commons

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-14738728

[2] http://www.innercitypress.com/martin1unlibya1icp.pdf