Picture: French President Nicholas Sarkozy (left), Libyan NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil (centre) and British PM David Cameron (right). The three had just addressed a crowd in Liberty Square in Benghazi, Libya (15 September 2011).
The ousting of Gadaffi was the "easy" part of the international intervention on Libya; that was the conclusion of an ORG 'Liddite' conversation, held under the Chatham House Rule, on 20 October 2011 – the day Gadaffi was killed. This is not a time for hubris, it was widely agreed among participants who included diplomats, media people, researchers and Libyan émigrés.
There is now a fragile window in Libya where its future will be decided. The complex issues that have to be addressed include: Disarming the militias, building effective institutions and how best to manage the state’s oil wealth, particularly the related potential patronage problems and opening up state monopolies.
Building a modern state could take years. There are also deep divisions, such as tribal allegiances, which must be addressed. Decisions for the new leadership, as it emerges, include how to reconcile with members of the previous regime - if Libya is to make the most of its skilled people. Libya has oil and also the advantage that the old regime has been cleared out.
Libyan voices present at the event said:
Let us make our own mistakes. Libyans need to define their own future.
They added that "this will require much public involvement and room for open dialogue".
There was an intense discussion on the West’s intervention. Among the key points:
- Western intervention needs legitimacy; in the Libyan case legitimacy was enhanced by the Arab League vote on 12 March 2011. The role of Qatar and UAE was also important.
- Gaddafi would not have been overthrown without UN Security Council Resolution (UNSC) 1973, enabling NATO airstrikes under the justification of protecting civilian lives.
- Text of UNSC 1973 including the wording “all necessary means” allowed a wide interpretation of civilian protection and therefore allowed attacks on regime military targets, which in turn undermined the regime. This gave NATO opportunities on Libya. But it has consequences, e.g. the UNSC vote on Syria (the Chinese and Russian vetoes) on 5 October 2011.
- The "terrifying speed of events" – and lack of institutional knowledge of Libya were major challenges for western policy-makers. Were they "lucky" on Libya?
- Were soft power options properly pursued? Did the use of force rule out diplomacy?
- There are different perceptions of the intervention in the Arab world: The Western powers are seen as lacking consistency. What will the legacy of this intervention be? When Gaddafi came "in from the cold" in 2003, the UK was quick to sell weapons to him; Italian and French were still trying to sell weapons in Spring 2011. Moreover, UK companies sold weapons used to repress Shi'a in Bahrain, according to British press reports.
- Regional inconsistencies were also highlighted, such as the Arab League’s position on Syria.
- The question now for western powers is how much resources should be devoted to Libya from now on - given the greater strategic challenges in Middle East, such as the ME Peace Process, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, and the security situation in Yemen.
Our Liddite Conversations invite expert analysts and senior journalists who focus on areas of the world affected by conflict to explore the key causes of conflict and political violence.
The name captures the phrase 'Liddism' coined by Professor Paul Rogers and describes the pressure cooker effect, which results from 'keeping a lid' on global security problems instead of addressing the root causes of conflict and political violence.