Tag: post-conflict

Libya: A Mixed Bag

Libyans voted for a new parliament over the weekend. President Barack Obama called the elections “another milestone on their extraordinary transition to democracy.” Political and regional fault lines, though, are derailing that transition.

Libya remains divided between its oil-rich East and its politically dominant West. Even though Western rebels ended up capturing Tripoli, it was Eastern rebels who had fought most of the civil war against Qaddafi’s regime. Qaddafi marginalized the East for decades. New election laws have reinvigorated that sense of political alienation.

The Associated Press reports, “The laws allocate the east less than a third of the parliamentary seats, with the rest going to the western region that includes Tripoli and the sparsely-settled desert south.” [Emphasis added] Particularly noteworthy is that the election laws were issued by Libya’s National Transitional Council, previously chaired by Qaddafi’s former economics minster, Mahmoud Jabril.

Backed by their own council and army, some rebel commanders and tribal leaders have teamed up and declared self-rule. To pressure a cancellation of this weekend’s vote, armed militias and former rebels calling for semi-autonomy for the East attacked election offices in Benghazi and in Ajdabiya, and captured oil refineries in Ras Lanouf, Brega, and Sidr.

Last month, Dirk Vandewalle, who has lived and worked in Libya for almost fifteen years and just recently returned from Libya as a Senior Political Advisor to the Carter Center’s Election Observation Mission in Libya, spoke at Cato on what Libya’s long-simmering East/West division portends for its transition to democracy. Authorities, he finds, have thus far proved incapable of controlling militias who seek greater autonomy.

As a former rebel commander in the East put it: “We don’t want Tripoli to rule all of Libya.” The crux of Libya’s challenges, which Vandewalle was careful to differentiate, is state-building—the institutions that make a country governable—and nation-building—national consensus to govern once institutions are in place. These grievances and divisions are compounded by competing visions offered by ultra-conservative Salafists and jihadists inspired by al Qaeda. Formal elections may give a voice to many in Libya, but their hardest days may still lie ahead.

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at theNational Interest.

MANPADS Myths in Libya

C.J. Chivers’s excellent post for the New York Times’s “At War” blog dispels the widely-reported contention that the Libyan weapons stockpiles looted amidst last year’s fighting included shoulder-launched SA-24 air-defense missile systems. The post explains that while Libya did acquire SA-24s, they were not the shoulder-launched or MANPADS (man-portable air-defense systems) variety. Because vehicle-launched SA-24s like Libya’s are harder than MANPADS to surreptitiously transport and operate, they are a smaller proliferation risk, especially where terrorists are concerned.

Libya did have SA-7 MANPADS, some of which appear to have been looted from weapons stockpiles. These are less reliable than SA-24s due to age, and far less capable even when young. Last spring, U.S. officials began to say that Libya had acquired 20,000 SA-7 missiles. I complained about that estimate here. No U.S. official has ever said where that figure comes from, and it vastly exceeds prior published estimates.

As Chivers explains on his own blog, if Libya had 20,000 missiles, it likely acquired far fewer reusable components and had far fewer complete systems. It’s like how you buy fewer cannons than cannon balls. But as the 20,000 claim has been widely repeated, reporters have often replaced the “missiles” part with “MANPADS,” which means the whole system. A quick Google search gives countless examples. Even Andrew Shapiro, the State Department’s Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, said 20,000 lost Libya MANPADS in prepared remarks in February.

What all this amounts to is underreported good news. At least, the news is far better than even careful newspaper readers have realized. Rather than 20,000 MANPADS, including some high-end types, floating around Libya and who knows where else, the number is almost certainly far lower and consists of less capable or even unusable components.

That good news makes the already dubious case for paying to protect commercial aircraft against MANPADS even worse. Someone tell Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

Few security reporters have C.J. Chivers’s experience with weapons and military organizations. But there is nothing preventing them from having stronger BS detectors and approaching scary official claims with more skepticism.

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at the National Interest.

Qaddafi’s Death Does Not Legitimize U.S. Intervention in Libya

The death of Muammar Qaddafi is good news in that it should enable the United States to immediately terminate all military operations in Libya, and to turn over responsibility for security in the country to the recognized leaders of the new government.

Qaddafi’s death does not validate the original decision to launch military operations without authorization from Congress. The Libyan operation did not advance a vital national security interest, a point that former secretary of defense Robert Gates stressed at the time. Qaddafi could have been brought down by the Libyan people, but the Obama administration’s decision to overthrow him may now implicate the United States in the behavior of the post-Qaddafi regime. That is unfair to the American people, and to the Libyan people who can and must be held responsible for fashioning a new political order.

As we ponder the welcome news of Qaddafi’s capture, we should also recall the lessons from Iraq, and as they have played out in Libya. The fall of Baghdad in April 2003 did not signal the end of the Iraq war; likewise, the capture of Tripoli by anti-Qaddafi forces in August 2011 didn’t end the fighting there. I worry, too, that just as the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003 didn’t end the Iraq War that pro-Qaddafi forces will continue to resist the new government there.

All Americans hope that that is not the case, that the fighting will cease immediately, and that the new leaders in Libya can quickly set about to reconcile the differences between the many Libyan factions, and U.S. military personnel can turn their attention to matters of vital concern to U.S. national security.

U.S. Must Resist Military Role in Post-Qaddafi Libya

After weeks of very little movement either militarily or diplomatically in Libya, there are apparent developments on both fronts in recent days. Rebel forces, aided by NATO’s air support, finally appear to be advancing into western Libya and cutting off supply lines to Tripoli, the long-time stronghold of support for Muammar Qaddafi. And reports are swirling about secret negotiations that might provide a peaceful exit from the country for the aging dictator.

Those developments underscore that U.S. and NATO officials urgently need to consider what strategy they intend to pursue if Qaddafi’s more than four-decade hold on power finally comes to an end.  That is more crucial for the leaders of the European members of the alliance, since Libya is located on Europe’s Mediterranean flank, but because the Obama administration unwisely chose to involve the United States in Libya’s internecine conflict by launching air strikes, it has become a pertinent issue for Washington as well.

The outlook for a post-Qaddafi Libya is midpoint between sobering and depressing.  It is possible that the warring parties will accept a de facto division of the country between the eastern and western tribes, although a formal agreement to that effect is unlikely. Even an informal partition would more accurately reflect the demographics, politics, and history of that territory than an insistence on keeping Libya intact. Moreover, the most probable alternatives to a peaceful territorial division would be a continuous, simmering civil war or a rebel victory that would merely breed resentment in the western part of the country and pave the way for a new round of fighting a few years from now.

The NATO powers must confront the question of how much they are willing to assist the insurgents in maintaining control of western Libya once Qaddafi is gone. Prospects are not good that a government formed by the eastern-dominated rebel forces would be able to win even a modest number of influential converts from the western tribes. And if the problem of achieving and maintaining political control was not enough of a challenge for the insurgents and their NATO sponsors, there is the matter of repairing the infrastructure damaged in the fighting and replenishing the now largely empty Libyan treasury.

A new government in Tripoli cannot count on oil revenues in the short or medium term to remedy those problems. Experts estimate that it will be at least three years before oil production can return to pre-war levels.

Libya’s probable security and economic difficulties will create tremendous pressure on NATO to provide extensive financial aid and deploy peacekeeping forces. Therein lies the danger to the United States. Logically, if NATO does deploy ground forces, they should come overwhelmingly from France and some of the other countries bordering the Mediterranean. Those nations have the most at stake in trying to stabilize Libya. NATO members in central and northern Europe (with the exception of Britain) have shown little desire to engage in such a mission. So far, the Obama administration has indicated that the United States will not put ground forces into Libya —a wise exercise in restraint.

But given the financial woes of Italy, France and other key European members of the alliance, and given the habitual desire of the Europeans to off-load security problems onto the United States as NATO’s leader, it is all too likely that we will see a concerted campaign to get Washington’s participation in a post-Qaddafi peacekeeping mission. The Obama administration should firmly reject such overtures.  Washington’s agenda is already more than full with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the NATO nation-building missions in Bosnia and Kosovo provide ample evidence that a similar venture in Libya could prove extremely lengthy, expensive, and frustrating. President Obama should resist any temptation to involve the United States further in Libya’s domestic quarrels.

Cross-posted from the National Interest.