Civil War Looms in Libya: Western intervention and the failure to plan ahead

The UN Mission in Libya has called for an immediate halt to hostilities currently ongoing between rival militias in Tripoli and Benghazi as the proposed democratic transition after the overthrow of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi remains severely troubled.

Rival militias and a proliferation of weapons has led Libya to the brink of civil war
Rival militias and a proliferation of weapons has led Libya to the brink of civil war

NATO and its members involved in the downfall of Gaddafi have remained suspiciously silent as a virtual civil war has developed in the North African state, whilst the USA remains scarred by the attack on its consulate in Benghazi in September 2012 which resulted in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

The lack of forethought and planning towards the stabilization, reconstruction and reconciliation phases in countries subject to Western intervention is quite alarming. Indeed, in the past few decades it has arguably led to a de-securitization of several regions rather than a peaceful new era.

There is no argument that the world is better without the deranged Gaddafi whose sponsorship of international terrorism, belligerence towards the West and brutal repression at home was a constant cause for concern. However, his strong (if brutal) leadership had prevented the fragmenting of Libyan society into the bloody strife we see today.

Before intervening, NATO should have made a concerted effort to assess the factional rivalry within Libya and to determine whether a simple bombing campaign against Gaddafi strongholds was sufficient to ensure a satisfactory transfer of power.

NATO's bombing campaign was an undoubted military success but its strategic value is debatable
NATO’s bombing campaign was an undoubted military success but its strategic value is debatable

Similarly, Saddam Hussein was rightfully derided as a bloody dictator and yet his strongman rule prevented the sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites that now threatens to destroy Iraq. One of the major criticisms of the US-led intervention is that no adequate transition plan for political power was formulated.

Having supported the imposition of Mobutu Sese Seko in DR Congo in 1965, the West became content that his kleptocratic dictatorship was a necessary evil to prevent the spread of communism and, potentially, a horribly destabilizing civil war. Yet there were no complaints when Mobutu was overthrown in 1997, even if his departure has intensified violence in one of Africa’s largest countries, allowing DR Congo to become a safe-haven for warlords and rebel militias alike.

On the other hand, the West has been more reluctant in offering full support to the rebels in the Syrian Civil War, having been provided with plenty of evidence that a rebel victory may be even less satisfying than the retention of the callous Bashar al-Assad.

Throughout the decades of the 20th century, the global powers were active in positioning their ‘own’ dictators in the seats of power, either for ideological reasons or to ensure stability in a nation, at whatever the cost. 

Making the transition from a dictatorship to a political system resembling democracy is challenging enough.  Continued Western interference, minus a clear post-intervention strategy for peace and stability, will only lead to more, not less, global security challenges as the ‘wrong’ rebels win and domestic violence spills over international borders.

The USA saw value in Mobutu yet ultimately allowed his overthrow
The USA saw value in Mobutu yet ultimately allowed his overthrow
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Author: Stefan Lang

An interested observer of current affairs, researcher and writer

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