What the UN Can and Cannot do for Libya

China and some others have been pushing for a strong United Nations role in Libya, presumably in an attempt to forestall a continuation of the NATO mission in that country or the placing of European troops on the ground. Not just China, but everyone should be concerned that the NATO air intervention, which is likely now winding down, not turn into infantry on the ground.

The new Libyan government has consistently rejected the idea of NATO troops, showing great wisdom. Yesterday the Voice of Free Libya in Benghazi “said that ‘the rebels are capable of preserving the security of his country and don’t need any foreign, Arab or Islamic forces to help preserving security in Libya.’” [h/t Open Source Center]. I hope they are right about that, and note with encouragement that the broadcast put all kinds of foreign troops in the same category of undesirable, including those of Arab and Muslim nations, not just the Europeans. (That is not the way a Muslim fundamentalist would talk, and underlines how unimportant Muslim radicalism is in the Libyan revolution).

Moreover, the Transitional National Council, has come out against deploying even blue helmets in Libya. It is in any case a matter of confusion to me as to what the UN troop role would be, aside from offering training to police and military personnel (something that can in any case be done by bringing them to Europe).

UN troops mostly fulfill a symbolic mission, of quieting a border area where two enemies are eyeballing one another, but who do not want hostilities and would be embarrassed to harm UN troops. Thus, UNIFIL is keeping the Lebanese and the Israelis apart in south Lebanon. It was suggested that UN troops could usefully interpose themselves between the Arab Iraqi army and the Kurdish peshmerga in Kirkuk and elsewhere in northern Iraq.

The conflict in Libya does have such neat borders, and in any case it is likely that the new government will assert its monopoly over the use of force throughout the country before too long.

Moreover, UN forces are not war-fighters, and peace-keeping is mainly done with the concurrence of the local forces. That is, in most ways “peacekeeping troops” as a phrase is a misnomer, since they don’t usually enforce peace by arms. If the latter is what people are envisioning in Libya, they are unlikely to get it via the UN.

As for helping Libya come back together socially and economically, the UN can play a role there and its mission in Cambodia might be a model. The countries are similar in population size, though Cambodia had suffered far more intensely (a sixth of the population genocided) and for decades rather than months.

Obviously, the new government needs to induct the best fighters into the Libyan army and promote the ablest right into the officer corps, putting them and their men in a line of command and giving them a state salary to reinforce their loyalty. If more than such practical integration of the armed forces is needed, that will become apparent to the Libyans quickly enough.

So I support China’s initiative in regard to reconstruction activities. It is not clear that Libya will need any outside troops or police. One doesn’t remember outsiders supplying such personnel in the US in 1783 or France in 1789.

But it is likely that the real help Libya needs is aid and the return to it of its own money. The UNSC has just authorized Britain to transfer $1.5 bn. to the new Libyan state from Qaddafi assets earlier frozen. Russia is for reasons known best to itself holding up similar transfers from France and Germany.

Things are tough in Libya now, as they always are in post-revolutionary situations, and factions need to be integrated into national politics. But Libya has the potential at least to be a wealthy state, and under such circumstances national integration can sometimes be easier– assuming the government is, unlike Qaddafi’s, willing to share the largesse around. The TNC in moving toward parliamentary elections is already promising such sharing and political pluralism.

Another thing the UN could potentially help with is national reconciliation. Former pro-Qaddafi forces need to be rehabilitated, and there needs to be an amnesty for those who did not commit war crimes. Some in Libya are asking for a general amnesty, but most Libyan opinion-leaders are rejecting such a blanket decree, insisting there be punishment for those with blood on their hands. They don’t seem to mind an amnesty for non-violent former regime supporters (which after all would be a large number of Libyans, including some now on the Transitional Governmental Council). This position seems reasonable enough.

The USG Open Source Center gives a flavor of these debates by translating yesterday’s radio broadcast on the Voice of Free Libya from Benghazi:

” Voice of Free Libya
Tuesday, August 30, 2011 …
Document Type: OSC Summary…

The rebel radios Voice of Free Libya (VOFL) broadcasting from Misratah and Libya FM carried their usual programs on 30 August, and talked about hopes that Id-al-Fitr [the Feast of Breaking the Fast at the end of Ramadan], which will start in Libya on 31 August, “will witness the arrest of Al-Qadhafi”.

VOFL said that “Id-al-Fitr is good opportunity for reconciliation and tolerance among Libyans”, but stressed that “any general pardon for those who fought beside Al-Qadhafi’s brigades should not include those who have blood on their hands”.

Libya FM’s “From the Capital” phone-in program received several emails and phone calls from people expressing the hope that “Id-al-Fitr will witness the arrest of Al-Qadhafi, his sons and aides”.

BOTh stations carried religious and patriotic songs most of the day, as well as prayers asking God to “grant the rebels final victory over the enemy”.

Reconciliation

During VOFL’s religious program called “Haza Dinuna” (This is Our Religion), Shaykh Ahmad al-Saf talked about forgiveness and reconciliation among Libyans as a must to “allow the country to overcome the current period”.

“However, no one is entitled to issue a general pardon for all those who fought beside Al-Qadhafi, as those who have blood on their hands must be brought to justice,” he said, adding that “those who killed people and violated their honour can’t be pardoned,”.

“Even Mustafa Abd-al-Jalil, the head of National Transitional Council (NTC), should not, and does not have the right to, grant those people a general pardon”, he said.

Security

Libya FM devoted some segments to discussing the “issue of security in Libya”, saying that “the rebels have decided not to surrender their weapons until security and safety are restored in Libya”.

“It’s the rebels’ responsibility and duty to help restore security and safety everywhere in Libya”.

On the latest developments on the ground, the radio reported that “Mustafa Abd-al-Jalil gave people in non-liberated areas an ultimatum to surrender before 3 September or face military force”.

It also highlighted Abd-al-Jalil’s “calls on Libyan doctors in foreign countries to return to Libya to help filling the shortage in doctors in Libyan hospitals”.

The radio reported “violent clashes in Sabha between rebels and pro-Qadhafi forces”, adding that “three rebels were killed and another 10 were injured”.

VOFL said that “the rebels are capable of preserving the security of his country and don’t need any foreign, Arab or Islamic forces to help preserving security in Libya”.

“No regrets”

VOFL broadcast its regular program “Awqat Asibah” (Hard Times), during which it interviewed Ahmad Miftah Shtiwi, a 25-year-old man “who joined the revolution on day one”.

Shtiwi said he “joined the peaceful demonstrations at the very start of the revolution, but when the Libyan regime’s killing of civilians started, I decided to join the revolution and fight for freedom”.

Asked if he has any regrets, he said: “No regrets. We defended our homeland and our people, and we knew the price of freedom is always high”.

The radio devoted different phone-in shows to discussing Id-al-Fitr’s significance and rituals. It also carried prayers and religious songs throughout the day.

“Unforgivable crime”

Libya FM’s “From the Capital” expressed hope that “Id al-Fitr would bring news on the arrest of Al-Qadhafi and his sons”.

The programme quoted “an eyewitness” as saying that “Al-Qadhafi and his sons are planning to escape to Algeria”, noting that “helping those criminals to flee the country is an unforgivable crime”.

Libya FM devoted large segments to songs, celebrating Id-al-Fitr, and it carried religious and patriotic songs most of the day.

(Description of Source: Benghazi Voice of Free Libya in Arabic — Opposition-run radio, began broadcasting on 21 February 2011. )”

11 Responses

  1. Hi Professor Cole,

    I just read your lucid and informative book Engaging the Muslim World. The chapter on the Iraq War was superb. Every American should read that, if they’re interested in knowing the truth. That war, as you pointed out, actually was designed by greedy, imperialist criminals in Washington who wanted to control Iraqi oil. You made sure to detail the human consequences, which are not entirely known, or appreciated, at least here in America. I won’t forget the quote you included of the child from Iraq saying she wanted Americans to get out of her country because they kill people. We will have to atone at some point for the crimes committed in Iraq.

    • If the people of Algeria rise up against a tyrant and ask for the world’s help, as happened in Libya, then we should not turn our backs on them.

      But an article noting that there is political violence in a country isn’t the same thing.

      • Dear Joe

        Take a deep breath and count to 100.

        Algeria has just had a ten year war where the military put down a popular uprising with 100,000 dead after they declared the results of an election null and void.

        Sauce for the Goose is not sauce for the Gander.

        Kind regards

      • We dont need foreign help, we dont want to have to privatise all our gas reserves and sell out our childrens future thanks.

  2. Juan:

    Quick question: Is the TNC calling for a parlimentary democracy, presidential democracy, or a hybrid like the current French Republic?

    As you may be aware, these institutional distinctions are important in political science, especially in how it affects the probability of a developing country democraztize.

    Frank

  3. Perhaps the UN can play Good Cop in negotiating the surrender of Sirte.

    I don’t see any useful military role, however. Maybe border guards until the TNC-successor gets the organs of the state up and running.

  4. Ban Ki-moon, commissioned a confidential contingency plan, isn’t that what he’s paid to do. I can’t understand why everyone is so “upset” by this report, it’s nature is abundantly clear if you read the report and its summary (both available from link to innercitypress.com) It does canvas the potential need for up to 200 unarmed military observers, but it does NOT envisage a Peacekeeping force, a’la East Timor, or Lebanon/Israel – more like the OSCE observers in Georgia.

    “Cambodia suffered far more intensely (a sixth of the population genocided) and for decades rather than months”,

    Most sources (including the Yale Genocide Documentation Centre) have the Cambodian genocide taking place between 1975 (Year Zero) and 1979 when the Vietnamese toppled the Khmer Rouge regime. So the Cambodian genocide happened over 4 years, not decades. After Vietnam’s intervention the Soviet backed People’s Republic of Kampuchea was created, it wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t commit genocide. The UNTAC mission went to Cambodia in 1992, shortly after the demise of the Soviet Union.

    “One doesn’t remember outsiders supplying such personnel in … France in 1789.”

    Perhaps if outsider’s had intervened, then the 1793/94 “Reign of Terror” may have been averted, sparing the lives of tens of thousands of French men, women & children. Perhaps even the killing of millions in Napoleon’s wars might not have happened. I don’t wish the events of post revolutionary France on the Libyan people, nor on their neighbours.

    • Phil

      Perhaps if outsider’s had intervened, then the 1793/94 “Reign of Terror” may have been averted

      The Austrian Emperor sent his army to France to rescue his sister Marie Anoinette from the hooligans.

      This outside intervention was routed by the French Republic at Valmy in 1792.

  5. “China and some others have been pushing for a strong United Nations role in Libya, presumably in an attempt to forestall a continuation of the NATO mission in that country or the placing of European troops on the ground. Not just China, but everyone should be concerned that the NATO air intervention, which is likely now winding down, not turn into infantry on the ground.”

    No serious person should think that China’s objection to a continuation of the NATO mission or to the possibility of troops on the ground stems from a principled position of non-intervention or a concern for Libyan sovereignty. China has demonstrated time and time again that its national interest is paramount. In the case of Libya, China may well see an opportunity to increase its reach for oil, just as it has in so many other cases where China has been concluding deals and locking in natural resources to keep its economy humming. There is nothing wrong with this. All powers (as well as non-powers) act in their national interest. But we should not view the Chinese as somehow more principled than NATO powers because of their objection to continued NATO action.

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