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With Qaddafi dead, Libya must repay its backers with a 'peace dividend,' not favors

Now that Qaddafi is dead and Sirte is captured, Libyans can repay those countries who helped in his ouster not through kickbacks or development contracts, but by establishing a stable, democratic, economically open future for Libya. That's the real 'peace dividend.'

By Jason Pack and Sami Zaptia / October 20, 2011



Tripoli, Libya

North Africans are famous for their culture of boundless hospitality. Yet as a result of their traumatic history with European colonialism, they understand that in international politics, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

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With the capture of Sirte and the killing of Muammar Qaddafi provoking massive street celebrations, Libyans are constantly discussing how their victory over the colonel came about. Many believe that God alone is ultimately responsible for their liberation. While immensely grateful for the NATO-led alliance’s intervention, some Libyans question the alliance’s professed humanitarian motives. Common sense suggests that states do not spend hundreds of millions during a deep recession out of moral necessity.

From the perspective of the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Qatar, and other alliance members, now is the time to take stock of how the rebel victory may promote their national interests. Is it not fair for them to expect some sort of remuneration? Or looked at holistically, did the allied powers fight a moral war to protect a civilian movement seeking liberation from tyranny? Or did Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) surreptitiously hire the alliance as quasi-mercenaries on terms of open-ended credit with oil given as security – payable on a no-win/no-fee basis?

With the interim government due to be announced any day now, as a result of the capture of Sirte, Libyan politicians are seriously considering their moral obligations to their allies. Should the NTC openly repay all the nations that supported them with contracts at the expense of those that did not? If the NTC were to engage in this type of behavior, would it be upstanding or venal? Most Libyans expect that such behavior will be the political reality. Many passionately believe it is virtuous. We think not.

There is a strong case for saying that those nations that backed Libya’s popular revolution will receive a good return on their investments simply by Mr. Qaddafi’s ouster. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Western powers promised their publics a “peace dividend.” The term was coined to refer to the worldwide “profit” that was anticipated as a result of the decline of wasteful arms spending and the concomitant transformation of the former communist countries into engines of economic growth and lucrative markets for Western goods and services.

Modern economics postulates that such “dividends” should be positive-sum in nature – i.e., helping the victor, vanquished, and third-party states alike. And in reality, the 1990s were a time of economic growth and global stability.

We believe that the rest of the international community will gain a similar, yet much smaller, “peace dividend” as a result of regime change. Previously, Qaddafi isolated Libya’s economy behind walls of bureaucratic inefficiency and corrupt quasi-socialism. He spent on arms and terrorism, periodically inflicting grave loss of life (e.g., Lockerbie, UTA bombing, Chadian war, Abu Salim massacre).

Even when he renounced terrorism and his weapons of mass destruction program after 2003, he continued to dabble in other countries’ internal politics, having a particular penchant for backing brutal African dictators and declaring jihad against the Swiss. The benefits of not having to deal with Qaddafi’s erratic diplomacy are an incalculable positive for the world system. A stable regime in Libya also vastly increases the probability of the consolidation of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.

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