How to avoid a replay of the long Balkan wars in Libya

Lessons from Sniper Alley in Sarajevo: It takes the military and resources to topple a dictator.

I recently saw a picture of the main boulevard in Misurata, Libya, and I couldn't help thinking how much it looked like another such thoroughfare – Sniper Alley in Sarajevo, Bosnia. I have been in that movie, I thought. Sigh.

I have never been to Libya, but I lived in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo during the tumultuous, war-ravaged years of the 1990s. In Sarajevo, we did not have heat, water, electricity, a postal system, banks, garbage collection, functioning traffic lights, public transportation, or (thankfully) parking tickets.

And although the city is up in the mountains where snow is plentiful, I never saw a snow shovel, plow, salt truck, or bag of sand. We did, however, have snipers and rapists, executioners and warlords. I don't know what it looked like on CNN, but it was madness on the ground.

The wars in the former Yugoslavia dragged on for far too long at a tremendous cost in lives and sanity. If Libya is to avoid a similar fate, it is going to take more than NATO airstrikes and sluggish international diplomacy.

Keys to defeating a dictator

Defeating a dictator requires many things, but most important are military and financial resources. Many people credit American diplomacy with bringing peace to Bosnia. The truth is that the Serbs were not willing to cut a peace deal until their military forces began suffering major losses at the hands of Croatian and Bosnian-Muslim troops, reinvigorated with arms and training they wholly lacked at the start of the conflict.

So though NATO airstrikes are critical to ousting Muammar Qaddafi, the rebels, formally known as the Transitional National Council (TNC), must be able to challenge the regime's forces more convincingly on the battlefield. This will require money, which fortunately Libya has in the billions of dollars thanks to vast oil reserves.

Unfortunately for the TNC, these assets are frozen as a result of a United Nations resolution, which is eerily reminiscent of the resolution enforcing an arms embargo on "all sides" in the Bosnian war, including the victims.

History must not be allowed to repeat itself. The intention was to deprive Mr. Qaddafi of the funds, but the time has come for the United States and its allies to lobby for lifting the sanctions against the TNC. If it cannot be agreed to in the UN, it must be done anyway. US foreign policy must not be held hostage to those who would side with a dictator.

The TNC also can use these funds to pay government salaries, provide humanitarian and medical aid, begin rebuilding, and breathe life into the economy.

It can be made clear to Qaddafi's supporters that they are on the losing side of history in other ways. The US and its allies should enforce exhaustive travel bans and asset freezes. Jam communications. Continue airstrikes. At the same time, it is crucial to provide incentives for Qaddafi supporters to change their allegiance. We should extend full diplomatic recognition to the TNC, provide economic assistance to areas they control, lift travel bans, and, where appropriate, unfreeze personal assets for those who defect.

For its part, the TNC should offer amnesty to persons who were part of the government apparatus but were not responsible for personally committing violations of international law. And the full power of social media should be harnessed to rally support for a prosperous Libya based on the rule of law, not tribal affiliation.

Finally, the US and its allies should support the immediate establishment of a vigorous international peacekeeping mission led by the UN in TNC-controlled parts of the country.

Role of UN peacekeepers

A peacekeeping mission must help with security and humanitarian assistance, and provide technical expertise in such areas as the rule of law, political and constitutional reform, and the development of a free media and civil society. It is imperative that a mission be given achievable tasks and appropriate resources, which, tragically, we did not enjoy in Bosnia.

Ultimately, Qaddafi must go. He is the cancer, which the International Criminal Court recognized when they indicted him and two family members for crimes against humanity. As long as he is in power, there is only the possibility of more unnecessary suffering. There are reports that senior Libyan officials, including one of Qaddafi's sons, are looking for an exit strategy. If true, it is a welcome development and further underscores the importance of tightening the noose around the dictator.

One of the (many) lessons I learned from the war in Bosnia is that once conflicts begin they can be very hard to extinguish, on the ground and in your soul. It has been 12 years since the wars ended in the former Yugoslavia and not a day goes by that I do not think of what happened there.

But I also learned that determined and principled leadership can make a difference. The people of Libya need not suffer the fate of so many millions in the Balkans.

Kelly Moore is a writer and the former spokesperson for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. She has a career in international security policy working for the UN, Sen. Joe Lieberman, the State Department, and the 9/11 commission. Her website is:

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