Libya after Qaddafi: We need a plan

Countries that back the NATO campaign in Libya and the Libyan rebels themselves are only starting to plan what's next, even while confidence grows that Qaddafi will be gone.

Those involved in the NATO bombing campaign in Libya are increasingly confident that embattled dictator Col. Muammar Qaddafi will be gone, one way or another. And then what?

Planning for a post-Qaddafi Libya is under way, but barely. Rebels, represented by a National Transitional Council, have only a “embryonic” outline of how to unite the country, reports British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Meanwhile, the coalition of countries supporting the NATO mission met this week in a planning session. But the result was more pledges of humanitarian aid to the rebels – not any broad agreement on what needs to be done for a new Libya, or how to divide up the help of rebuilding.

Uppermost in everyone’s mind – for the emerging democrats in Libya and the national powers trying to help them – should be avoiding the kind of chaos that followed the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

Fortunately, Libya is not divided by the stark ethnosectarian differences that plague Iraq. Nor is it surrounded by hostile countries seeking to undermine change.

Its people are among the most educated in Africa and the country is comparatively wealthy because of its oil. After international sanctions are lifted, Libya will have access to more than $100 billion in frozen assets abroad. It ought to be able to bankroll much of its future.

But it will face considerable challenges: tribalism, militant Islamists, lack of experience with representative government, and moving from a one-trick oil economy to a modern one. Many worry about a security breakdown and power vacuum when the strongman is finally gone.

Who will step in if there is a need for international peacekeepers – or even peacemakers? The United Nations resolution that endorsed the “no fly zone” specifically forbids “a foreign occupation force of any form” in any part of Libya. Even if peacekeepers were needed, it can take up to three months after a Security Council decision for deployment.

National governments would have to consider sending security forces in the interim – yet the NATO allies are reluctant, having a tough time staying united in the air campaign. Norway announced today that it will withdraw from the air mission by Aug. 1. This week, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates blasted several NATO members for not contributing enough to the Libya effort.

The most urgent need will be to get an interim government going that can restore basic services, move Libya toward rule of law, and prepare the way for elections and “democracy building.”

Encouragingly, the rebels say they are not interested in widespread reprisal and purging of loyalists to the regime. That mistake was made in Iraq, and it removed an entire class of skilled technocrats. The going assumption in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi is that an interim unity government will be formed that enjoys enough support that there will be no security vacuum.

The question looms about what to do with Qaddafi himself – if he survives. The International Criminal Court cites strong indications that he ordered the rape of hundreds of women as a weapon of war against the rebels. That would amount to a war crime, and make a reconciliation process within Libya even more important.

The biggest question of all is who is responsible for rebuilding Libya. The Colin Powell theory of “you break it, you own it,” doesn’t apply. Libyans themselves broke into the porcelain cabinet, and they must take the prime responsibility in rebuilding their nation. Indeed, they appear to enthusiastically embrace it.

But NATO members, with key Arab backing, have certainly thrown the china around. They, too, bear a responsibility for picking up the pieces. The demand now is to work out who will make what contribution. Libyans deserve an answer.

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