For Libya, Now Comes the Hard Part

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Appeared in the Calgary Beacon and Sudbury Star
As Moammar Qaddafi’s regime crumbles, the ragtag rebel force that led this revolution—and the nations that supported it with air power—are beginning to forge a new Libya. Given Qaddafi’s cult-of-personality regime, it won’t be easy.

There are few state institutions—and even fewer civil-society institutions—that the post-Qaddafi Transitional National Council (TNC) can build upon. And once the cohesive fear of Qaddafi is gone, it could be a challenge to maintain a unified nation-state. NATO nations should offer support, but given the lessons of Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq, they should leave hands-on nation-building to the TNC—and focus on security-related challenges.

Providing stability and security

Security is a prerequisite for a stable, peaceful Libya. There are already calls for a peacekeeping force to support the TNC. NATO should weigh this step carefully. Somalia is a grim reminder that good intentions aren’t always perceived as such by local populations—and don’t always translate into hoped-for outcomes.

The temptation to use NATO as a peacekeeping force is understandable. NATO has been successful in the Balkans and can point to important achievements in Afghanistan. However, the image of American, Canadian and European troops marching through another Muslim nation presents a PR challenge. Moreover, NATO has tired of its mission in Afghanistan, and the air war over Libya strained the alliance. In short, NATO has no appetite for another round of nation-building.

The good news is that NATO nations built up considerable economic and political leverage during the air war; they should use this leverage to shepherd the TNC in the right direction for Libya and its neighbors—namely, “a state based on freedom, not fear,” in the words of NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

The better news is that, with guidance from NATO and Arab partners, the TNC has been planning for post-Qaddafi Libya since March. That planning is beginning to bear fruit. The rebels have displayed high levels of coordination and restraint in Libya’s first days of life after Qaddafi. As they entered Tripoli, for example, they used text-messages to calm the populace: “Don’t destroy public buildings…These are for the future of Libya.”

In addition, The Washington Post reports that an elite force of Libyans has been trained in Qatar to provide security in Tripoli and around critical infrastructure. NATO should support this force with intelligence, equipment and ongoing training. Train-the-trainer programs can help the TNC build self-sustaining security forces for major urban areas and critical infrastructure. NATO has carried out similar training programs for the Iraqi military, to great effect.

Whatever path the allies choose, they should leave a small footprint and focus on nurturing conditions that can support post-Qaddafi Libya: bolstering security, ensuring delivery of food and other essentials, opening trade channels, providing debt relief, jumpstarting energy infrastructure.

Indeed, Libya’s oil wealth is a key ingredient to Libya’s long-term stability. Libya sits atop 46 billion barrels of oil and produced close to 2 million barrels per day before the civil war. These figures are bound to rise once foreign investment is allowed to flow into post-Qaddafi Libya.

In short, Libya need not become another Somalia—a country fractured by tribalism and bereft of resources—or another Afghanistan—a country where internal instability and external mischief have thwarted resource development.

Securing and eliminating Qaddafi’s chemical weapons

Libya has an estimated 10 tons of mustard gas. As the Qaddafi regime disintegrates, it’s not difficult to imagine these stockpiles being left unguarded and falling into the hands of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a rogue Qaddafi faction or Qaddafi’s army of foreign mercenaries.

Any of these scenarios would pose a significant threat to the international community, and making sure none of them transpire must be a priority. Trusting the incoming TNC—beset by the challenges of building a government—to handle this is not an option, which means NATO must contemplate using military force to preempt these materials from falling into worse hands.

If intelligence on the whereabouts of the chemicals is solid—Rasmussen says NATO continues to “monitor military units and key facilities”—NATO could use commandos to neutralize or secure the materials quietly. Perhaps the allies have already begun this complicated operation. Of course, securing—let alone moving—10 tons of anything is seldom done quietly.

Monitoring and targeting jihadist groups

The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend.

We know that jihadists, al Qaeda fighters and others linked to terrorism made common cause with the Libyan rebels. As NATO Commander James Stavridis revealed in March, there are “flickers” of al Qaeda participation in the rebel movement.

U.S. forces have been working to blunt AQIM’s advance in northern Africa since late 2001, providing training, equipment and intelligence to militaries in Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Nigeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

It would be a geopolitical disaster if a jihadist group were to hijack Libya’s revolution. With the deep contacts the allies have developed inside the TNC—and the goodwill they have generated protecting Benghazi, supporting the rebels and pummeling Qaddafi’s regime—NATO nations are well-positioned to prevent such a disaster.

But none of this will be easy. In fact, toppling Qaddafi’s regime may have been the easy part. The hard part is yet to come.

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