Re-building Libya The Guardian 21 Oct 2011
Now the real work starts.
If there is one thing more fraught, more attended by failure and more difficult to do than fighting a war, it is building the peace which follows. Our modern wars are fought in weeks or months – but building the peace is measured in decades Wars are violent and swift. Building peace is long, painful and almost always untidy. Winning wars needs decisiveness. Building peace needs strategic patience.
What happens next in Libya is unlikely to be tidy or elegant to watch. Get used to it. The country is tribal by nature and the war has been tribal in its conduct. Finding a constitution – probably a highly devolved one – which can provide a framework to contain these pressures is not going to be easy – especially with such oil revenues to be distributed, so much religion to infect minds and so many arms in the peoples’ hands.
But there are strengths to build on. These are gifted people with some very able individuals who are more than capable of efficiently running their country, given a chance. With the world waiting at Tripoli’s door for its precious high quality crude, Libya will not be poor. There is real international goodwill to be built on. And, it seems a real desire among Libya’s people for genuine democracy – though note please London, Paris and Washington – one which will more likely see Turkey’s Islamic democracy as it model, than our secular ones.
So what can we do to help?
Only what we are asked to. This was a different war – we played our part to enable the Libyan people fight their own war on their own terms. We have to be prepared to let them build their own peace on the same basis. Interference will be unwise and unwelcome as they have already made clear. Sending in floods of uninvited businessmen to capture contracts as reward for our help is not likely to be well received. Ditto despatching the kind of small army of wet-behind-the-ears economic graduates to “help them re-build their economy” which we sent to Iraq in the early days.
When, as seems almost inevitable, the building of the Libyan peace starts getting untidy and inelegant to watch, let us remember when we did it our way in Iraq and Afghanistan, it wasn’t exactly a success either.
Our biggest mistake in Bosnia Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere – from which perhaps the Libyans can learn – was to fail to make the rule of law the first priority. Thus corruption, that constant by-product of war, became ingrained in the peace. The establishment of the rule of law – perhaps even martial law at first – which then develops over time into a reliable legal, judicial and prosecutorial structure based on the cultural norms of the country, is the essential framework which give the security people need and the framework for ownership and economic activity.
A key and early ingredient in this is to establish the state’s monopoly in the use of lethal force. This will be one of Libya’s earliest challenges – taking privately possessed arms out of circulation. It will not happen quickly and it may need to be approached with subtlety as well as forceful insistence (in Kosovo they simply converted the rebel forces into a kind of home guard as an interim step).
The next priority will be to get the economy going again. Jobs and the prospect of better times is the best way to persuade people to be committed to the future rather than re-living the past.
And then of course there’s elections.
Everyone wants these early – I prefer them as late as possible. Our mistake is to believe that elections are democracy.
Democracy consists of much more than just voting. It also needs the rule of law; an effective constitution capable of holding the executive to account; a free press; a vibrant civil society. I suspect that the public pressure for early elections cannot be long resisted. But the more of the above that can be put in place before voting, the safe the outcome will be.
Three final points.
It is a miracle that the fall of the dictators we supported like Gaddafi, has not been followed by Islamic fundamentalism. But if the re-building of Libya (and Egypt and Tunisia) fails, it will be. What happens now in the Maghreb will determine the nature of the whole of Europe’s southern relationship for decades to come. Helping Libya where we can is most profoundly in our long term interests.
It matters on a wider scale too. The eastern Mediterranean looks to me like one of the world’s most dangerous coming flash-points. A north Africa that is settled, stable and progressing towards Islamic democracy will greatly diminish the instability of that region. One that remains turbulent and full of conflict, greatly increase it.
And lastly, do not forget Turkey. They are now key and constructive players in this region (and very much so in Libya). Our old partners in Washington now view the Pacific, more than the Atlantic and the Mediterranean as their key area of interest. If we Europeans are looking for new partners in this region which is so crucial to us, Turkey would be a good place to start.