No, not part of TD’s “Future Of” series. I’m not sure the Boss is ready to branch out into a North African division just yet. Rather, just a quick look at how the future of Libya might progress – at least from a security perspective – now that Colonel Gaddafi (or al-Qaddafi if you must insist) has been toppled from power. Not beaten I might add. Just toppled from power.
The reason that this subject is of much interest to the western defence and intelligence community – other than the role that Libya plays from a political and economic perspective – is because of its potential as a laboratory of sorts. Hard lessons about how to rebuild a state after an enforced change of government, learned by coalition forces from their experience in Afghanistan, and in particular Iraq, will now be put to the ultimate test.
Libya could potentially provide a blueprint for future western coalitions as to how to avoid another messy insurgency after an expeditionary war. On the other hand it might send planners back to the drawing board, but at least a little better informed. There are many key differences between this campaign and the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which we’ll look at now.
Specifically the military, intelligence and police services. One of the biggest lessons taken from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has been the need to keep these vital arms of government intact to a certain degree. The alternative is to tell thousands of well trained men that their services are no longer required and then release them into the general populace. These are precisely the kind of people upon which a successful future insurgency might depend, for their knowledge in both weapons and tactics. Thus, they are precisely the kind of people that the Libyan Transitional Council would rather like to retain on the government payroll.
There are reports that western intelligence and diplomatic operatives are working inside Tripoli right now to aid the new interim government in securing the loyalty and services of many of these men, along with officials from other key government institutions such as finance. This demonstrates that lessons have been learned and that there is at least an attempt to maintain some continuity between the old administration and the new.
Political Make Up
One of the bigger challenges that will face the new government is the number of different interested parties who would like a say in how the country is run. Libya itself has long been strongly divided by distinct tribal allegiances. Add to that various religious factions, and then further various factions with claims based on their role in the uprising (typically representing cities such as Misrata or Benghazi) and you have the perfect mix for political paralysis.
The important juggling act that the Transitional Council needs to perform is to ensure everyone is represented fairly in government and that no major group (with lots of supporters) believes itself to be politically isolated, while at the same time making sure that important decisions about the economy, foreign relations etc, are not significantly delayed due to infighting.
This is quite key, perhaps up there alongside the fact that western troops are not pouring over Libyan soil and the future of the Libyan economy. From a Western perspective, both Iraq and Afghanistan could hardly of been in worse positions. Quite apart from the Military difficulties involved with sustaining operations in those countries, geo-politically they were sat in the middle of many conflicting interests.
Iraq is bordered by, clockwise; Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. This proved to be a nightmare from a security perspective, with many of those countries possessing aspirations as regional powers. Especially problematic were Iran and Syria, two countries not known for their political friendship with the west, and in particular the United States. It was in their interest to support an insurgency and prevent the US from cementing any kind of strong, lasting relationship with the future Iraqi leadership.
Looking at Afghanistan the situation is even worse. Clockwise from the north, Afghanistan is bordered by; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and Iran. The final two are of the most importance, with Iran again being no friend of the west and the northern regions of Pakistan being notorious as hideouts and safe havens for insurgents. Even Osama Bin Laden was found in Pakistan, furthering accusations of complicity with the insurgents by the Pakistani intelligence services.
Libya is in a slightly more stable position. Starting in the north west and working anti-clockwise, Libya is bordered by; Tunisia, Algeria, Niger, Chad, Northern Sudan and Egypt. None of these countries has any particular aspirations to be some kind of dominant regional power. Religiously, there isn’t so much of the radical elements that can be found in countries such as Pakistan.
That doesn’t mean that Libya is immune, or somehow beyond the reach of extremist groups. Groups with ties to Hamas need only transit through Egypt to reach Libya, and just over the other side of Chad is Ethiopia and Eritrea; beyond them is Somalia. But at least the ease of transit for such groups is reduced compared to the border hopping exploits of the Taliban and their supporters in Pakistan.
The most likely source of any insurgency will be from the southern regions of Libya, where Gaddafi loyalists are likely to have retreated when he left Tripoli.
Gaddafi still poses the most immediate threat to peace in Libya. There is some speculation that he might be located in the now besieged city of Sirte, but most indicators point that he fled south. Capturing Gaddafi may be more of a symbolic gesture than anything – it’s highly doubtful that he wields much control over any significant military force – but everyday that he goes uncaptured gives his supporters encouragement to fight on. It also gives him the chance to organise resistance for a future fight. And finally it is a thorn in the side of the Transitional government, as they will increasingly appear impotent in the cause of bringing him to justice.
If it can capture Gaddafi, the new Libyan administration wins a major coup among its people, demonstrating its ability to enforce the new regimes order over the country. Also working in its favour is the fact that US and British soldiers are largely absent from Libyan soil. There is no highly visible presence of “evil foreigners” for opponents to unite against, for doubters to worry about, or for radicals to convince people they’re being mainpulated by.
This – more than anything – will define the new administration. Part of whole point in a revolution is to provide superior governance compared to the previous incumbents. Even democratic elections are effectively just consensual revolutions. And one of the best ways to judge one administration over another is economic performance, including job creation.
One of the critical issues that has plagued operations in Afghanistan has been the inability of the new government to make a fundamental change in peoples lives. Corruption is still rampant at all levels and unemployment is high. The ability of Libya’s new political class to create wealth, to get the economy back on track after a civil war, and its ability to fund programs that will make a difference for ordinary Libyans is vital. Expect a degree of western money to be injected into Libya to help these efforts. After all, the last thing that Europe needs is for the country to slip back into civil war and have an anti-western government take over, that then becomes a breeding ground for terrorism right in its backyard.
Libya is now at a profound turning point. Released from the grasp of a dictator, Libya could develop into a somewhat more prosperous country, encouraging tourism, and maybe one day become a convenient manufacturing base for many European countries? The future could be bright. But there is a long way to go and the Libyan Transitional Council must guard against future unrest. They must develop a plan to take the country forward and execute it. Much depends on the quality of their leadership in the next two or three years.
And all the while, western analysts will be taking notes. Like scientists watching mice in a laboratory, various military, political and intelligence agencies will be closely following the progress of the new Libyan government and the dynamics of the people it serves, wondering whether they may have come one step close to cracking the counter-insurgency code.